Governance is about providing leadership. Good leaders know how to run good meetings! This applies equally whether you are the chair of the board, or the chair of a committee or task force.
Meetings are a great opportunity not only for the chair but also the participating members to demonstrate leadership and stewardship as they make the decision on behalf of the membership and thus fulfill their governance responsibilities.
A meeting is a centuries-old forum for debating, discussing, identifying problems, strategizing, solving problems, developing and monitoring action plans and moving an organization in the right direction. Meetings should be welcomed as venues to achieve in some measure the mission, goals, and objectives of the organization.
The intent of this chapter is to offer guidance for better meetings, including ten simple rules for more effective use of this medium of communication and decision making. We will avoid delving into the finer points of Robert’s Rules of Order, but will provide a handy chart of the generally accepted way for the business of a meeting to be conducted – how to amend a motion, object to a procedure and so on
Board Meetings: Roles of the Chair, Directors, and Others
Let us begin by defining the role of the board chair and (other) directors.
The board chair (or a delegated meeting chair) performs many functions in ensuring that board and membership meetings are productive. They include the following:
• Preparing the agenda
• Confirming that the meeting is properly called and constituted
• Calling the meeting to order
• Calling for approval of the agenda and any changes
• Conducting the meeting according to the agenda
• Preserving order at the meeting
• Deciding on points of order and procedural issues
• Deciding who properly has the right to speak
• Putting motions to the vote
• Declaring that the minutes are prepared and distributed
• Setting the time and location of the next meeting
Directors at a board meeting also have responsibilities to fulfill. These include:
• Arriving at the meeting on time
• Being prepared for the meeting by having read the pre-circulated materials
• Being respectful of their colleagues and their views
• Debating issues and not personalities
• Knowing how to make and amend motions
• Attending the meeting until it is adjourned
It may be necessary for other people to attend board meetings; they may include the CEO, senior staff, other members, and consultants. The chair makes the decision to invite them and calls on them to speak to issues or answer questions if and when appropriate. These invitees must understand that they are under the control of the chair. As a general rule, they would not join in discussions but only provide information, thought his practice may vary in some organizations. They would not, however, make motions or vote.
Other Types of Meetings
In addition to board meetings, most organizations have committees or task forces that hold their own separate meetings, with their own chair and committee membership. The duties of the chair and participants are similar to those outlined above for the board chair and directors.
A particularly important type of meeting is that of the general membership such as the Annual General Meeting (AGM) or a special-purpose meeting of the general membership, known as an Extraordinary General Meeting. The chair and participants in such meetings essentially have similar responsibilities as outlined for board meetings.
Ten Simple Rules for Success
A meeting can be the most effective way of unleashing the creative energy, the imagination, and the hands-on ability of volunteers and staff. But if poorly planned and conducted, a meeting can be the most ineffective, time-wasting, frustrating experience ever inflicted upon volunteers and staff. Usually, the problem is not the meeting – the problem is the organizer and the participants!
Here are ten simple rules that will help ensure the success of board meetings. Most of them also apply to other meetings such as committees and task forces.
1. Prepare and pre-circulate the meeting agenda and attachments – Make sure that you or the staff distributes the agenda and materials that are to be considered at the meeting, well prior to the meeting. This material should include the reports from the committee chairs and the CEO.
2. On the agenda, indicate the meeting start time and end time – In today’s environment, time is at a premium. The agenda should indicate not only when the meeting will start but also when it will end. This will allow the participants to plan their time schedule for before and after the meeting. In addition, it will give the participants a target to shoot for in terms of completing their work.
3. Start the meeting on time – One of the biggest failings of volunteer chairs is that they do not start the meeting at the appointed hour. This sends the wrong message to two groups:
a. Those who showed up on time. The message is: “Thank you for arriving on time, but it really doesn’t matter because I never start on time.”
b. Those who show up late. The message to them is: “You didn’t miss anything because I never start on time.”
You should assure participants that you value their time and cooperation – start every one of your meetings promptly at the time shown on the agenda.
4. Do not recap for latecomers – Another failing of many volunteer chairs is that they believe that they have a duty to latecomers to recap what has already been dealt with. This, too, send wrong messages to:
a. Those who showed up on time: “Not only will you have to participate in the meeting as we work through the agenda, but you will have to sit through it all a second time for the benefit of the latecomers.”
b. Those who showed up late: “Don’t bother being on time because I’ll always go over what you missed when you do finally arrive.”
As an effective chair, you should reward those who arrive on time and encourage those who consistently arrive late to show respect for their colleagues.
5. Use a “consent agenda” – A consent agenda is a section of the main agenda that can address routine items that will likely require no discussion It permits the group to make once motion to “accept, adopt, and receive” a number of items with a single vote.
It works like this: Prior to voting on the consent agenda, the chair will ask whether anyone would like any item removed from the list. If an item is removed from this list, it is simply transferred to an agreed position in the main agenda. A director does not have to provide any rationale for requesting this move. The remaining items are then dealt with by a single motion to “accept, adopt, and receive the items in the consent agenda.”
6. Keep a speakers list – While each agenda item is being dealt with, the chair should keep a list of the names of the people who have indicated (in order) that they wish to speak about the item. This enables the chair to follow the list so that each person who has requested time to speak will be called upon in turn. By following this simple practice, the chair will help bring fairness and order to the discussion. The group may also decide to adhere to the practice that each person will be allowed to speak to the item under discussion only once, until everyone who wishes to speak has done so.
7. Allow only one speaker at a time – The chair should encourage orderly discussion by not allowing cross-talk or side discussions while a speaker has the floor.
8. End meetings on time or earlier – If you are efficient and have everyone’s cooperation, you will be able to work through your meeting agenda in record time while still allowing adequate time for full discussion and debate. As a result, you will be recognized as a chair who exercises leadership at meetings and provides a sense of satisfaction to the participants.
9. Have “action” minutes – A set of well-constructed minutes of one meeting form a solid foundation for the next. As a chair, you should ensure that the minutes of the meeting identify what tasks are to be undertaken, by whom, and by what date. If the three Ws (What, Who, and When) are clearly shown in the minutes, you are more likely to achieve your goals.
10. At the first meeting you chair, give people your plan – As a new chair, when you call your first meeting to order, take a few moments to explain to your colleagues how you intend to chair the group’s meetings. Let them know about the practices (such as the “rules” recommended here) that you will follow at meetings. Explain the purpose – to make effective use of their valuable time. Ask for their cooperation so that you can work together to accomplish the board’s mission, goals and objectives.