Chairing Board Meetings

How to Grow an Award Winning Board

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To begin with, meeting leadership and meeting formats must vary as to a) the type of group that is meeting and b) as to the objectives of the meeting. For example: The style of meeting leadership one would use in conducting a meeting of a full board of directors would not be appropriate to an early brain-storming session of a newly created long range planning committee. Or vice-versa! However, regardless of the group or meeting objective, herein follows a baker’s dozen of leadership characteristics which should be possessed by the chair.

  1. Prepare carefully. Work out the agenda with staff (i.e. board president with the executive director – committee chair with committee staff person). If the meeting is that of a full board, be sure to obtain input affecting the agenda from all committee chairpersons.
  2. See to it, personally or through staff, that the meeting arrangements are appropriate and conducive to achieving the purpose(s) of the meeting.
  3. Be sure that the purpose(s) of the meeting and all topics to be discussed by the group are clearly understood by all of the participants. Review minutes, reports and whatever else is sent out in advance to educate meeting participants as to what must be accomplished at the meeting. Adequate and appropriate pre-education is a primary pre-requisite for an effective meeting.
  4. Start on time. Building a track record of meetings that begin on time (or as soon after the announced time that a quorum is present) is the first step in motivating board members to arrive on time.
  5. Facilitate the discussion. Get everyone involved. Make liberal use of the “Go-round-the-table” technique.
  6. Avoid over-use of Robert’s rules. Remember that Robert’s rules were developed originally for large parliamentary bodies and that over-use of such rules in the meetings of the typical non-profit board or committee can be a wet blanket, stifling the kind of healthy give and take that should be characteristic of such meetings.
  7. Listen carefully and be sensitive to the concerns of all who are involved.
  8. Use appropriate control of “wheel-spinning” (e.g. wasting time in inappropriate digressions). But remember that some “wheel-spinning” can be useful in a brain-storming session.
  9. Do not dominate and do not editorialize. Few things will turn off creative thinking and useful participation in a meeting more effectively than a chairperson who holds forth at length on whatever subjects come up for discussion.
  10. Help the group to work out of any log jams or blockages that may develop.
  11. When summing up, sum up accurately and fairly.
  12. Vote only when needed to make – or to break – a tie. It is not generally remembered that under Robert’s rules, the chair votes only when the vote of the chair would make a difference. Thus the chair might vote to make a tie and thereby defeat the motion since a tie vote is a defeated vote.
  13. Watch your watch! Bear in mind the old philosopher’s admonition that “The mind can absorb no more than the seat can endure!” With proper planning, pre-education and leadership, few monthly board meetings need last more than one and one half hours.
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