Proper board etiquette describes the unwritten rules and procedures that executive leadership and board members must follow.
It’s always an honor to serve as a board member for an organization or institution. Because of the degree of work, the required expertise, and nature of the job, the expectations on the behavior and conduct of the board members are typicallyset high. There are certain codes of conduct board members should exhibit in a board setting, also referred to as board etiquette.
Like any other formal event, a lot goes into planning, preparation, execution, and eventually, board meeting minutes are reported to the relevant stakeholders. For example, organizations employ board meeting management software to assist their administrators and secretaries in creating, distributing, and organizing meeting information in real time.
The formality of a board meeting, borne out of respect for the board members, calls for seamless meeting preparation, up-to-date meeting information, and above all, observance of the board meeting etiquette.
This article will highlight the 5 most important rules and procedures board members must observe to maintain proper board etiquette.
What is Board Etiquette?
Etiquette is generally a code of conduct that defines collective behavior in a particular setting. In this case, board etiquette refers to how the board of directors communicates and relates with each other, including their peers, executives, juniors, and others. Their etiquette describes how they talk and conduct themselves inside and outside the boardroom.
In other words, board etiquette is a set of unwritten or implicit rules and procedures that the board members should observe. The actions and behaviors of the board of directors show their service and commitment to the organization and the general public. Abiding by board etiquette helps the members keep their meetings productive and influential while also holding high the organization’s image.
Like Robert’s Rules of Order, the board meeting etiquette ensures standards on legal and ethical principles, general order and protocol, and a culture of collegiality. While every organization may have its own unique board protocols, there are general board etiquette guidelines that ensure the board members speak in one voice and to the organization’s interest.
Board Etiquette Rules and Procedures
Board meeting etiquette rules and procedures generally ensure that all board members have an equal chance to air their opinions and perspectives and receive a fair hearing from everyone. They also ensure the board members observe legal and ethical standards before, during, and after the meeting. Below are the 5 important rules and procedures of board etiquette for the members:
1. Understand the Purpose and Intent of Board Meetings
Understanding the meeting’s purpose and intent is the first step to maintaining and conforming to board etiquette rules and standards. The purpose of the meeting and all other elements that will contribute to the debate should be clear, simple, and meaningful to board members. It helps them anticipate and prepare early enough for the board meeting.
From the date, location, and time of the meeting to their roles and responsibilities, board members need to familiarize themselves with the meeting even before it occurs. They should check the board papers and suggest what they need to include. This explains why the board etiquette starts long before the actual meeting begins.
2. Follow the Board Meeting Agenda
The board chairperson or the CEO will play an integral role in ensuring that the meeting strictly follows the stated agenda. Even before the meeting kicks off, any relevant conflict of interest should be declared to the chair or the person who is designated to handle such issues. The board members should thoroughly and keenly review the board papers and the items in the agenda list (in the order they will be addressed during the meeting) and set the stage for an effective board meeting.
From calling the meeting to order, reading the minutes of the previous meeting and various reports to the adjournment of the meeting, the objective is to strictly follow the board meeting agenda and focus on the issues at hand.
3. Listen to Board Member Feedback
Another important etiquette rule is to listen to the board members’ feedback respectfully. By virtue of their positions, board members are expected to exhibit high standards of conduct while also utilizing the expertise to take on responsibilities and help the organization fulfill its missions. However, one thing’s sure; there’s always room for improvement.
That’s why board members have to listen to feedback, whether from colleagues or junior stakeholders, and act on it accordingly. This will help them to improve, and also help the board speak with one voice. Organizations can map their directors’ strengths and weaknesses using a board skills matrix and offer constructive feedback. As a general rule, the members should listen and examine what is said and not who speaks.
4. Read Post-Meeting Papers
Board meeting etiquette extends beyond the meeting itself. It’s up to the chair or board secretary to provide a summary of the meeting, read the resolutions and the future steps. But board members should also review the post-meeting papers, raise any suggestions or concerns regarding possible meeting reviews, understand the resolutions, and carry on appropriately.
Reading and reviewing the post-meeting papers also helps them flag any corrections on the action points, raise, and make necessary adjustments to documents. If you use a board meeting portal, the software will enable you to update documents from anywhere, anytime.
5. Recognize and Respect the Confidentiality of Board Meetings
Board etiquette describes the actions and behaviors of the board meeting members even beyond the eyes of the organization. Board members, should observe meeting etiquette rules and procedures whether they’re being watched or not. In other words, board directors must never talk about the business of the board outside the boardroom or after the meeting.
Frankly, sensitive matters and information will always be discussed and passed during the meeting. To keep such information safe and intact, it’s the board members’ collective responsibility to recognize and respect the meeting’s confidentiality. Organizations can also employ board management software systems like OnBoard to enhance the security of the documents by preventing unauthorized access and tracking the actions made on the final document even after the meeting is adjourned.
How OnBoard Can Help Your Board Achieve Seamless Board Management
While board protocols may vary from one organization to the next, these are the most common guidelines for general board etiquette. Board etiquette helps boards observe ethical and legal requirements, and it also makes the board meetings more effective before, during, and after the meetings. The board also becomes more efficient.
Take advantage of the right board management software to make your board more effective and align the organization’s objectives for better performance. Get started with our comprehensive board management software buyer’s guide for a healthier board and improved business outcomes.
About The Author
- Adam Wire is a Content Marketing Manager at OnBoard who joined the company in 2021. A Ball State University graduate, Adam worked in various content marketing roles at Angi, USA Football, and Adult & Child Health following a 12-year career in newspapers. His favorite part of the job is problem-solving and helping teammates achieve their goals. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife and two dogs. He’s an avid sports fan and foodie who also enjoys lawn and yard work and running.
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