Into the Dragon’s Den: How Association Leaders Can Have Successful Board Meetings

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The purpose of most board meetings is to tap into the operational health of an association and to ensure that everything is organized and aligned moving forward. Despite handling incredibly important matters and making major decisions that can impact the future of the association, board meetings can become rather stale and/or ineffective if the organizers are unprepared and unaware of successful techniques to host successful board meetings.

Now, making a board meeting run the way you want may never become easy, but there are some things you can do to improve your odds of making things work. The following steps can help your next board meeting accomplish everything you want and more.

Preparation

Preparation is just as important whether the meeting is in person or online. That said, time is often the enemy when planning for board meetings. In many cases, there just aren’t enough hours in the workday to get everything done. That makes preparation the most important step of all. First, plan the meeting agenda, accounting for time estimates and major topics that need discussing. Incorporate some trust-building and engagement opportunities into the start of the meeting. This can lead to a much more productive meeting overall.

Once planning is complete, send all parties the expectations and agenda ahead of time. Allow them to look things over and then reach out for feedback. By getting any issues and concerns out of the way before the meeting, none of the small or manageable issues will slow the meeting down. The bigger issues that deserve discussion during the meeting can be incorporated into the plan. In addition to improving efficiencies and eliminating any surprises, this exercise also builds trust among board members and demonstrates your willingness to listen to everyone involved.

Focus

While it may be tempting to use board meetings to cover every issue of interest to the board, that can be counterproductive. It’s important to limit the number of topics to a manageable number, focusing only on the most important discussions, goals, and outcomes. The best way to go about scratching things off the list is to eliminate anything that can be done outside of the meeting. That may sound obvious enough, but if done correctly, it can save an enormous amount of time.

The next step is to ensure that every topic has a measurable action. If a topic has no follow-up steps necessary, try to move it outside meeting hours. Similarly, if a report doesn’t raise any concerns, it might not be beneficial to present at all. This is where preparation comes in handy because it allows the organizer to provide members with all reports ahead of time and to discuss if they have any issues or concerns.

Have Proposals Ready

Another element of a successful board meeting, which is connected to preparation, is the proper development of proposals. It should go without saying that all formal proposals going in front of the board should be carefully organized and the documentation should be thorough, clear, and convincing. While it can be quite helpful to research and discuss what competing associations are doing, avoid solutions that require a follow-the-leader strategy. Instead, develop solutions that satisfy an unmet need in the marketplace or industry.

Prior to the presentation of the proposal, consider discussing it with a few members of the board. Perhaps look to those members who might have some quality input or might be more willing to back the proposal. Going into the formal presentation with a few backing members can really help the proposal gain traction before and during the board meeting.

Incorporate Training

Even the most productive board meetings can get dull. Discussing organizational priorities over a prolonged period of time can be tiresome. To keep board members engaged and to have them looking forward to the next board meeting, offer something of value to everyone. Consider offering a short training session on an important area of interest to the board. For example, the board may be interested in how data security affects governance decisions or how AI can aid the business functions of associations in the future. An effective way to accomplish this may be to use the association’s LMS to run the training sessions. The added use of technology can break up the monotony of a speech-heavy meeting.

The Pitch

For pitches and proposals, the goal should be the same for everyone: total buy-in. While that can be tricky for some and impossible for others, the structure of a proposal can really help make this dream a reality. First of all, every proposal should explain a problem and provide a solution. As highlighted above, the best solutions satisfy an unmet opportunity rather than simply follow the competition’s lead.

From there, the pitch should outline the potential benefits and return on investment of the new venture, while covering all the initial needs. Be thorough when highlighting the costs associated with this proposal, as well as the projected time from startup to profit. Finally, if possible, show some examples of the proposed solution. Run a demonstration or walk the board through what the end product might look like. This is a powerful method for having the board visualize the outcome and imagine how it might all come together.

Follow Up

The best board meetings don’t end the second everyone leaves the room or logs off. In addition to providing every attendee with the minutes from the session, board members should receive a notification or a follow-up message regarding any required homework or actionable items that were assigned. This provides a little gentle encouragement to ensure that things get done more efficiently.

Furthermore, it can prove very beneficial to meet or have a quick discussion with each board member after the conclusion of the meeting. Consider asking if there are any concerns with the content or format of the meeting. Ask them to suggest areas for improvement and make sure every member leaves the meeting feeling satisfied.

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