My last pre pandemic blog article discussed how The Best-Intentioned Association Boards can get Sidetracked. As I reflect on the way we conducted board meetings during the pandemic, it is interesting to reflect on this article from over two years ago. It focused on making the best use of time during board meetings and making sure that people were well prepared.
During the pandemic, we went from having regular in-person board meetings to being forced into zoom based meetings. Before this, board meetings and calls sometimes lasted more than an hour or two. Despite our best intentions, we all found that we had to limit the zoom-based meetings to 90 minutes. Anything longer on zoom just proved to be ineffective. As we return to in-person board meetings, we are now reflecting on how best to use our time together whether in a zoom-based meeting or back in person.
Prioritizing for In-Person Board Meetings
Many association boards will not meet as often in person today as they did before the pandemic, especially those traveling to attend meetings. With that in mind, it is a good time to go back to my blog article from February of 2020. I wrote that article after having attended a professional development event for association leaders. A big part of that session focused on how to structure board meetings. Looking back at what I learned at that association leaders’ event, I think much of it is relevant to how we make decisions about what to include at an in-person board meeting as opposed to what we would cover at a zoom based or teleconference board meeting.
Prior to the meeting, ample preparative communication is necessary between the chief staff officer and all board members. Consider the following questions:
- What are the key issues to be discussed?
- How should the agenda be structured?
- What items, if any, can be postponed and discussed later?
For example, many association board meetings begin with approving the agenda. All board members must have the opportunity to provide their input on the agenda prior to the meeting. Only then can the board leaders create a strategic plan for the meeting.
Strategically Approaching Board Meetings
My advice to association leaders when considering the agenda for their in-person board meetings is to focus on strategic issues and generative discussions. This will leave routine business and administrative matters for Zoom-based or teleconference meetings. While still important, these matters are not as dynamic. Most volunteer leaders want to participate as board members because they want to be part of those in-depth generative and strategic discussions. Saving those for in-person meetings is the best way to utilize the limited time volunteers can offer their association.
One approach I learned is it is best to begin a meeting with the most pressing or strategic issues on the agenda. Discuss more routine business toward the end, or even at a later, remote meeting. Another strategy is to begin with generative discussions that build momentum toward solving those pressing issues. Both strategies put meaningful conversations at the top of the agenda.
In-Person Meetings Generate Trust and Productivity
While many national and international associations will reduce the number of in-person board meetings held in years ahead, my hope is that they won’t give up on them entirely. We form and build relationships by being together in-person. I think we can all agree that we lost much of that during the pandemic. By balancing the cost of in-person meetings with the productivity gains of being together, learning from body language, and really getting to know each other, I think that many associations will find they get so much more accomplished when they’re back together in-person as a board of directors.
Read my colleague’s article Icebreakers for Boards – Improving the Effectiveness of Association Board Meetings.