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8 Barriers to Effective Board Meetings

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Effective Board Meetings

Effective Board meetings effect the largest basis of communication and culture within your organization. When Board meetings get led poorly they cost your business valuable time and money and create a frustrating culture that disengages both Board members and employees. Effective Board meetings have a profound impact on both your Board’s productivity and organizational success.

Your meetings foster either a culture of results and communication or a culture of indecision and frustration. Even one effective Board meeting can generate alignment which produces results and reinforces a culture of results.

Without effective Board meetings, communication gaps form and strategies get stalled and implemented too slowly. As a result, leaders become frustrated and avoid communicating with the Board and results suffer as managers stop bothering asking for permission or stop adopting new approaches. Planning, implementation, and results also suffer. In order for the Board to make decisions that reflect the true interests and needs of the organization, the Board must receive insights, collaborate, communicate, strategize, and implement effectively.

Unfortunately, running an effective Board meeting means learning leadership skills due to the many barriers.

1. Micro-management

A far too common occurrence of bad Board meetings is the discussion of trivial subjects for too long. This wasted time often avoids confronting larger, more important issues. Effective Boards align on critical agenda items first and avoid the temptation to indulge in irrelevant matters. Your Board members can learn to focus on asking and answering the right questions to practice avoiding the irrelevant. Combat this tendency by linking each agenda topic to the strategic plan. If the topic does not achieve the strategic plan, then allot less time. Effective Board Orientations and learning about effective meeting agenda structures prevent costly mistakes and focus your time on implementing the strategic plan that you hired that great facilitator to produce.

2. Lack Of Development And Training

Expecting leaders to join a Board and automatically being effective at Board meetings is foolish. Each Board’s culture shapes the effectiveness of Board meetings. Start with an effective Board orientation – be cautious about “free” Board orientations from lawyers and accountants as they focus on the structure rather than how to collaborate quickly to achieve the best possible solution. Avoiding investing the time and resources to effectively train the Board members often leads to poor performance by the Board as a whole which affects the entire organization. Even the best of intentions cannot get a group of divided leaders to necessarily listen and collaborate quickly to achieve results. If the Board has been together for a while, invest in Board effectiveness training. One day can save you months of wasted time, improve decision making and accelerate effectiveness.

3. Ineffective Board Nominations

Ensure successful Board meetings by nominating effective Board members, chairs and committee members who achieve success in meetings. A well-organized Board with clearly-defined expectations illustrates its priorities through action. Incoming Board members know if a Board is effective when they ensure acclamations rarely happen and less effective leaders are encouraged to become more effective before seeking election. You want a nominee to understand expectations and what better way than evaluating their effectiveness in Committee meetings. Nominating poorly-organized and disengaged members causes the Board to suffer and decisions get made more slowly.

4. Failure To Rotate Members

Another barrier to effective Board meetings is having the same Board members year after year. Avoiding turnover and not rotating members on a regular basis, can lead to a stale approach, a decline in participation, and avoidance of change. The culture and lack of meaningful discussion can lead to groupthink. Logically, the Board members become concerned about too much change. Board members become unable to adapt to changing circumstances and fail to seize opportunities. Rotating Board members avoids internal possessiveness and static perspectives based on the past that are often found among self-perpetuating Boards.

5. Failure To Remove Disruptive And Unproductive Members

Another barrier to effective Board meetings is failing to remove unproductive or disruptive members. Your Board culture – yes you have a Board culture – sets clear expectations and when Board members do not meet those expectations, your inaction communicates loudly. Taking action illustrates the importance of an effective Board and each Board member’s impact on the conversation and organization. Avoiding this issue by implementing a process for evaluating Board meetings, Board member performance, the Board’s performance and how members best input ideas, feedback and recommendations.

6. Too Small

A Board sometimes is simply too small to be effective! That can be a numbers or a perspectives issue. Determining the right number of Board members is important because too few – results in members banding together and too many – results in ineffective decision making. Unless a strong Board orientation session and clear meeting expectations are in place – size really does affect results. Generally, an effective Board ranges between 11 and 21 members so committees can form to recommend actions to the Board. Again though, make sure your Committee members practice effective meeting techniques or you complicate every decision unnecessarily.

7. Lack Of Structure

It’s important to have an effective and successful committee structure in place. The Board governs the entire organization, while a committee overlooks a specific and defined function. Ideally, the bulk of the work is conducted in the Committees since they can be most effective when small and filled with different perspectives. Although decisions are often made by the Board, committees influence that decision with their preparation work so facilitate the success of all committees to ensure the most effective Board.

8. No Strategic Plan/Lack Of Focus

Although you may have a Board, your Board may lack a strategic plan to guide clear direction. By having clearly-defined your vision, strategies, goals and objectives, the Board can avoid wasting countless hours discussing topics that will never achieve the desired results. Boards operate best when each topic is connected back to the strategic plan. If a topic cannot connect to the strategic plan then Board members speak up to stop the conversation. You can bring in a facilitator who can coach the Board toward effectiveness while supporting you during difficult or complex conversations. Sometimes the strategic planning facilitator gets asked to coach the Board – just make sure they can train for meeting effectiveness.

Another way to ensuring effective Board meetings is to invest in Board effectiveness training and meeting effectiveness training. With meeting effectiveness training, participants learn to structure and follow agendas using XYZ methodology, learn listening and collaboration skills to work through challenging topics to achieve an actual outcome, and clearly define expected behaviours to rules of engagement. The training moves discussions forward quickly while investigating alternatives and risk so the entire Board has decision making structures that produce results.

Now that you know the barriers to running an effective Board meeting, allow me to discuss a few possible ways of ensuring the success of your future meetings. As I mentioned above, implementing a strategic planning facilitator helps avoid distraction since they objectively assess behaviour, the team, and the process of the Board to create the Strategic Plan. With a strategic plan, the Board agenda, meeting topics and focus increases dramatically especially when Board members are trained to speak from the strategic plan.

One final way to ensure effective Board meetings is simple. Conduct Board orientations. The easiest way to ensure results is to get clear on the results you want the expected approach to achieve them. Culture remains the single largest determinant of Board effectiveness so engage the power of culture.

 

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