Creating the Right Boardroom Conversations

Prioritize Agendas

Establishing well-organized and consistent governance processes and procedures enables the board to be most productive, and ensures that its time is allocated to the most critical topics. Agendas should reflect the most important strategic issues and priorities, and make efficient use of trustees’ valuable and limited time; meetings should be designed to maximize trustees’ ability to engage in critical dialogue; and committees and task forces should be used to enable the board to focus time on high-level strategic discussion. Agendas should not be so full and rigid that there is too little time for deep discussion and generative dialogue on the strategic issues that matter most to the organization’s future. One way to ensure that agenda items are necessary is to organize the agenda by strategic pillar or goal. If an agenda item does not fit well under a strategic pillar, it may not be appropriate for discussion at the board meeting.

Minimize Presentation, Maximize Discussion

Most board meetings include staff-led presentations on various topics and issues. In many cases, these presentations too often review information that trustees should be expected to digest and understand as part of their board meeting preparation. Informational reports should be synthesized into brief executive summaries that outline why the information is important and relevant to board knowledge and potential action. When appropriate, the summaries may include key considerations, options for discussion, and recommended direction from the CEO. In all cases, unless the information has some action attached to it, it should not consume valuable meeting time that can instead be spent on generative discussion and a focus on strategic thinking and planning.

Focus on Strategy

Boards of trustees must focus their time and energies on the most pressing strategic, future-focused issues and plan proactively and flexibly for rapid change and uncertainty. They must develop the expertise to recognize and solve longer-term issues, and ensure a synergy and consistency of activities and strategic direction. The structure and makeup of the board must mirror the organization’s strategic priorities.

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