Assign meeting homework
We've cleared space on our board meeting agendas for inquiry. We're ready to commit to focus on substantive, ongoing questions in our time together. But unless we prime members for that work - and support their performance in it - we risk turning all of that newly created space into a different waste of energy and talent.
It's one thing to open up the agenda, add a discussion item about involving board members in community outreach, and cross fingers that they'll come with an idea or two to add to the list you've already prepared for them. It's another to engage them in identifying the question as important, help them own the question, and prime the discussion by providing common resources to inform their thinking as they anticipate the conversation.
One easy "board thing" to facilitate richer, inquiry-focused discussions is to assign "homework" - provide an article, white paper, blog post, video or other resource related to the spotlight conversation. It might be something like:
- This excellent TEDx talk by Chris Grundner, on why passion is not enough for nonprofit boards
- Or Terrie Temkin's great description of the difference between strategic planning and strategic thinking
- Gayle Gifford's fantastic post, "Courage and Discipline for Board Members"
- Alice Korngold's foundational call for boards to embrace a duty of imagination
- Or Chait, Ryan and Taylor's important article, "Problem Boards or Board Problems?"
Your board members may balk at the term "homework." That's fine. Call it "resources for context," "discussion guides" - whatever works. The point is to set the tone - and spark thinking - for the kind of rich discussion you want before anyone steps into the boardroom.
A couple of additional caveats feel important. One, as with other materials provided before the meeting, there should be an expectation that members will read/view/listen to this resource so that they are prepared to contribute to the discussion that it informs. Peers should hold peers accountable for arriving at the meeting prepared to work. That includes doing the reading and research needed to participate fully.
Two, as with the meeting agenda itself, responsibility for identifying resource(s) should not be the sole responsibility of the CEO - or, for that matter, the chair. Certainly, those two individuals may have the deepest knowledge of what exists that fits the purpose at hand. But don't forget that your committees are (or should be) your peer experts on their responsibility areas. As you ask them to identify questions for discussions that they will lead, also ask them to identify a resource or two to prepare their peers for what lies ahead. Your in-house experts may be expected to share not only their advice, but information that they deem germane to your board's capacity needs.
Many factors contribute to effective board performance. Ensuring that members have access to information sources and resources that tend to their capacity needs is one critically important piece of that puzzle.
What type(s) of resources are available to inform your next board discussion? Which specific resource(s) will you share to prepare members for that conversation?