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Want Shorter and More Productive Board Meetings?

governance Feb 25, 2020

As a public charter school consultant and trainer the question I get most often is, how do we make our board meetings shorter and more productive?

The answer is pretty simple in theory, but getting there takes focus.

Focus on what is most important. 

Since 2012 I have researched and studied effective governance practices. The last five years I have served on a charter school board as governance chair and two years as the board chair.

Here is what I learned.

If you do not prepare on the front end you will be repairing on the back end.

The key to facilitating an effective and purposeful board meeting begins with the setting of the monthly agenda.   

Who Sets the agenda?

The agenda is a collaborative process set by the head of the school and the board chair. 

When is the agenda set?

The development of the next months agenda begins at the end of the previous board meeting.

At the close of the meeting the board chair should:

  1. Ask who is taking minutes to state the discussion items from this meeting that will need to be action items next month.  
  2. Review the school’s Outcomes Based Calendar and note any reports or items due next month. At this time the Chair should let any committee chair know they have a report due to the board seven days in advance of the next meeting. 

This will be the initial agenda draft.

Within two business days of the close of the meeting the chair and head of school should meet to determine what went well at the meeting and what needs improvement.

During this meeting they should complete drafting the agenda by adding any additional items discussed. 

Next Steps: 

The drafted agenda should be sent to the full board for review and asked for feedback. Put a timeline of one week on this process. 

Within two weeks of the upcoming board meeting, the finalized agenda should be ready to be sent to the full board. 

Be sure to provide direction to the board members or committees to ensure they have all reports and information to the appointed individual who disseminates the full board packet and agenda to the board five to seven days prior to the board meeting. (Note: Do not have multiple people sending the full board information, this gets confusing and creates a less prepared board.)

There should be a clear expectation that all board members are prepared. By providing the information to the board in a timely manner, the meeting can be spent focused on discussion and action, not catching up. 

What should be on the agenda?

The Pareto Principle states that a small percentage of inputs generates or produces a large percentage of outcomes. As a board, addressing only one or two issues will produce extraordinary results. This is what the chair and lead administrator should be focusing their conversation on in the early stages. Eliminate the distractions and challenge yourself to identify what are those one or two high impact issues are. Trust the school’s management team to address the rest. I love this quote by governance expert and mentor Dr. Brian Carpenter, “Every minute you spend engaged in the trivial many is a minute you failed to spend discussing the vital few.”

Please note that I mentioned these critical rocks should be at the START of the meeting.

Asking board members to think strategically and make million dollar decisions after a full day of work and two hours into a board meeting is a recipe for disaster. 

The board should be focused on WHAT REALLY MATTERS! The information presented and discussed should directly align with the goals of the organization as a whole. If it doesn’t inform the board on WHAT REALLY MATTERS and support the board in achieving the organization goals…It should not be discussed in the board meeting.

Each board agenda item should have a clear purpose (Information, Discussion, Action) and time constraint. Any Information item should be to inform the board on how well the school's plans are meeting the strategic goals. Any discussion item should be leading the board to an action. If after the set time there is no motion towards action, the item should be tabled and returned to the committee or management team for new information or recommendations. *Appoint a timekeeper to keep the meeting on track

No other singular variable is more important for the health and vitality of a school than the way it is governed. This begins and ends with the culture of the board meeting. As you know, serving on a public charter school board is no small task because every decision, in some manner, affects children. Every failure of a public charter school can be traced back, in some form or fashion, to the board that governs the school. I encourage you to take a deeper look at your board agenda development practices and processes. It might just be the missing factor that turns your school around. 

Want more help with your organizing board? Our professional services provide a better practices model that results in each individual member will benefit by

  • identifying and possessing a clear understanding of how they can ensure that their valuable time and talents are being used effectively to help others,
  • understand the fiduciary, legal, and ethical roles and responsibilities of serving on a nonprofit board governing a public charter school,
  • experience the satisfaction of having the tools needed to be a committed, productive board member; so that they can,
  • leave each meeting feeling confident in their decision making and know, not assume, the organization is navigating towards their mission and vision.

Learn more about our board training opportunities by clicking here.

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