Heather Comstock Connects

Helping nonprofits and other volunteer organizations develop strong relationships and a clear voice in the community.

Beating Dead Horses: No More Bored Meetings

Does your board have the inertia of a sleeping cat?

What is the scourge of the existence of any nonprofit staffer or longtime volunteer? Board meetings (which I believe should be referred to as “bored” meetings). What is the problem with them?  Let me count the ways…

  • They waste time because board members haven’t bothered reading the materials in advance. Materials, I might add, that the staff have procured and disseminated to the board often under pressured and stressful conditions.
  • The board chair is unable to gracefully cut off non-productive discussions or keep the discussion on track.
  • Board members and committee chairs read reports aloud that should have been sent and read in advance. There’s no request for action by the board in the reports.
  • After much discussion and high emotions, the To Do items are promptly forgotten by everyone until the next meeting and thus, no real action is taken on any of the items.

Why do we continue to let this happen? Because it is institutionalized into the sector. Standards for board governance and oversight recommend frequent meetings by the board of directors so they can discharge their fiduciary responsibility. But the truth of the matter is, a few hours once a quarter isn’t always enough to identify issues that signify there are deep problems within the organization, especially if the financial information isn’t provided in advance of the meeting.

Why do we blindly accept that nothing ever happens? Good ideas are thrown on the table, committees are formed or report, and yet there remains a lack of inertia. It either falls on the staff to complete the task with nothing but criticism offered at the execution or the idea just dies all together due to neglect.

Now. Stop and think about smaller organizations such as local fraternal organization or PTA. Stuff happens in those meetings all the time. Why? Accountability. You have to see these people all the time and there’s nowhere to hide. If you agreed to be the host of the annual Fall Carnival and you don’t do anything (barring any major life event), two things will happen. One, everyone will know you screwed up. Two, things just won’t get done. It doesn’t take long for the rest of the community to find out who was responsible.

So why do we as nonprofit board members, hide behind the anonymity of being The Board? What would happen if we:

  • Questioned why we were having the scheduled board meeting?
  • Publicized stuff we were “gonna do” but we didn’t have anyone to step up and make it happen?
  • Wrote up the financials in easier to understand personal financial kind of way?
  • Had a quiz on the pre-meeting materials before starting the meeting?
  • Gave the board chair an air horn and a stop watch with a 30 second limit (and possibly a Smelting Stick)?

Okay, so this is fantasy, but how can we harness the productivity seen in smaller organizations with our larger or more structured organizations? Does anyone have any success stories of larger boards that were active and nimble?

Seriously – because unless you can justify to me the importance of my actually being in a meeting, I am not burning my $3.75 a gallon gas to attend it! (unless you want to hire me to come nag your board!)

The Inspiration for this post:

Srinivas Rao – The Skool of Life Blog picked up from the Time Management Ninja on Facebook. http://theskooloflife.com/wordpress/why-most-meetings-are-huge-waste-of-time/

Margaret Heffernan http://www.inc.com/margaret-heffernan/make-meetings-productive-three-better-ways.html

Time Management Ninja http://timemanagementninja.com/2012/08/10-ways-to-wake-up-your-next-meeting/

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