Running a board meeting can be demanding. Whether you are the board chair trying to keep the meeting on schedule and draw in disengaged directors, or the board administrator consumed with the responsibility of creating board books, board meetings involve many carefully managed parts.
This guide simplifies wrapping up a successful board meeting by breaking it down into four easy steps plus helpful bonus tips when dealing with unfinished business.
Most boards follow The Robert’s Rules for adjourning a meeting. But some take shortcuts and the chair will just say: “I declare the meeting adjourned.”
If you look at The Robert’s Rules closer, you’ll notice the guidelines are to make a motion for adjourning a meeting. The chair can start the process by asking – can I have a motion to adjourn the meeting? A member of the board needs to table the motion. The chair typically then asks for a show of hands to show either who’s in favour, or against. Then once consensus is reached states: “I declare the meeting adjourned.”
How do you know it’s the right time to adjourn? The clock and the agenda will tell you. You’ll have either completed all agenda topics or the clock will run out on the scheduled time for the meeting. Both should happen at the same time – for tips on that, read on.
Before closing the meeting, the chair may ask board members if there’s any more business to discuss. What if there is unfinished business? If time runs out on a topic with more discussion still needed, or if directors raise a topic, the chair can choose to deviate from the agenda to discuss it immediately or state it will be added to the next meeting’s agenda. Then, the chair can declare the meeting adjourned.
Wait! But what if the boardroom is on fire and everyone has to evacuate? In exceptional circumstances where it’s not wise to proceed with the meeting, a board member can chime in: “I move to adjourn and to meet again tomorrow at 8 a.m.” Or, suggest adjourning to reconvene at a time to be chosen in the future.
Just before we get into easy steps on how to run and end meetings well, here’s what Robert’s Rules outline for calling a meeting to order. The chair can state: “Good (Afternoon/Evening), it’s (state the time) and I’d like to call the (date) meeting of the (name of board) to order. Can the secretary take a roll call, please?” At that moment the secretary can document who is in attendance.
The most appreciated board chairs run meetings that get through the topics on the agenda in the time reserved. Ask any board chair how to end a board meeting well, and they’ll answer: “do it on schedule!” They’ll also tell you that it’s not always easy to do so.
Here are four steps to guide productive board meetings and how to close a board meeting on schedule.
Board meeting agendas include the meeting start and end times. The trick is to plan how to split that time appropriately for topics on the agenda and for productive use of the board’s time.
It’s a common trap to use board meeting time to present information. Instead, share board materials in advance of the meetings to be pre-reviewed by board members, and then the meeting focus can be on debate and decisions, not review.
Expect forming the agenda to take some time, so start this process a few weeks before the agenda needs to be circulated. The board chair should ask committee leads and executives if they require time on the agenda for key topics in addition to any regulated topics like a financial review. Develop a draft agenda and give it a reality check. Add up the requested time for each agenda item and see if it fits the meeting schedule. Validate that the schedule will give some air time to all the board members likely to attend.
It’s expected that a first draft agenda will exceed the time available. Identify which topics really must be addressed and push others to committee work or later agendas. Tuning the agenda until the timing and topics both work is the cornerstone of the board meeting preparation checklist.
Download these important steps to help your team focus on strategy during board meetings.
The board meeting agenda is the chair’s roadmap for guiding the meeting while focusing on different topics appropriately. An effective chairperson leads the meeting firmly and fairly and ensures board members know their role and contribute effectively.
The board chair needs to steer the discussion to be productive and time-efficient expertly. This is where great board chairs shine! They know how to facilitate discussion, draw each board member in at some point, and gently and respectfully avoid giving too much air time to any one director or on a conversation that repeats comments already tabled. As boards attract diverse members and strive for inclusion, chairs need to become even more skilled at engaging board members.
What if a topic proves a “hot topic”? It depends if the topic is strategically important and the dialog is productive. If for instance, the hot topic is a privileged motion, meaning a motion that is granted precedence over ordinary business because it concerns matters of great importance or urgency, then the chair overriding the agenda to allow more discussion time is valid. If the board chair observes that the time planned to cover a subject isn’t adequate, she can make the call to further table discussion to the next meeting or ask board members to motion to fix other agenda items on a later date. Remember, the board chair’s focus should remain on how to close the board meeting on time.
A common complaint on board director evaluation surveys is that they aren’t given what they need to prepare well for board meetings. Either board meeting materials arrive late, or they’re delivered in a manner that’s difficult to absorb.
Depending on your bylaws, send out the board materials to directors at least a week in advance of each meeting so that they have sufficient time to review and compile questions or form an informed perspective on a decision. The board package should include the finalized agenda, financial or management reports, committee reports, prior meeting minutes, and other relevant information.
From the board agenda or in a chair summary one-pager, make it clear which decisions need to be made at the board meeting and the meeting’s focus.
We mentioned earlier that directors expect to receive board meeting materials in a way that’s easy to absorb. The chair and the board administrator are obligated to make preparation convenient if they wish for board members to arrive at meetings prepared and engaged.
In our modern world, supporting efficient board meeting preparation requires that board materials are easy to access online and on mobile devices while protecting data security. Most directors today also expect to search rapidly for information in past meeting minutes or materials and mark up board documents with their own annotated notes or annotations they wish to share. Some also expect to do board evaluations and vote on resolutions online.
If you are a board struggling to have directors arrive at board meetings prepared, you need to consider whether the lack of technology plays a role.
Wrapping up on the schedule is one part of a well-run board meeting. When we ask board members how to close a board meeting with all members feeling united, we hear two more things are also required: a sense of valued contribution and accountability to carry out commitments.
The non-profit governance advisor Joan Garry advises board chairs to express sincere thanks to directors at the wrap of every meeting and in a follow-up email the next day.
Some chairs include a few minutes on the agenda to tie the board’s work back to the organization’s goals. That’s easy when decisions regarding strategic investments, leadership hires, or new projects were completed in the meeting. If the meeting was more administrative, chairs can always highlight some recent organization accomplishments and thank the board for their contributions which made those achievements possible.
It’s also essential to enforce organizational and director accountability. At the bottom of meeting minutes, note the commitments to actions made by leadership and directors. Keep track of the list and have the board chair hold directors accountable.
A top factor in board resignations is ineffective board engagement and communication – specifically board packages and meeting agendas are not well prepared, brief and clear in terms of what’s needed for board input and decisions. Board governance specialists advise board administrators and corporate secretaries to seek ways to reduce the time it takes board members to prepare for board meetings while keeping directors informed and engaged.
Here are our top tips to help your board avoid unfinished business and, ultimately, run better board meetings.
Create a centralized calendar that includes meeting dates, material distribution dates, and governance deadlines. This simple act will help board members and administrators to reduce their stress as they manage multiple timelines and schedules. Decide on the frequency of meetings and meeting duration in advance.
Pro tip for board leaders: block off some time right before the meeting to get prepared and right after the meeting to debrief or stay on if anything runs over.
Board management software, also known as board portals, can help you save hours of work because it simplifies meeting preparation and provides directors convenient access to board packages. Use this software to make accessing board packages simple and secure, beyond what you can do with file-sharing apps.
Another advantage of board portal software is that it’s easy to instantly notify board members of any updates in materials or upcoming meetings, keeping everyone using the right latest versions of reports. Archived materials are easy to search for – available for reference by date for any new board members.
Don’t worry if your board meeting goes off the rails; use it as a learning opportunity. Discuss what went wrong with the chair, CEO, and yourself, state what you learned, and how you can improve for the next meeting. Use the online survey in Aprio to poll members for feedback and avoid frustrations.
New directors can find themselves overwhelmed with the requirements and responsibilities of their new endeavor. Avoid feelings of exclusion or unproductive input with new team members by ensuring proper onboarding so they can access materials and understand how to contribute.
There is only so much time in the day. Boards looking to level up their board meetings often need to find more time to develop a great agenda, chair great meetings, and engage directors. Board portal software helps to provide that time by empowering board administrators, board chairs, and executives to save hours on preparing board meeting materials and communicating with board directors.
Aprio board portal software is purpose-built to support well-run board meetings and efficient board meeting preparation. Features include an at-a-glance dashboard view of meeting dates and committee activities, a centralized and secure place to access board information, and easy online access to board agendas and meeting documents from multiple devices.
Aprio’s features are convenient and easy to use and play an essential role in driving board engagement and closing meetings on time. Let us give you a tour.