Sunday, April 27, 2014

Board Meeting Rules of Thumb: The First 45 Minutes

Your board members have an inner compass that pre-calculates the effectiveness of every board meeting within the first 45 minutes.

Much like the first five minutes of your pastor’s sermon… (“Wow! What a great intro. I’m taking notes!”)

Or the first 15 minutes of meeting new friends for dinner… (“Boring already? This is going to be a long evening.”)

…the first 45 minutes of your board meeting sets the tone for the entire meeting. So here’s my rule of thumb for ensuring maximum engagement of every board member.

Facilitate a discussion exercise so every board member verbally contributes within the first 45 minutes of every board meeting. 

News Flash! Your board members did not get up extra early to get their “day job” assignments completed, then drive across town (or hop on a plane) only to sit and listen quietly in the board meeting to boring CEO and senior team reports. (In the hallway, and driving home, they wonder, “Why am I needed here?”) 

There’s a better way. Extraordinary boards leverage the wisdom in the room by engaging board members in the first inning—not the ninth inning of a board meeting. How?

In the first 45 minutes, toss out a probing question. “Our management team is looking at the Vision 2020 goals and we’re wondering if we should go with Plan A or Plan B on Goal #4? Take eight minutes, in teams of two or three board members each, and wrestle with your thoughts. Maybe you have a Plan C?  Then, we’ll take 15 minutes for each team to report back.”

Thoughtful questions will engage your board members. And in small teams, everyone gets a chance to talk. Everyone is engaged! 

I facilitated this exercise with a board several years ago, and at the end of a four-hour meeting, the chair told me. “For two years, Jim has never spoken up in a board meeting—but his insights today were stunning.” I remember what happened. Because of the process, all the regular “talkers” were quiet and all the quiet folks were given space to talk. 

I heard Rebecca Manley Pippert share this wisdom some years ago:
“Jesus always seemed to be doing two things:
asking questions and telling stories.
Christians always seem to be doing two other things:
giving answers and preaching.”

QUESTION: How much time do you allocate in board meetings for questions versus answers?