Meetings Run Amok & What To Do About Them

Meetings Run Amok

Picture this:  You are at your board's monthly meeting. The issue on the table - how to diversify your organization's revenue streams. Direct mail? Moves management? Fundraising events?

Someone says, "Oh, let's do a holiday benefit! You know, we used to hold a big gala every December. We should do that again!"

Someone else jumps in: "We'd have to do it in early December so it doesn't compete with Hannukah or Christmas events."

Then: "Well we couldn't do it this December. It's already June. All the best venues are booked."

And: "Wait! I know of the perfect place!! And we can still book it."

Someone pipes up: "But by now, all of the best bands and auctioneers are taken.

Someone else chimes in:  "Oh, have you ever heard of XYZ Catering? They are new, affordable, and do a great job!"

Then: "Do they offer vegetarian options?"

And: "What about gluten-free?"

Then: "Locally grown?"

And: "Organic?"

And: "Fair trade?"

And: "Sustainable?"

Then: "Wait! I know which caterer you're talking about! They do a fabulous chocolate tart with raspberry coulis..."

Or picture this: You leave a board meeting, thinking, "Did it need to be so long? Humm...we talked about canceling the benefit ... deferred that decision until next month ... The adding-another-front-desk-person issue ... Sally's gonna crunch the numbers and make a recommendation at next month's meeting...The official capital campaign kick-off ... we couldn't pick a date without updating Henry and everyone else who missed the last few board meetings ... we had to fill them in on our feasibility study, timeline, co-chair recruitment ... Too bad Henry insisted that we revisit doing a capital campaign at all ...

Or this: The monthly meeting that is scheduled to go from 6:00 until 9:00 p.m. And ends at 10:30. On a school night.

What You Can Do About Them - A Few Of My Favorite Fixes:

Prepare: The people responsible for assembling the board packet - the meeting agenda and related materials - send it to members in advance of the meeting. And board members read it. In advance of the meeting.

Make a list of meeting goals and put these at the top of the agenda. Hopefully, your list doesn't include items like "ED's report, treasurer's report, new business, and old business." That is like deciding to drive from Seattle to Miami using a map that tells you only to to south and east. You need specific goals like "decide whether or not to create a new staff position," and "select insurance provider."

Put suggested time limits next to agenda items and adhere to them.

Train the board on how to hold efficient and effective meetings. Board members may be inclined to say "Pff! We're all adults! I think we know how to have a meeting." But wait ... sooner or later, one of them will come to you and say that s/he is too intimidated to speak up at meetings because everyone else is so smart/educated/confident ... or because So-and-So gets a pained look on his face whenever s/he talks ... or So-and-So talks too much, or interrupts, or ...

Have a co-facilitator at each meeting; this person assists with keeping people on-topic, keeping discussions to allotted time, ensuring that one person at a time speaks, etc.

Make sure* that board members know they need to hold one another accountable rather than depending on the chair to do it all. For example, if one person interrupts another and the facilitator doesn't intervene, a board member should do so.

Make sure* that people adhere to the board's attendance policy. Do not revisit old issues for the benefit of someone who missed the meeting(s) when that issue was discussed.

Make sure your meetings are regular: same day, time, and location, if possible; this will facilitate meeting attendance.

Try to limit the length of meeting to one and a half  or two hours. And start and end on time.

What are your favorite fixes?

* Just exactly how does one "make sure" that board members hold each other accountable, show up at meetings, etc.? Well okay, "making sure" might not be possible. But you can enforce your board's policies and procedures (that sounds a little nicer that "rules").  And you can repeatedly and consistently reinforce those policies and procedures during board meetings, during one-on-one meetings, in emails, and by phone.