Saturday, March 16, 2013

Board Meeting Body Language

THE PROBLEM—annoying boardroom behaviors!

Email Eddie: His life on the outside is so important (so he thinks) that he’s reading or sending emails (click, click, click) throughout your board meeting.

Sidebar Sally: Her need to add side comments to virtually every agenda item distracts everyone within earshot. 

Tardy Teresa: “Did I miss anything?” is the annoying interruption (cue the loud voice) from this always late, often-clueless board member.

Tortoise Tom: Worst case—this guy’s your board chair and talks very…very…slowly…and chairs the meeting with the speed of an hour glass of molasses. 

THE SOLUTION—talk about it!

What if…one of the distinctives of Christ-centered governance was that we reject the silliness of silent suffering and address the mini-elephants in the room?

What if…we challenge Email Eddie, and all board members, 
to focus on the agenda 
and silence the cell phone
instead of God’s voice?

What if…we trust God (and our families and staff members) to handle things outside the board meeting, while we steward the work of God in the meeting?

What if…instead of whining about Sidebar Sally in the hallway after the meeting, we ask the chair to address her annoying sidebar conversations?

What if…we affirm the value: “If you’re not early, you’re late.” And what if…Tardy Teresa understands why being late does not honor God or God’s people?

What if…frank, but gracious feedback was shared with Tortoise Tom—and he was open to coaching to improve his board chair competencies? (“Thanks for this brief discussion, now who will propose a motion to approve?”)

We delude ourselves when we think we can hide our boardroom body language. Our raised eyebrows, rolling eyes, tightened lips and folded arms project our discomfort.  If your style is to ignore annoying boardroom behavior—rather than to appropriately address it—I have a name for you: Ostrich Oliver. 

QUESTION: What are your unwritten rules about board behavior? What guidance do you get from Scripture when confronting character or behavioral flaws?


  1. A Board should have no "unwritten rules." Neither should consultants. If it's not in writing, it's not Board policy. As John Carver reminds us," The Board speaks with one voice -- in writing."

    Curious that you ask for unwritten rules in the first question and in the second you ask for references from the most important volume of written rules -- the Bible.

    "Talking about it" is only the start of "The Solution." Once the Board has agreed upon the content and style of meetings and the expectations of each Board member, the decisions need to be documented in the form of Board policy, which should contain how the Board and individual members will be held accountable for honoring the policy. Also, the best way to remind the members of the Board policy on meeting content and style is to require evaluations after each meeting with the questions in the evaluation reflecting the points covered in the policy. Use Survey Monkey so that evaluations are anonymous. Then require the Chair to address areas where his/her colleagues believe Board policy is not being followed.

  2. Thanks for your excellent reminder about written policies and speaking with one voice. My opinion: that's the standard and we want to continue to inspire board members to articulate their values in writing. Yet...most boards I encounter have a continuum of "unwritten rules" (that bug a few folks and have not reached the written rule level) such as:
    --Don't sit there. That's Hank's chair.
    --Heather is always late, so give her grace.
    --(add your own)
    Your suggestion of a feedback tool following every meeting is excellent. Thanks for your feedback!

    P.S. Suzy West, Christian Leadership Alliance, emailed me this added thought: "Come prepared so as not to waste others' time in getting brought up to speed."