What makes a really good meeting?

A strategic board agenda can make the fundamental difference between having a highly successful board meeting and wasting an opportunity to get things done.

There are two basic reasons to have a meeting: to share information and make decisions. All too often, meetings are unproductive and waste time because meetings are too long, the discussion is unfocused and/or a few overbearing people dominate the discussion. These meetings leave everyone dreading the next meeting.

So, what are key elements of a good meeting? Kevin Wolf writes in “The Makings of a Good Meeting” that these essentials include:

  • A well designed and detailed (strategic) agenda with common goals and objectives.
  • A clear, agreed -upon process for meeting participation and making decisions.
  • Awareness that people are influenced by personal values and history as they share interest and input on most matters.
  • Active involvement in discussion and decision-making, with a sense that the decisions are owned by the participants and not simply approving matters when they have little input.

Thomas McLaughlin writes in Jan Masaoka’s “The Best of the Board Café” that a strategic agenda can transform a boring and unproductive board meeting into one that empowers participants with a sense of momentum and teamwork toward a common goal. It can be the difference between a highly successful meeting and a wasted opportunity to make important decisions and get things done.

McLaughlin comments about the traditional board agenda:

  1. Executive Director’s Report – Technology plan update
  2. Finance Committee Report – Proposed change in insurance agency; monthly treasurer’s report; analysis of new program profitability…
  3. Nominating Committee Update – new candidates for open board seats.
  4. Program Committee Report – documentation of need for new program.
  5. Etc…

It seems that the primary reason for this meeting is to receive information and updates. There are neither decisions indicated nor targeted discussion items to be debated by the board. It is unclear as to which items are truly important or how they relate to the mission of the organization.

McLaughlin suggests this to consider as a strategic board agenda:

  1. Expand educational program into East Side
    1. Documentation of need – Program Committee
    2. Analysis of program profitability – Finance Committee
    3. Potential board member from East Side – Nominating Committee
  2. Increased profitability
    1. Analysis of overall agency profitability – Finance Committee
    2. Develop information systems
  3. New technology plan – Executive Director
    1. Consider capital investment needs – Finance Committee
  4. Etc…

There are two distinct advantages to planning and using the strategic board agenda. This design helps demonstrate the relationship between agenda items and the overall mission of the organization. This is a future and action-oriented discussion, rather than one which focuses on reports and historical information presented in a predetermined segmented context.

It also helps to create a sense of momentum and teamwork toward a common goal. Board members know that there is opportunity to discuss all aspects due to the various committee inputs for each major agenda item.

The Michigan State University Extension Leadership and Community Engagement programs engage participants in learning how to effectively manage conflict, communicate with purpose and collaborate on solving complex issues in order to move communities forward

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