Why Meetings Are Unproductive & 6 Tips to Revive Them | Aprio
Why meetings are not productive
May 21, 2020
Aimee Happ

Why are meetings unproductive and how can you revive them?

If you’ve ever felt like you’re wasting time in your board meetings, you’re not alone. According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, 71% of respondents felt their meetings are unproductive and inefficient, while 64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking.

To answer the question of why meetings are not productive, and to help you improve your meeting effectiveness, here are 6 tips you can apply to both your in-person and virtual board meetings.

Tip #1: create effective board meeting agendas

Having an effective board meeting agenda is key to productive board meetings. Not only do agendas organize and help to frame the main meeting goals in board members’ minds, they also help to promote engagement

To develop the agenda, start planning with the board chair and CEO/executive director several weeks before the meeting takes place. Consider the anticipated attendance, the division of items, the expected time to spend on each item, and strategies for encouraging discussion. Be sure to note any in camera sessions. 

The best board meeting agendas are clear, follow an organized template, and allocate time for each agenda item as well as for conversations. Find the balance between an agenda that allows for strategic and productive discussions but that is also flexible. The agenda should maximize meeting time so that board members can make informed decisions.

Once the agenda is drafted, contact the directors and committee chairs that will be required to submit reports. Provide deadlines to them and follow up as necessary. Then, circulate the agenda to the board, and allow time for directors to request corrections or additions before the board meeting. Make sure that the finalized agenda is sent to all board members at least a few days in advance of the board meeting to give everyone time to prepare.

Once your board meeting begins, it’s important to get all board members engaged and focused from the get-go. It’s helpful if the board chair starts by giving a brief, five-minute recap of the goals and input sought for that meeting. This won’t be new information, as all board members will have seen the agenda and board materials before, but it will help directors to let go of distractions and competing priorities, especially when they’re joining remotely. 

Why meetings are not productive

Tip #2: remove distractions from the boardroom

One big reason why meetings are not productive is that meeting attendees are preoccupied with other tasks and thoughts. To encourage discussion and engagement, don’t allow devices into the boardroom that cause distractions. For example, your board may choose to not allow any mobile devices in the boardroom, with the exception of those that board members use to run your board portal software or follow along with the meeting.

If your board members are remote, encourage video calls instead of phone calls. Studies show that people are less likely to multitask on video calls (4%) compared to phone calls (57%). Video calls can also enhance accountability, decision making, and engagement. 

You might also choose to establish other housekeeping rules for your board meetings, such as creating a rule stating that all board members should arrive at least five minutes before the meeting begins, or that they’re not allowed to bring in outside food.

Tip #3: encourage on-topic discussion

It’s the board chair’s duty to prevent board meetings from getting off-topic, bogged down in repetition, or from becoming a forum for the few to contribute instead of an inclusive dialogue of the entire board. They can do this by encouraging on-topic discussions.

After all, the board chair is a facilitator, not an executive. The Harvard Business Review describes the chair role as being the “guide on the side.” The chair needs to draw out valuable input from the board on strategic issues and risks and build alignment between the organization and all directors to solve issues. 

The board chair’s role can be supported by having an effective agenda, as there will naturally be comments from directors during meetings that can sidetrack discussions or unnecessarily rehash prior decisions. It’s the board chair’s job to keep the discussion constructive and on schedule

Why meetings are not productive

Tip #4: watch the clock

Another reason why meetings are not productive is that they are too long. Follow your allocated agenda items closely, and as your designated meeting time comes to an end, provide warnings to your board members so that discussions can be wrapped up.

In the last five minutes, the board chair should start to close the meeting by summarizing one last time the meeting goals and the solutions and progress you’ve made. Some chairs choose to also tie the board’s work back to the organization’s goals. That’s easy when decisions on strategic investments, leadership hires, or new projects were made 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.

If you happen to run through the entire meeting agenda faster than anticipated with time still left on the clock, just end the meeting. Remember: it’s ok to leave early, and your board members will thank you for giving them back their time.

Tip #5: capture key points & action items

During the meeting, the board administrator should take meeting minutes, making sure to capture key points and action items. After the meeting, the administrator should draft a finalized copy of the minutes while the meeting is still fresh in their mind, and then distribute them to all board members. 

It’s important to enforce organizational and director accountability. At the bottom of the meeting minutes, make note of the commitments to actions made by the leadership team and directors. Keep track of the list and have the board chair hold board members accountable.

Why meetings are not productive

Tip #6: run more productive meetings with board portal software

While there are many ways to improve board meeting productivity, they are all made simpler with the help of purpose-built board portal software. And while board management software like Aprio have many features that are convenient and easy to use, they also play a much deeper role in driving board engagement and productivity. Here’s how:

  1. Board portal software provides the necessary tools to build effective board agendas and minutes, and facilitates the secure distribution of this information to board members. Tasks can also be assigned directly in the software. 
  2. The software enables directors to easily prepare for meetings, providing them with a convenient, one-stop location online to access board materials, annotate documents to prepare for productive conversation on core challenges at the meeting, and pose questions to the board chair or other directors. Board directors can log in to the portal via desktop or tablet.
  3. For orientation and ongoing learning, your board governance software also provides a searchable library of your board bylaws, strategic and financial plans, and archived board materials.

In this unprecedented time, Aprio is offering our board management software for free until July 31st, 2020 for new customers looking to transition to remote board meetings. For our current customers, we’re also offering discounts on secondary portals and additional user licenses. 

Enhance the productivity and engagement in your board meetings. Contact us today for a demo of Aprio and to learn more about our special offers, or check out our buyer’s guide to discover more about how to assess board portal software.

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