Wednesday, May 25, 2016

One board thing: Flip the meeting agenda

If your board is like some I've encountered, the prospect of transforming your meetings via ways proposed in the last "one thing" post may sound good - great, even - but be utterly terrifying.

I understand that. I still hope you'll continue to consider what I proposed in that post. But I appreciate that the major shift represented in those recommendations can feel daunting. In anticipation of that hesitation you may be feeling, I have one more board thing to suggest (and maybe ease the way for reconsideration later).

If I could change just one thing to increase the effectiveness of my nonprofit board, I'd

Flip the meeting agenda

If adopting a consent agenda to create space for open discussion and inquiry is too scary at the moment, try this plan B: flip the meeting agenda so that topics that require the freshest thinking and full board attention get prime focus.

If your board agendas are somewhat typical, they probably look something like this:

  1. Call to order
  2. Approval of minutes
  3. Treasurer's report
  4. CEO's report
  5. Committee reports
  6. Old business
  7. New business
  8. Adjourn

Your board may claim it reeeeaaaaaaaalllly can't move items 2-5 to a consent agenda. Members feel they need to hear those reports delivered verbally. They want to deliver those reports. They have questions about the financials - or feel like they should ask questions about the financials.

That may feel true to them. But here's something that's also probably true: by the time they work through those items, the clock has been ticking. Eyes are glazing over. Chairs are starting to feel mighty hard. Fatigue is setting in. Thoughts are wandering to whatever comes next in their schedules.

You are losing their attention and, worse, their best thinking.

Instead of accepting that decline as inevitable, flip the agenda. Start with the new business. Continue with the ongoing work contained in old business. Give whatever you have in that space your board members' prime time. Then tend to your reports. They don't require the same level of attention that other, more important agenda items need. Placing them at the end, when everyone is anticipating that eight bullet point above, also encourages conciseness.

Now, I do have a caveat - one tied to the last "board thing." This only becomes a productive Plan B if the work in new and old business is substantive and tied to governance functions. If it's a continuation of meandering around inconsequential topics (or wandering in the micro-management weeds), what you tend to when doesn't matter. But if your board schedules time for tending to their larger fiduciary, strategic and generative governance roles in that space, making sure that that work takes place when minds are fresh and ready lays the foundation for work that matters.

This isn't the first time I've proposed a flipped agenda (click through to that earlier post for a sample agenda). But it felt worthy of revisiting today as a logical continuation of what I proposed in the previous two "one board thing" entries.

Is flipping your agenda one thing that your board could commit to doing?

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