Want to save time so that board members don’t degenerate into bored members?

Check out consent agendas.
When I first came to association management 14 years ago from the field of newspaper writing and editing, I was struck by how inordinately long board meetings seemed to be.

There was a distinct association culture, to be sure, but what I noticed first off was that the boardroom was full of bored members.

We began with a social hour, complete with cocktails and appetizers, followed by a heart-stopping dinner that included roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy and glazed carrots.

Halfway through the meeting, the room was abuzz, not with the voices of spirited debate, but with the vibrations of gentle snores. The byproduct of a heavy meal compounded by an open bar had reduced half the 15-member board to somnolence. The other half was trying to hold up their end of the conversation by muddling through the minutes, financial statements and committee reports — none of which had been sent out prior to the meeting — and it was a losing battle.

It was hard to tell which were more glazed at this point — my eyes or the carrots.

The meeting was as predictable and uninteresting as a a plate of mashed potatoes and gravy. What’s worse, those still awake were getting frustrated and irritable.

My, how times have changed. Board meetings I plan never remotely resemble nap time at the nursing home. They may become the launch point for spirited debate. But boring? Never. Here’s my list of Do’s and Don’ts:

Send out the materials in advance. Don’t expect board members to vote on matters cold. If they haven’t read the material, they don’t know what they are approving.

Do include business-as-usual items, such as minutes, financial statements, and committee reports under the consent agenda heading.

Don’t include items in the consent agenda that would benefit from debate. When boards are operating optimally, they bring to the table the brain trust of a diverse and talented group individuals. Discussion of issues often yields fresh perspective or new ideas that are worth consideration. Don’t rob the association of the benefit of this resource. The consent agenda’s purpose is to free up time so that you can use the resource of time and talent your board represents without exhausting it.

Consider moving consent agenda items to the end of the meeting. Timing is crucial. Ask board members to put on their thinking caps for discussion of important and/or pressing issues while they still fresh — in the early portion of the meeting. Don’t shuffle important matters to the end of the schedule.

Lay some ground rules and, after board adoption, include them in the board’s policy and procedure manual. Then include the manual in the orientation kit of every new board member.

Ask board members to complete an Agenda Request form ahead of time, so that matters for board discussion can be incorporated into the Action Agenda. The form should capture information related to the item the board member wishes to discuss, including background information and possible impact of the issue being studied and recommendation for board action, if any, stated in the form of a motion.