Long term strategic thinking and mutual respect are keys to great board meetings: Part 1

Respectful discussion of truly important issues helps make meetings great, and goes further than simple fixes like starting on time or using a consent agenda.

We all can cite examples of bad meetings we have been part of, but how do we define a good meeting? Better yet, what would a great meeting look like?

I’ve been a teacher, observer or participant in a number of educational programs on meetings where participants have been asked to describe both good and bad meetings. They quickly come up with answers, and there is almost always a great deal of agreement. When it comes to things that make meetings good, starting and ending on time almost always come up. Clear agendas, with adequate information to make decisions, and sticking with the agenda are all important also. It’s crucial for the chair to keep things moving, and keep people on task.

The writers I studied as I prepared the Components of Extraordinary Governance echoed some of these same ideas and added a few more that we often don’t think about, but that are also extremely important to really great meetings.

Advanced preparation of the board members is very important. We’ve all heard about meetings where board members showed up and opened, as if unsealing the envelope for the first time, their packet of information for the meeting. Members of great boards who want their time together to be as effective as possible understand that they need to be prepared. They need to read, and understand, the material they have been given. The best time to ask questions related to understanding the material is before the meeting, so a board member can be a part of intelligent discussion at the meeting. The meeting discussion can then be a time of comparing options, hearing others viewpoints and considering the priorities of all involved in making the decision.

Those authors also identified additional things that make board meetings great. These fall into two categories. The first is the need for adequate time to address strategic issues, to think long term and carefully consider impacts. The second is building a level of mutual respect and trust among the board members, which enables them to discuss issues at a deeper level and create powerful solutions to tough problems. We’ll talk more about these two ideas in part two.

Read more about the Components of Extraordinary Governance in this recent article, and this one from 2014, on the Michigan State University Extension news website.

Michigan State University Extension’s Government and Public Policy Team and the Center for Local Government Finance and Policy provide educational programs for government officials and citizens regarding many aspects of local and tribal governments in Michigan. Please contact the author at amrhein@anr.msu.edu for more information.

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