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How to Run a Board Meeting that’s Engaging and Productive

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Board chairs who are well-versed in parliamentary procedures (Robert’s Rules of Order) and actively spark collaborative discussion are often the most successful in the boardroom. By pursuing a sufficient understanding of board meeting management best practices, board leadership can guide their fellow members toward forward-thinking strategies that promote organizational progress. Knowing the nuances of how to run a board meeting is a key part of this.

Your board meetings are when your team comes together to collaborate on your organization’s goals and strategize how you can make progress toward those objectives. From mission-driven organizations to for-profit boards, regularly coming together to have these discussions is crucial for your organization’s continued growth and success.

Board members lead busy lives outside of the boardroom. To get the most out of their time together, it’s up to board leadership to fully understand how to run a board meeting that keeps everyone focused to arrive at the right decisions. To help, we’ll take a deep dive into these topics related to board meeting management:

At Boardable, we work with all types of boards, including those at mission-driven organizations, corporations, and everything in between. Boards face unique circumstances that can’t be navigated with generic approaches. Using our direct experience, we’re confident you’ll be able to run more efficient board meetings—all it takes is a bit of extra guidance. Let’s kick things off with the basics!


Here are several questions related to board meetings.

Commonly Asked Questions about Board Meetings

To refine your approach to board meeting management, you’ll need to have any lingering questions answered first. A solid foundation of knowledge will empower you to confidently move forward when implementing new approaches and building an engaging atmosphere. Here are a few common questions that board leaders often have about how to run board meetings.

What are the steps to conduct a board meeting?

The order of board meetings varies depending on what needs to be accomplished. However, most follow the same basic structure. When following Robert’s Rules of Order, here is the typical order of business that boards follow when conducting meetings:

  • Call the meeting to order. The presiding officer kicks off the meeting at the designated start time.
  • Call roll. The board secretary calls roll for all attendees, including presiding officers, staff members, and guests. If a quorum is not present, the meeting cannot occur.
  • Approve the agenda and previous meeting’s minutes. The chair moves to approve the agenda and then the minutes. At this point, attendees can request additions, amendments, or deletions. If there are no objections to either motions, the agenda and minutes are approved.
  • Officer and committee reports. Reports are generally for information only. No motions are necessary unless the speaker presents specific recommendations for action.
  • Old Business. The board goes over unresolved items that have been previously discussed and are ready for formal approval.
  • New Business. Board members discuss any additional items pertaining to the organization’s needs. Action items are assigned.
  • Adjourn the meeting. When there is no further discussion or the designated end time approaches, the chair moves to adjourn the meeting.

Take a look at the following graphic from our complete guide to board meeting minutes. It helps visualize this exact process in a formal and organized manner:

This sample agenda shows the order of a typical board meeting.

Given the varying priorities across different organizations, you’ll naturally need to customize your approach. A general outline of a typical meeting’s stages, like the above, will help you plan your meeting. When implemented, you’ll have plenty of time to ensure all important agenda items are covered.

What do you say to open a board meeting?

The chair calls the meeting to order with a simple statement. They should say something along the lines of:

“Good [morning/evening], everyone! It’s [state the date and time], and I’d like to call the meeting of [organization name] to order.”

The officer then addresses any items of personal or perfunctory nature. This could include welcoming new members, thanking retiring members, and welcoming visitors.

Some officers like to change up their approach to energize the boardroom. Try opening with a success story to reiterate the organization’s mission or emphasize current initiatives. Say when a staff or fellow board member goes above and beyond or when the organization achieves a major goal.

A chair should only open a board meeting when a quorum is present, unless it’s unclear if it’s met until after roll call. Your governing documents will indicate how many attendees must be present to legally conduct business.

What should be discussed at a board meeting?

The most productive discussions are focused on the right agenda items for your organization. When laying out your meeting, center your board meeting discussions on these core topics:

Center your board meeting discussions around performance, strategies, and KPIs.

  • Organizational Performance. Run through any major updates on the organization’s performance since the board’s last meeting. Talk about whether you’re moving in the right direction and where you stand in relation to goals. This is your chance to talk about milestones and major achievements, as well as areas where the organization has fallen short.

  • Future Strategies. After reflecting on performance, collaborate on how the organization should adjust its approach in order to promote progress. The bulk of any effective board meeting should consist of discussing strategies and determining an execution plan. Consider any roadblocks and develop ideas for overcoming them.

  • Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Assign KPIs to assess strategies your board wants to put in place. KPIs should be quantifiable, aligned with your goal, and realistically achievable. KPIs vary between organizations and companies, but common examples include client or donor retention, staff turnover rate, and acquired revenue. Concrete metrics like these will help measure your strategies’ success.

Overall, your board should deliberate strategies and approve plans of action, providing ongoing support to the organization as it grows. Keeping your discussions focused on the right topics ensures every moment is maximized during your board meetings.


Let's walk through several board meeting management tips.

Board Meeting Management Best Practices

Running your board meetings with a bit of intentionality can go a long way. There are some simple practices you can master to make meetings go more smoothly. Remember, the more your attendees feel their time and expertise are being respected, the more engaged and invested they will be in the board meetings’ outcomes.

There are several steps you can take to conduct productive and engaging board meetings.

Create Focused Agendas.

Your agenda is the driving force in your board meetings. As described in our complete guide to board meeting agendas:

“At the foundation of every good meeting is a solid meeting agenda. It sets the tone for your meeting and determines how engaged (or disengaged) your board members will be. With some simple planning, your [organization’s] board can drastically improve the effectiveness of its meetings. However, it takes more than just creating a simple governance checklist and calling it a day.”

Develop powerful agendas that set your board meetings up to be productive, collaborative, and engaging with a few key steps. Here are strategies for creating clear roadmaps that cut down on side conversations and get down to business:

  1. Note if a topic is meant to inform, seek information, or arrive at a decision. Knowing the end goal of each item upfront makes it easier to achieve it. Otherwise, your board could arrive at the desired conclusion without realizing it and unnecessarily continue the discussion, consequently wasting time.
  2. Begin with your most important items. Turning the agenda upside down like this enables leadership to receive feedback and spark discussion when everyone’s minds are fresh. Not only will this lead to energized meetings, but it may also encourage people to be more punctual since they won’t want to miss the interesting conversations.

When you’ve taken the time to develop a dynamic and thorough agenda, stick to it. Start on time, hit all essential discussion items, and end on time. Be sure to send the agenda to attendees in advance, giving them plenty of time to prepare and bring insightful thoughts to the table.

Get to Know Your Board Members.

Get to know your board members’ interests, discussion styles, and preferences to improve overall board management.

A well-structured board consists of a variety of backgrounds and personalities. For instance, some will talk first and think later. Others will think first and talk later. You need to know who you need to encourage to speak and who you may need to encourage to stop talking!

Take time outside of the boardroom to get to know your board members. The chair, executive director or CEO, and any other board leadership should meet with each member periodically to allow the kinds of conversations that are difficult in a group setting.

Just like your leadership, inspire your board members to get to know one another by interacting outside of the boardroom. Annual board retreats and regular get-togethers can promote camaraderie, leading to natural conversation during your formal board meetings.

Follow Up With Minutes and Next Steps.

So, you just had a great meeting with lots of productive decisions and discussions. Now what? Start by promptly sending minutes out to attendees (including those who were unable to attend)—ideally within the week.

The most productive board meetings result in a number of follow-up tasks and action items. Meeting minutes don’t just keep a record for posterity—they capture the to-do’s and summarize what the board agreed to accomplish before the next meeting.

Review your minutes, and designate tasks to the correct board members. It’s up to the board chair or administrator to check in periodically on progress between meetings.

To help, Boardable’s Minutes Maker feature allows for easy dispersal of your minutes. Publish them and instantly distribute them to all attendees. Save a record in your Document Center, or email a PDF to meeting guests. With extensive security precautions, you can rest easy knowing that all confidential information is protected.

Then, use the Task Manager to delegate tasks and assign due dates. Board members will be able to see all their assignments directly on their dashboards, and administrators can follow up when deadlines approach.

This screenshot shows attendees' follow-up tasks from past board meetings.

RELATED: Record clear and concise minutes for each of your meetings by following the tips in our complete board meeting minutes guide.

Evaluate Your Meetings at Least Once a Year.

By understanding what’s working well and what’s falling short of expectations, you can then use your board members’ feedback to understand how to run more effective board meetings.

At a couple of meetings every year, give every board member two sticky notes. At the end of the meeting, ask board members to give you a “+” (what part of meetings is going well) and a “-“ (what needs improvement). On their way out, have them put their comments on poster paper next to the door.

 

Alternatively, turn to technology to get the job done! Send out a survey or use polling tools to gauge your board members’ opinions about your board meetings. Get the most helpful feedback by asking open-ended questions or having board members rate different qualities of the meetings on a numbered scale.


Here are several tips for boosting participation at your board meetings.

How to Spark Collaborative Board Meeting Discussions

It should go without saying that active participation from board members with a range of perspectives naturally results in innovative insights. Let’s think about some ways that we can encourage robust discussions, the kind that really get to the essence of the goals you want to achieve.

Finding new ways to energize board meetings isn’t easy, but with the following tips, you can keep everyone engaged and committed to furthering your work.

This graphic details four ways to boost board meeting participation.

Ask Thought-Provoking Questions

Ask questions to draw people out and better understand the underlying assumptions of their arguments. Use non-threatening phrases like, “Can you tell me more about that?” or “Why do you say that?”

Sometimes views that oppose each other on the surface have more commonality when you delve into them to reveal their underlying assumptions. Asking questions can help the group come to a consensus so everyone fully accepts and understands decisions.

Here are some additional questions that can inspire discussion:

  • What needs our immediate attention going forward, and how can we support each other in taking the next steps?
  • Where do you see this organization in a couple of years? What can we do today that will make the most difference in the future?
  • What was your favorite event with the organization so far?
  • Has there been a mission moment or volunteer that has stuck in your mind?

These kinds of questions not only give you a sense of what motivates your board members, but they can also help identify areas that need attention. If your meeting attendees can’t or don’t want to answer some of these questions, it may be a sign that engagement is suffering.

Change Up the Atmosphere.

An engaging atmosphere makes all the difference in your board meetings.

The last thing you want is a bored board. Changing the atmosphere up every once in a while can energize your team, effectively boosting engagement and productivity. Beyond requiring active participation, here are a few tactics for getting your board members to willingly join in and provide their input:

  1. Meet in a different place. You can meet at a program site or at a restaurant for breakfast or lunch. A change of scenery can stimulate new ideas and discussion, effortlessly energizing board meetings. Changing the time of day from an evening meeting to a breakfast gathering can inject energy into conversations, too.
  2. Feed your board members. Most board meetings occur in the evening after many members have put in a full day’s work and would normally be eating dinner. Why not combine social time with food at your board meetings? Consider having one meeting per quarter catered if it’s in the budget. If not, have each member bring a dish to share. While they’re eating, board members have a chance to get to know other members that they might not otherwise talk to.
  3. Make education fun. Board education and development can be difficult to implement on an ongoing basis. There are ways to make it fun though, including tapping into the expertise of board members. Ask for volunteers to put together a presentation of relevant topics of importance, or, if there’s room in the budget, consider bringing in outside speakers who have the skills to help your board.

Board meetings don’t have to stick to the same structure or location. In fact, changing things up every once in a while can re-energize your team and spark higher participation levels. It might take some experimenting, and success will depend on what strategies work with your unique board.

Add a Parking Lot to the Agenda.

Getting sidetracked by new discussion topics that pop up during the board meeting will eat up time and distract board members from the most important agenda items. Mitigate this by including a parking lot at the end of your agenda, where you push random topics that are worthy of discussion but not a top priority.

This part of meeting conduct requires a lot of discipline and a commitment to the agenda items. Get agreement from the group to be able to put items that are not relevant to the discussion in the “parking lot” and discuss them later in the board meeting. Be sure to fulfill your promise by revisiting the parking lot and assessing what should be researched further, added to the next agenda, or delegated as a task.

Keep Routine Items Short.

Long reports and other routine items can quickly drag a board meeting down. The more you drown members in details, the more likely it is that they’ll check out. As a general rule of thumb, spend about 25 percent of the meeting on reporting and the “have to’s.” This leaves the majority of the meeting to discuss strategic direction and other critical issues.

For instance, cut down on reports by encouraging officers and committee chairs to share simple bullet points regarding what the whole board needs to know. At the meeting, board members can ask questions and make comments instead of listening to a minute-by-minute account of leaders’ work and committees’ proceedings.

A consent agenda helps immensely here. It organizes standard and non-controversial board action items away from the rest of the agenda so that they can be approved as a group.

These agenda items require board approval, but because they’re not controversial, they don’t require discussion. This may include the minutes of the last meeting, standard committee reports, the CEO’s report, or informational items. One motion, a second, and a vote approve these items quickly.


Board meeting software can take your meetings to the next level.

How Board Meeting Software Can Help

With so many elements to balance, running board meetings can quickly become overwhelming, and time can slip away before you know it. That’s where board meeting software comes in.

Dedicated board meeting software like Boardable Spotlight makes it easy to facilitate and communicate between your regularly scheduled board meetings. Built to meet the needs of for-profit and mission-driven boards, our end-to-end solution offers everything you need to keep board members focused and engaged—whether they’re attending virtually or in-person.

At a glance, here’s how Boardable Spotlight can help empower your team:

  1. Easily invite board members to join. Boardable Spotlight makes it simple to invite people to join board meetings. After inviting everyone, attendees will gain instant access to corresponding documents and all meeting details like the date and time.
  2. Create a clear agenda and record concise minutes. Plan your board meetings and with our intuitive Agenda Builder. Then, safely share it with attendees, and pull it up within Spotlight during the meeting to take notes. Quickly capture ideas, tasks, decisions, and votes during the meeting without shuffling between multiple tools and browsers.
  3. Enable video conferencing. Leverage our video conferencing tools, and stay connected with board members no matter where they are. Already using Zoom? No problem! Meeting organizers can integrate with Zoom and schedule meetings directly within Boardable Spotlight. That way, you can eliminate separate meeting links and access codes.

Boardable Spotlight makes running board meetings incredibly easy.

To help envision our product in your own operations, take a look at our short explainer video:

Boardable Spotlight brings together all the functionality your organization needs to meet regularly, collaborate seamlessly, and document decisions, so you can spend less time on board meeting logistics and more on fulfilling your mission. You won’t need a second monitor, a separate video conferencing app, or multiple open tabs to conduct highly productive meetings.

Plus, Spotlight works well for hybrid and fully virtual meetings! Not to mention, Boardable Spotlight is also incredibly affordable and fits any organization’s budget. See how our platform will work for your team by taking advantage of a two-week free trial—no credit card or commitment required!

Enhance your board meetings with a free trial of Boardable.


Here are a few additional resources to improve your board meeting management skills even more.

Conclusion and Additional Resources

From sufficient prep work to timely follow-up, there’s a lot that goes into running board meetings. If any part of meeting preparation is lacking, it can affect the quality of the entire meeting.

Remember, meetings are your primary opportunity to gauge board members’ thoughts and get the best strategic guidance possible. Making the most of every moment is crucial for setting your organization up for success and making strides toward your mission.

While a successful board meeting looks different for every organization, many corporations and mission-driven organizations find success in the common strategies we covered. Taking extra steps to improve your board meetings will ultimately spark collaboration and contribute to a healthy, productive environment. In no time, you’ll notice that board members are much more engaged in conversation and willing to put in the necessary time and effort to reach your goals.

Looking to learn more about effective board meeting management? Dive into these helpful resources from the Boardable team:

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