In Part 1 of this series, we looked at what you might consider changing on your board agenda to ensure the organization has appropriate processes in place in relation to the pandemic. Now we will address how you might consider processing your agenda differently in the new world of virtual-only meetings, at least for the short to medium term.
While I think most of us would agree that we would prefer to conduct board business seated around the same table where we can see one another’s body language as well as just “being” together, we don’t have that option for a while, and board business must go on for the good of our organizations. So here are some tips:
- Examine the agenda to see what doesn’t need to be there at all – “information only” items are a good example. These can be circulated from your CEO’s office at any time independently of the meeting agenda. If board members have a question about an item, they could email the CEO directly, or the board could create a discussion area on your board portal site, if you have one, or on a platform such as Slack, which is easy to navigate. Particularly at this time, try to limit such questions to essentials, recognizing that the CEO and staff team are super busy with critical issues, and taking their time to answer questions about “incidental” information is taking them away from those issues.
- Consider which agenda items could be readily processed behind the scenes without needing to take up meeting time. Here are some examples:
- Assessment of monitoring reports. Board members can be asked to record their individual assessments of monitoring reports in a centralized location (are interpretations reasonable? Is there sufficient data to demonstrate compliance with the interpretations?) You could use a version of Survey Monkey, a section on your board portal if you have one, Slack, or even just an email chain, although the latter is most difficult to manage. The board chair can monitor the responses and meeting discussion needs to happen only if a majority of board members have a concern. An alternate approach is to schedule a time for a board “assignment” to meet via Google Docs and identify any concerns board members have about the monitoring reports, as well as voting on them. The meeting itself then need only require a motion to record the assessment that has already taken place.
- Routine content review of policies. Google Docs can be used to make much of this process virtual. See our previous blog on this topic.
- Ownership linkage. This can happen between meetings, and a summary of results can be circulated in advance. Meeting time can then be simply to identify insights from the owner input that will have potential for future Ends work.
- Electronic voting to approve routine items such as the minutes of the previous meeting.
- Self-evaluation of the board’s compliance with Governance Process policies. Individual board members can be assigned the task of self-evaluation for a given policy, and asked to provide a brief written report. This can be posted in advance, and board members asked to confirm their agreement or add comment or disagreement. Similar to the CEO monitoring, the board chair can then identify any areas that may require discussion.
- Self-evaluation of the meeting itself. This can be done by electronic vote after the meeting via Google Docs.
- Deciding date(s) for next meeting(s). Doodle Polls are a great way to do this.
- If your board typically meets infrequently for a longer time period, consider breaking up the meeting into smaller segments, so that you spend a maximum of 2 hours at a time on a virtual platform such as Zoom or GoToMeeting. It is challenging to maintain focus on meetings longer than that on a virtual platform. (If you go to 2 hours, consider a 5 minute break.) Having largely removed items such as those suggested above from the meeting agenda, except for recording decisions already made, the time you spend together virtually can be used for substantive issues where the board does need to have verbal discussion. If there is board education that needs to occur before some of these discussions, consider scheduling it separately as well, to stick to that 2 hours at a time maximum.
If your board is not familiar with using tools such as Slack, Google Docs, Doodle Polls, or Zoom, you may be like me when faced with having to learn yet more new technology. If you need help with the logistics to get started, give us a call. We have team members who are experienced with all of these and can provide assistance.