With most national associations, it is very common for the board of directors to be spread out across the country. This drives the directors to hold the majority of their board meetings via teleconference as opposed to in-person meetings. While a lot can be accomplished on conference calls, there are some obvious benefits to holding face-to-face board meetings including increased personal interaction, fewer outside distractions, more discussion time, and the development of social connections. In fact, organizational behavior researchers have found that a virtual team will be far more effective if it can launch with a face-to-face meeting.
As they can be few and far between, it is important to make the most out of every in-person board meeting.
To maximize personal interaction, it helps to be seated in such a way that everyone can see each other. More so, it is important to have the chair positioned in the middle where he or she can be heard and seen throughout the meeting. When board members are around the conference table in this way, it allows for the addition of non-verbal communication — which you do not get on a phone call (organizational behavior researchers refer to this as “media richness” – the ability to communicate in many different forms simultaneously such as audibly and visually). For instance, there is eye contact and head nodding and subtleties of tone, which allow for a more natural flow to the meeting. This also helps to clearly identify what other board members are thinking. This greatly reduces the occurrence of awkward silences and people talking over one another.
When around a boardroom table, directors often only possess the meeting materials in front of them such as printed documents, pen and paper, computer or tablet. Everyone is focused on the task at hand and at the same time, are able to see what each other are doing. In this way, directors are actually holding each other accountable and tend to pay closer attention to what is going on. Conversely, it is very easy to get distracted from outside obligations when on a conference call. For example, another telephone call, a knock at the door, an interesting newspaper article, or even poor traffic all can take someone away from the meeting.
Board members can devote an entire day discussing pressing issues on the agenda at an in-person meeting. To make the most of this time, it is important to arrange items on the agenda in such a way that the pressing and/or decision-making items are dispersed throughout the day, often preceded by a break. This will reduce eventual burnout or fatigue by giving members time to refuel, recuperate and stretch before continuing. On the other hand, on a conference call, meetings tend to be no longer than two hours in length. This does not allow as much time for decision making or ample discussion before the meeting eventually, and often times abruptly, comes to an end. That means, the agenda needs to be kept shorter and key decisions predetermined.
For in-person meetings, board members are required to travel from home and this may involve being away for at least a night. This enables members to settle in and prepare for the full meeting ahead the next day. This time is also a great opportunity for board members to get to know each other outside of association obligations. Getting to know each other on a more personal level can unite board members and produce a stronger, more cohesive leadership. Going out for dinner, playing ice-breaker games (i.e. Dicebreaker Game) or simply chatting about each other’s hobbies can all be great team-building initiatives.
As you can see, there are many benefits to in-person meetings as it allows for more personal interaction, fewer distractions, increased discussion time and stronger social connections. With that being said, it is not practical for all meetings to be held in-person. Conference calls are still extremely important to have throughout the year to promote and maintain an association’s strategic goals and values, and to ensure that agenda items do not fall between the cracks. To make the most out of teleconference calls, consider incorporating video to provide some of the same benefits as in-person meetings as well as potentially using a consent agenda.