How to Conduct a Productive Large Board Meeting

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By Jeb Banner

The healthcare industry has endured immense changes over the past several months to navigate an unconventional time. Boards of directors for healthcare organizations have also needed to adapt their operations as they handle new responsibilities and discuss important issues. Strategy is on everyone’s mind, and as the leaders of their organizations, boards should be focusing on it now more than ever.

A recent study of healthcare organizations’ boards found time spent on strategic priorities during board meetings related to higher overall board performance. While that’s certainly welcome news, managing these meetings to extract the best strategic knowledge has proven more challenging. It’s especially true for large boards, which are common in healthcare: the same study also found the average number of board members ranged from 13-15. 

Such a large board presents a lot of perspectives and some vigorous discussions, which can leave unprepared organizations struggling to maintain productivity. Technology can help solve some of these struggles and create a more engaged environment for board members to do what they do best. The key is to free boards from managerial duties and red tape and give them the time and energy to focus on what really matters right now. Here are three ways you can get started on this:

Centralize document storage

As organizations go about their daily work, they generate more and more documents — which, without a centralized system, means it’s tougher to find the right document when you need it. Sometimes, those documents are still printed on paper, which are easy to lose and difficult to update when circumstances change. Organizations that have pursued the digital route often combine multiple solutions that individually work well but don’t integrate. This “digital duct tape” slows down the board’s operations and prevents great strategic thinking. 

Board members who want to work ahead of meetings and be prepared for more strategic conversations get bogged down in the digital duct tape. They waste inordinate amounts of time searching for information and get frustrated when they should be getting excited. Staff members also get caught in the crossfire as they email multiple document drafts to 15, 20, or more board members.

Make it easier for board members and staff by centralizing document storage in a digital format. A single-source online solution means your board can access information at-will and work on it at their convenience. When the meeting convenes, they’ll know exactly where to go to get the latest information and be ready to offer strategic thoughts and ideas. Staff can update the single source as needed, returning time and energy to focus on bringing larger strategic issues to the table.

Plan efficient agendas

When boards operate more loosely with time, it’s easy for that precious resource to slip away — especially for large boards. Covering tactical points and spending too much time on agenda items leeches board members’ focus and energy; once they reach more strategic decisions, they’re exhausted and can’t bring their best selves to the toughest questions.

A well-crafted board meeting agenda can help solve these issues. Ahead of board meetings, lay out the major agenda items you want to cover before the meeting ends. Each item should have an expected outcome — for example, to inform board members of updates or to vote on a pending resolution. Assign time limits and a responsible party on each. Enforcing that time limit can keep even the largest boards focused on tasks at hand.

Also consider beginning meetings with the most critical strategic question and then covering mundane operational details and reports. Getting fresh minds and eyes on it can lead to better ideas and engage your board members from the outset. That momentum carries through the rest of the meeting and injects energy into every agenda item.

Simplify meeting engagement

Engagement is the magic behind a great board meeting. The current pandemic, however, forced many organizations into an all-digital format, perhaps well before they were prepared. The in-person social cues and back-and-forth conversations don’t happen naturally in a virtual world. Combine the lack of interpersonal time with a lot of voices on a phone call or faces on a video meeting solution, and it’s challenging to get every member to engage with the meeting.

To solve this, empower a staff member or board leader to ask everyone for feedback on agenda items during the meeting. On large boards, it may not be feasible to go around and offer the chance to speak individually, but leave time at the end of items for additional discussion. If a board member is unusually quiet, consider asking them directly for feedback on a particularly important point. They may simply need a nudge to hop into the conversation.

It’s an unusual time, and healthcare boards face plenty of strategic questions and issues ahead. With technology simplifying the processes behind meetings, board members can direct their focus on the most pressing questions at hand and effectively guide their organizations.

Jeb Banner is CEO and co-founder of Boardable, a board management software company serving nonprofits around the world. Previously the CEO of SmallBox, a creative agency he co-founded in 2006, Jeb is also the founder of Musical Family Tree, a nonprofit dedicated to spreading Indiana music, and co-founder and past chair of The Speak Easy, an entrepreneurial co-working nonprofit located in Indianapolis, IN. Along the way Jeb has co-founded or invested in a number of other Indianapolis-based businesses. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife Jenny and their three lovely daughters. In his spare time, Jeb collects vinyl records, records music, and cooks as much as possible.

Boardable is an online board management and meeting portal that centralizes communication, document storage, meeting planning, and everything involved with running a board of directors. Founded in 2016 by nonprofit leaders and founders, Boardable has a mission to improve board engagement for nonprofits. Boardable is based in Indianapolis, Indiana. Learn more at www.boardable.com

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