Board Meetings - Top Tips

In this blog, you will learn tips on how to make your board (and other) meetings more effective.

Love them or hate them, meetings are an integral part of everyday life in most organisations, now is the time to improve them.....

Meetings are here to stay

Not many organisations could operate with no meetings at all, so meetings are probably here to stay. Board meetings are especially important as they play a key role in ensuring that the organisation is well run and that governance is robust. 

In not-for-profit bodies particularly, board meetings are crucial as they are the forum where good corporate governance is evidenced across leadership, strategy, financial management, risk management, compliance, decision making and board effectiveness. (See our blog on Top Reasons for Good Charity Governance)

In this blog post we look at what can go wrong with board meetings, how they can waste a lot of your valuable time and what you can do to improve them in your organisation.

Voluntary Board/Committee Meetings

Voluntary boards and committees in charities, credit unions and other not-for-profit bodies are a special case.  Meetings in these organisations take on more significance as their constitution will likely provide a framework for meetings that must be adhered to.  Also, board members (often trustees) are unpaid for their time and commitment. (Sign up to receive one of our future blogs on top tips for recruiting trustees).

The problem with meetings

So, what is the problem with meetings?  Surely they are a vital component of the communication and decision making framework of organisations of all sizes?

Well, yes they are.  But not all meetings are good or effective.  These are the ones that need to be improved. Or deferred.  Or even cancelled.

As a board member, your time is extremely valuable and maybe you have attended meetings that displayed some or all of these problems:

  • No formal agenda
  • The agenda is vague and in no logical order
  • The meeting starts late because of ‘stragglers’….and then overruns
  • Minutes from the last meeting are barely recognisable and many actions/responsibilities/deadlines are unclear
  • Papers are missing, incomplete and even presented (late) at the meeting
  • Side conversations run uninterrupted and are not ‘through the chair’
  • Forceful personalities dominate discussions and ramble on aimlessly about their own pet subjects
  • Some attendees add little or nothing to the meeting

During some meetings, you will know that it's not a good use of your time being there. And often it isn’t easy to change the course of a meeting after it has started.

So, what can you do? 

Strategies to improve meetings

Some attendees invest time before the meeting i.e. at the planning stage - so they will save a lot more time later on.  Some focus during the meeting itself to make it run efficiently and effectively while others spend their time after the meeting trying to improve the outputs.

The best solution involves all 3 stages – prepare before; control during; manage after the meeting.

Board Meeting Top - Tips

If you're looking for a lasting solution, here are some top tips for the 3 stages of your board meetings:

Stage 1: Before your Meeting

  • Timely receipt: Aim to receive (or issue) the agenda and all the papers at least one week in advance – so you can read, digest and prepare for the topics being discussed
  • Board paper structure: Ensure that board papers are presented in a standard format for all routine submissions – the less free form (or worse, verbal) submissions, the better
  • Clear agenda: Make sure the agenda is clear (item headings, order and timings; who is presenting; what decision, if any, is required) and that it has a strategic focus - this lets you know in advance what you need to prepare for, what challenge(s) you need to consider, what is top priority and what is not and helps keep everyone on track
  • Arrive early: Arrive at least 10 minutes early so that all the pleasantries are over, coffee/tea/water poured, papers ready (or tablet prepared) so that the meeting can start on time – no point in getting off to a slow start
  • Read all the papers: At the start of the meeting, the chair should confirm that papers have all been read in advance and only take questions of clarification or challenge or support – this focuses on the outcome needed and avoids a general discussion that repeats what is in the paper(s)

Stage 2: During your Meeting

  • Chair role: Ensure your chair (if it’s not you!) keeps everything moving against pre-agreed time slots or the ‘time bandits’ will move in and distract everyone from the important matters and decisions
  • Restrict late papers (No “AOB”): Only in exceptional circumstances include “AOB” on your agenda or allow papers to be presented at the meeting – you need time to read them so don’t be rushed into a decision while someone ‘talks you through the main issues’
  • Everything through the Chair: Discourage all side discussions or debates – all conversations should be through the chair and all speakers shown courtesy and respect – the chair can appoint a timekeeper to keep the process moving at a good pace
  • Consider paperless meetings: There is a trend now towards paperless meetings and this can save so much time printing, copying, scanning, filing, emailing, posting……..not to mention the benefits to the environment
  • Action Minutes:  Record all actions clearly, with responsibilities and timeframes
  • Strategy: Remember that boards should be focused on strategic issues and should not get constantly bogged down in the minutae of the organisation's operations
  • Finish on time: Make sure the meeting ends when it is supposed to - this is a discipline that everyone respects and the Chair can manage if they focus on time and time wasters

Stage 3: After your Meeting

  • Prompt Minutes: Ensure draft minutes are issued, ideally within 48 hours of the meeting so the items are fresh in people’s minds – give a deadline for any amendments and issue final minutes, ideally within 7 days
  • Record Actions: Record all actions in a Minutes Log to ensure that none are forgotten or missed
  • Follow up Actions:  If you have an action to follow up, make sure it is done on time and not “fudged” the day before the next meeting so you can look like you did something

The important role of the Chair

Some of the above actions are for the Chair and some are for the attendees.  While the role of the chair is a critical one, everyone must play their part, as it will be a team effort if you really want to improve board and other meetings in your organisation.

Start with your next meeting….

Meetings take up so much of our valuable time, especially if we are giving it free to our not-for-profit or public sector body.  You owe it to yourself, the organisation and the key stakeholders to make meetings more effective.

The steps to achieve this aren’t complicated, they just need some dedicated time invested up front, then during and after the meetings to make them work better.  The outcomes will be much clearer and more focused.  The time to start is now, before your next meeting to make sure it is more effective and makes best use of your time.

In another blog, we examined the structure of board papers and later will be looking at the format for meeting agendas and minutes so make sure you sign up to our newsletter so that you don’t miss outt.

Good corporate governance is no longer a 'nice to have' and board members need to be sure that they have strong governance in place.  Our online Governance Improvement Tool solution helps voluntary boards to easily and objectively self-assess their own governance arrangements and produce a report and action plan that can be implemented immediately, using SMART objectives.

Contact us at for more details of how we can help your not-for-profit improve your corporate governance.

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