We live in a society of meetings. In the United States alone, there are more than 11 million meetings a day! If you are a board of directors, you are ultimately responsible for the success or failure of your organization. Most boards are mandated to meet at least once a year and many meet much more frequently, so your board meetings are extremely important.
So why is it that so many board meetings are ineffective? Board meetings are not like a workplace meeting. No one is forced to attend. There is no hierarchy. A board is composed of members who have shared values and a common vision. Each board member has his own perception of what the values and the vision mean. In addition, each member brings her own experience and expertise to the board; thus, each member believes her way can help guide and lead the organization.
Typically, board agendas are developed by staff for the board. Most of the agenda items are staff reports. That is how most boards find out what is going on in the organization. According to John Carver, “Rather than having impassioned discussions about the changes they can produce in their world, board members are ordinarily found listening passively to staff reports or dealing with personnel procedures and the budget line for out-of-state travel.” Boards that started as small grass roots organizations still behave as if they are management, even when they now have professional administrators and a CEO. There is a better way. You can help your board look at the big picture and provide strategic leadership rather than merely reacting to ideas initiated by staff or second-guessing staff decisions.
The Policy Governance model is an effective organized system of governance. John Carver defines governance as “The process by which a small group of persons, acting as a group on behalf of an organization’s owners, cause that organization to achieve what it should and avoid what is unacceptable.”* As a model of governance, it is “a framework within which to organize the thoughts, activities, structure and relationships of governing boards.” Thus, a structured system of conducting board meetings to ensure the organization achieves what it should and avoids what it shouldn’t is essential. Following a well-organized agenda that ensures the board limits its involvement to governance, rather than management issues will help your board members contribute their expertise to the board’s ability to govern. Planning, problem solving, and sharing is effective and purposeful; board members are on the same page; the organization is governed by policy instead of personality.
*John Carver, Boards That Make a Difference. 3rd. edition