As most people know, one of a board’s responsibilities is to monitor the organization’s performance to protect the interest of its owners. However, many board members are not clear on how this important role is best carried out. The board’s role is not to examine operations with a fine tooth comb and tell the staff specifically what enhancements they suggest in daily operations. Rather, the board’s job is to ensure that the organization’s resources are being used to further its mission and that the work is being done within legal and policy limits.
Much of a board’s monitoring work is done through progress reports from staff or committees.
In some organizations it is common practice for progress reports to be given orally at a board meeting. Over 90% of the time at these board meetings might be consumed by report after report. The board members listen to the updates, perhaps make a comment here and there on the organization’s activities, and then adjourn until the next meeting.
Pre-meeting preparation is an essential element in effective board meetings. For boards to be able to focus their meetings on the most critical organizational leadership matters, board members need to receive relevant information ahead of time, review the information, and complete all pre-meeting work.
I previously suggested that boards often fill their meetings with agenda items which take the organization nowhere. Although frustrated with motion after tedious motion, many board members don’t know how they could reduce the time taken by these legally required or traditional board meeting issues.
The government acts or regulations within which board-led organizations are created often stipulate items which must be approved by the board. This list can include several routine items which staff have screened but still require board confirmation. No board discussion has happened on these items in the past few years. A motion is duly moved and seconded and unanimously approved over and over. Other organizations are in the habit of putting certain items on their agenda and are concerned that the board would be negligent if they removed such items. Handling all these motions takes time and the scheduled hour of adjournment arrives before the board members have had a chance to discuss any new initiatives or address any of the organization’s significant challenges.
With a consent agenda the myriad of necessary board approvals can be handled in one motion, leaving the majority of the meeting time to discuss issues which will benefit from the insights and wisdom of the organization’s leaders. A consent agenda is one in which all the items that may not require any discussion are listed as subpoints to one agenda item. This consent agenda list might include: