The COVID-19 pandemic changed how board meetings operate. Follow these six steps to run your meeting more efficiently.
“The art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings.”
This quote from Japanese scholar Kakuzo Okakura rings true for leaders across all industries, especially during the past 18-plius months since the COVID-19 pandemic upended many of the traditional practices and processes by which organizations conduct business.
While the fundamental structure of board meetings has remained unchanged for more than 140 years, the shape and format of those meetings continue to evolve with time. For many boards, COVID-19 accelerated the adoption of digital tools for hosting meetings and managing board business.
A recent OnBoard survey found that boards have been more effective, more collaborative, and spent more time on important strategic issues as a result. Organizations that use specialized board management software have been particularly successful.
For this blog, we will look at how today’s boards are readjusting to their surroundings to achieve these benefits within the tried-and-true structure of Robert’s Rules of Order, originally published by U.S. Army Brigadier Gen. Henry M. Robert back in 1876. Specifically, we will discuss modern-day tips for how to conduct a board meeting within the six primary stages outlined in Robert’s Rules’ board meeting template.
New Ways to Prepare for Meetings
The onset of the pandemic in spring 2020 forced an abrupt shift to virtual meetings for many organizations previously accustomed to meeting primarily in person. While virtual meetings provide many benefits—such as connecting individuals across various locations without the costs of time and money for travel—they also present some challenges.
In our recent survey, respondents said those challenges include difficulties recreating casual/face-to-face interactions, a lack of opportunities for ad hoc and post-meeting conversations, and a less conducive format for engaging in complex discussions. To help overcome these challenges and ensure productive virtual meetings, board members and administrators need to be more organized, more prepared, and engage more collaboratively than they would for in-person meetings. Some tips for preparing for virtual board meetings include:
Avoid lengthy meetings. To help attendees stay focused and engaged in a virtual meeting, schedule shorter meetings. The inherent lack of face-to-face interactions can make virtual board meetings less stimulating. If you need to schedule a longer meeting, break the agenda up into more palatable 40-minute sessions with 10-minute breaks to provide attendees a respite from their screens.
Develop strong agendas. Structure the agenda around the six stages for a board meeting (we’ll get to those later), clearly designate speakers, and establish a defined schedule for each item to help keep speakers on track and minimize prolonged discussions. Tools like OnBoard’s Agenda Builder can help make the process efficient by:
- Creating agenda templates for meetings with similar structures month-to-month or quarter-to-quarter
- Providing drag-and-drop functionality for uploading board documents in a variety of file formats
- Offering scheduling tools to designate set times for each agenda item
- Making it easy to collaborate, request board materials from responsible individuals, and share final agendas and updates with directors and other stakeholders
Provide board materials in advance. Distribute board books at least a week before the meeting date to allow adequate time for directors’ review. With robust board management software, administrators can easily publish materials, make updates, and notify board members of changes.
OnBoard also provides secure messaging, archiving, and annotations functionality so directors can share notes, review past materials, reference documents, and chat with their colleagues in advance of a meeting.
The Six Stages Adapted for a Modern Era
The tips outlined above will help ensure board members and other attendees are prepared for a productive meeting when the day arrives. Now it is up to board leaders to officiate the meeting effectively and efficiently. The following are recommendations for how best to adapt the six stages of meetings given today’s expectations.
- Call to order. The board chair or president should set clear expectations at the start of the meeting. When using video conferencing for virtual meetings, the chair should require that all attendees keep their cameras on throughout the duration of the meeting. To help foster engagement from the start and offer a more personal approach, leaders might consider calling on individual attendees as they take roll to share an anecdote or answer an icebreaker question.
- Reading and approval of minutes. With modern board management software, board members can share and review prior meeting minutes can be shared and reviewed in advance of the meeting to negate the need to review them verbally during the meeting. This saves directors’ valuable time together and enables them to move expeditiously to more pressing matters.
- Reports are made by officers. This stage of the meeting provides an opportunity for updates from the treasurer, committee leaders, and other officers. Once again, sharing the reports before the meeting through a board management solution allows directors to review the information on their own in advance and facilitates more constructive discussion during the meeting.
- Unfinished business. As the board discusses any business carried over from the previous meeting, the chair should designate time limits for ongoing debate. OnBoard allows speakers to easily access and reference historic documents, conduct electronic voting and approvals, and record decisions. Directors and officers also can take notes and keep a reliable record of discussions.
- New business. Any member can bring up new business for debate and action. Since only one person can speak at a time in a virtual format, the board chair shouldn’t hesitate to call on attendees who haven’t spoken. This facilitates a more well-rounded discussion, rather than one dominated by just a few vocal members. For presentations, it helps if speakers provide a video prior to the meeting in which they narrate the slides for attendees. This saves time and allows the board to transition more quickly to the meat of the discussion.
- Adjournment. The chair makes the motion to conclude the meeting. In closing remarks, the chair or other officers have an opportunity to remind attendees of any necessary post-meeting follow-ups—for example, completing a board survey, collecting e-signatures, or contributing additional details, data, or materials requested during the meeting. These tasks can be completed seamlessly within a board management portal such as OnBoard, which includes a survey tool to request opinions or other information.
What's Best for Your Board?
Many boards are still working to find their new normal. While some have transitioned to virtual formats long-term, others have reverted to in-person meetings or are trying a hybrid option. Yet the situation continues to evolve as expectations change and people become accustomed to new technologies and new ways of doing things.
OnBoard and other board management solutions allow boards to navigate the six stages of board meetings in these dynamic times, and quickly adjust to sudden changes or emerging trends. They save time with voting and survey tools to resolve simple tasks and decisions prior to meetings, facilitate real-time communication with secure messaging, and enable directors to maximize their time together to focus on vital strategic discussions.
While Robert’s Rules provide a solid, 145-year-old framework for orderly governance, board leaders also should embrace Okakura’s view on the “art of life” and continuously adjust how they implement those rules to suit modern-day needs. Doing so not only enables boards to govern more effectively, it also allows them to set an example for a healthy culture of innovation within their organizations.
What Changed for Boards in 2021?
About The Author
- At OnBoard, we believe board meetings should be informed, effective, and uncomplicated. That’s why we give boards and leadership teams an elegant solution that simplifies governance. With customers in higher education, nonprofit, health care systems, government, and corporate enterprise business, OnBoard is the leading board management provider.
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