How Many Board Members Are Present in Your Boardroom?

It’s more than just answering the roll call.

 

by Dan Busby and John Pearson

 

The technology we carry with us into board meetings
significantly contributes to
Board Attention Deficit Disorder (BADD).

 

When all board members are assembled in the boardroom for a board meeting—well, at least the ones who arrived on time—there is the usual friendly chatter (that is a good sign). It generally takes a few minutes before the members get quiet and are ready for the call of the roll.

When a board member says “present” or “here,” what does that really mean? Sometimes, it means he or she is merely physically in the boardroom.

Board members are some of the busiest people we know. They probably wouldn’t be good board members if people were not clamoring for their time, their wisdom, and their leadership.

The down side is that busy people often have a hard time tuning out their busy lives and tuning in to the work of the board. Most of them find it especially challenging to turn off their technology and be truly present in the boardroom.

You have probably seen this picture. One board member is working on her computer writing an overdue report—another on his tablet answering emails or working on personal projects while feigning attention to the discussion around the boardroom table.

Another common scenario is when board members attempt to conceal a hand-held device below the boardroom table while texting or emailing.

The result? Board members are physically in the room but they are not truly present. Total presence of each board member is necessary to conduct board business at a high level. Otherwise, a board is just going through the motions—just “phoning it in.”

At the outset of a recent board meeting, the board chair stated that the meeting agenda included issues requiring heavy lifting. He challenged the board to be highly focused and avoid being interrupted by their technology. He said, “My laptop is in my briefcase. I am turning off my phone and placing it on the table. I challenge each of you to do the same.”

While the board chair’s statements may have caused some of the board members to take a deep breath, one by one each board member turned off their devices. What followed was one of the board’s most highly engaged and productive meetings.

Can board members discern and discuss important issues and clearly hear from the Holy Spirit while multitasking with their technology during a board meeting? We doubt it.

Going AWOL on the board meeting “presence” scale is not just about technological interruptions. There are also factors unrelated to technology that cause board members to tune out. Here are a few of these causes:

  • Board meetings that are held too frequently. Some ministry boards meet whether there is a solid agenda for a meeting or not. Weak agendas cause wandering minds in the boardroom. Without a strong monthly agenda, consider meeting less frequently to increase boardroom focus and productivity.
  • Meetings that run too long. Few things will kill the attention of board members like a meeting that seems to continue into eternity. One of the ministry boards which I served on for nearly 20 years had multi-day meetings, including meetings in the evenings. As an evening meeting wore on, the board chair would monitor board attentiveness and the clock. When the clock struck 9 p.m., he would often say “Unless we adjourn for the evening, we will be presuming on the grace of God.” And, he was so right! Better would have been to plan shorter meeting times to ensure the board’s maximum attention for the duration of the meeting.
  • Board meetings conducted in a physical location not conducive to focused board work. Few boards can meet in a tranquil, mind-clearing location with a view of Pike’s Peak or of the ocean. But most boards can and should meet in surroundings that are well-lit, appropriately decorated, and with adequate space. These factors will improve attentiveness.

Whether it is avoiding technological interruptions or addressing other issues that detract from a focused board meeting, finding a way to maximize the total presence of all board members is vital.

 

BOARDROOM LESSON
_______________________________

Minimizing boardroom distractions will maximize meeting impact
and enhance the possibility of hearing the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit.

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Assess: Are all of your board members really present in each board meeting? If not, is it just one or two board members who are consistently distracted or is it a general condition of the board? Which distractions are the most serious in nature?

  2. Evaluate: If distractions, especially from technology, are prevalent, how can the condition best be addressed by the board chair?

  3. Develop: Create an action plan to determine which issues need to be addressed “full throttle” and perhaps decide on other issues which can be alleviated with some gentle reminders.

 

Prayer

Lord, help our board to be truly present, in every sense of the word,
during our board meetings. Amen.

 

From More Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom: Effectiveness, Excellence, Elephants!, 2019, www.ECFA.org/KnowledgeCenter.


This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.

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