This is part two of an interview with Andy Robinson, who has authored many books of wonderful worth, including Selling Social Change. Check out Part one-on 2 things that make your board members work harder for you. Here’s Andy’s advice on how to run a better board meeting.
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MT: I was asked to be on a board recently, and the board chair told me that the board meetings are recitations of current financial position and staff activities. I just thought, huh, that’s not really what I want to sit there and listen to. I mean, do you think this is a good use of time? I mean, do you believe in the concept of a board meeting where people just do something other than listen to progress reports?
AR: I am groaning and moaning and I’m rubbing my head. No, I don’t think that’s a good model. I think that’s an underuse of board members’ brains and talents. So my bias in this conversation is that the purpose of having meetings – I don’t just mean board meetings. I mean staff meetings or committee meetings or volunteer meetings or whatever. The purpose of meetings is to solve problems and make decisions, because if all you’re doing is report, report, report, report, report, report, you know, in this day and age, we have 20 other tools available we can use to share information. We can share it digitally a dozen different ways. We can get people on the phone and talk to them. We can send them stuff via snail mail to read. It’s like, why do we all have to get in the room together simply to share information? And clearly that’s going to be part of any meeting. I’m good with that.
But when I design an agenda, there’s always a column on the page that says decision to be made. We try to figure that out in advance. What I often say to clients is, if you build the agenda and there’s no decision to be made, cancel the meeting. Go to a picnic, go to the movies, go bowling. Go do something together that’s not work, because if all you’re doing is getting in a room and doing report, report, report, I just don’t think that’s a good use of peoples’ time. I hate to use this word because it’s a strong word. But I think that’s abusive. Because again, these people are volunteers if they’re on a board.
What should you do with your board?
So I’m sorry that was this person’s model for you. I would have said no. No thank you, I don’t want to be on that board.
MT: Well, I’m not on that board, no. I decided not to do that.
AR: Good choice.
MT: I was looking ahead into the dim future of meeting after meeting where I was just bored out of my skull.
AR: This is a side conversation, but there’s all this stuff about adult learning theory and how people learn. The summation of this is people will retain about 20% of what you say to them, but they’ll retain about 90 or 95% of what they do. So I think a good board meeting is actually people doing work. Not just listening to somebody talk, but actually being given a problem to solve or some work to do. I’m thinking every board meeting should perhaps include a mini training or a mini learning opportunity so that there’s something that board members can pick up and they’re not just, again, listening to reports.
MT: Right. Exactly. Thank you for sharing with me kind of what you think a better board meeting would look like, and I hope people listening to this today can take this away with them, that your board meeting doesn’t have to be a slog. That you can actually learn something and have fun.
AR: I think one of the problems is we often overstuff the agenda. So there’s a tool that people can think about using, and I have mixed feelings but mostly positive feelings, which is called the consent agenda. It’s the idea that people are encouraged to read or view things in advance. I mean, you could send out videos. It doesn’t have to be reading. Then the chair or whoever’s managing the meeting says, we sent all this stuff out. Does anybody have any questions? Does anybody have any comments? Do we need to make any changes? And the assumption is that people have actually done their homework, and then the chair says okay, I’m going to move that we accept everything that was sent out.
Then we’ll spend the rest of the meeting doing some actual work. That means that the process of absorbing information belongs to the board member on their own time. This assumes that they get the material to review long enough in advance that they can actually review it and think about it and come with questions.
Because if you dump 30 pages of stuff on people the day before the board meeting and then you say, you know, read it and come for consent agenda, that’s not fair. So it implies that if you’re the staff member, or you’re the person who’s organizing the board materials, you have to be organized enough to get it to people in advance so they have sufficient time to review it and think about it.
Here’s more of Andy’s interview:
If you’d like to learn more from Andy about how to build a better board, please join us at the Nonprofit Leadership Summit, September 27-29, 2016. All recordings will be available for every registrant. Learn more here.