Staying Strategic – Five Ways to Keep Your Board Focused and Productive

How to keep board meetings on track, productive, and effective.

We have all been there. Hour 3 of an all-day strategic planning board meeting, cell phones come out, and Facebook seems to pop up on a few laptops. The focus shifts from the strategic discussion as a few individuals are diving into the weeds to talk about what cheese we are planning to have at the reception. With all these distractions, it can be difficult to keep everyone focused and on task. How did we get here and how do we get out?

As an Executive Director or Chief Staff Executive you can play a key role in keeping the board engaged and focused on what’s important. Working with your Board, President, and Facilitator you can keep these meetings going strong and come away with a focused plan that drives the organization forward. Here are a few tips for keeping the Board focused:

1. Keep it in front of them.

Identify the top strategic goals of the organization first and put it in front of them for the whole meeting. A tent card with 3-4 goals given to each individual forces everyone to engage in the discussion with those goals in mind, ensuring that all involved stay focused on what is important. This will enable the Board to then make decisions that are aligned with those goals.

2. Add in play time.

As a Board you spend a lot of time together, both on the phone and in person. How do you grow as a group if the only time you meet is locked away in a board room? Add in a social component that has a hint of team building to grow friendships among the board and staff. This gives everyone an opportunity to learn more about each other and to gain a new perspective on the decisions being made in the boardroom.

3. New and Creative Spaces, New and Creative Ideas.

Ditch the normal boardroom and find an inspiring location and space. We have all been locked away in a dark room in the basement of a hotel, banging our heads against the wall. We continue to see the evolution of workspaces into more creative and collaborative spaces, why are we not looking for that same thing in the spaces we hold our board meetings? Take the meeting to a local brewery that has a meeting space – great incentive for getting work done and enjoying a local favorite. Also – consider new locations that offer inspiring landscapes.

4. Rotate Meeting Roles.

Rotating meeting roles among board members is an effective method to enhance engagement and participation in meetings. This strategy involves assigning different responsibilities like chairing the meeting, presenting topics, keeping time, taking notes, and facilitating discussions to various members for each meeting. The benefits of this approach include increased member involvement, skill development across diverse areas such as leadership and organization, and a richer variety of perspectives in decision-making. To implement this effectively, it's crucial to plan role assignments in advance, provide clear instructions for each role, maintain a fair rotation schedule, and offer feedback and support post-meeting. This ensures meetings are dynamic, inclusive, and effective, with every member actively contributing.

5. Encourage Open Participation.

While it is understandable to want to keep your board focused on the tasks ahead of them, it’s important to encourage openness with them to engender new potential ideas and strategies that could prove valuable and effective in the long run. Allocate time for an open discussion where board members can bring up new ideas or provide feedback on various issues. This fosters a sense of ownership and encourages active participation.

There is no silver bullet to keeping the Board engaged and focused, it is a continual process that requires regular care and attention. Keep some of these ideas in mind as you look towards your next strategic planning session or Board Meeting.