The Ultimate Board Meeting Guide: Members, Format, and Agendas
Emily Liu |
Jun 15, 2022 |
Jun 15, 2022
Everyone loves a good board meeting, right? Whether it’s a school board meeting at your child’s middle school or a board of directors meeting at your workplace, board meetings can bring a whole lot of fun and excitement to the table.
OK, we made up that last part — but everything else we’re about to tell you is true.
So, if you’re wondering exactly what a board meeting is and how to effectively participate in one, we have the answers. Let’s take a look at how board meetings are held, who’s on the board, and how you can walk away with the best notes and action items.
What is a board meeting?
A board meeting is a formal gathering of a board of directors. The keyword here is “formal.”
Unlike a regular meeting, a board meeting for an organization — whether it’s a nonprofit, a public school, or a corporation — has to abide by the bylaws of that organization.
Plus, whether you’re discussing high-level strategic partnerships for a business or accessibility initiatives for a school district, a successful board meeting needs to have these three things:
- A chairperson
- A quorum
- Meeting minutes
Every board meeting needs a chairperson to preside over it. The chair may or may not be a voting member, but it’s their job to keep things running smoothly.
Usually, this means following Robert’s Rules of Order or parliamentary procedure, which calls for meeting members to speak one at a time — and only when acknowledged by the chairperson. It may sound tedious, but trust us, it’s for the good of the group!
Otherwise, everyone would be talking over each other and you wouldn’t be able to get through all of your board meeting agenda items.
A quorum refers to the number of board members who need to be present to make binding decisions. If 100% quorum is needed, a single absence can really get in the way of getting things done.
The exact number of members required depends on the group’s bylaws. However, there are ways to make full attendance easier to achieve, such as offering a video or teleconference option.
Finally, a meeting isn’t a board meeting without minutes. Minutes are basically just notes of what was discussed and what decisions were made.
But board meeting minutes have to be approved by all members present at the next meeting in order to be valid.
If you need help taking notes, you can use a tool like Anchor AI. It takes automated notes for your in-person or virtual meeting and can even generate action items.
Who is on the board?
The good news about running a board meeting is that deciding who to invite is easy: All board members — and only board members — are invited, so there are no hurt feelings or plus-ones to worry about.
Some organizations will hold public meetings by hosting a webcast or opening their doors. This is more common for nonprofit board meetings. However, other meetings of the board will usually be closed sessions, and even nonprofits may have special meetings just for board members.
Who’s on the board depends on what type of organization it is. Here are three types of organizations and who they invite to their board meetings:
Publicly held companies typically have both a board of directors and shareholders.
Shareholders are invited to general business meetings but not corporate board meetings. Executive committee meetings, which are only open to a handful of members elected by the board, are even more selective.
This means board members usually have more say over the direction of the company, but shareholders may still have the opportunity to vote on important decisions.
Nonprofit organizations often have a board of directors who oversee the strategic plan, while day-to-day operations are left to everyday staff or members.
Some members of the board may be elected officers, such as the president or the treasurer. Other board members, such as legal advisors and financial advisors, act in an advisory capacity and don’t have voting power.
School boards, also known as boards of education, are a bit different from other types of boards in that school board meetings are usually open to parents and other members of the public.
School boards are responsible for setting goals for the school district and choosing the superintendent. A typical board of education meeting might cover everything from enrollment in special education programs to back-to-school plans for the entire school district.
During these open sessions, school boards are expected to make time for public comment and may even post the full meeting videos on their social media and their YouTube channels.
How are board meetings held?
In the old days, business often had to be conducted in person, which made airlines very happy and helped George Clooney rack up a lot of frequent flier miles.
Then Anna Kendrick arrived on the scene and started laying people off over video chat, ushering in a new era of remote work and virtual meetings. (If you haven’t guessed, we’re talking about the hit film “Up in the Air.”)
That might be oversimplifying it a bit, but these days, it’s common for board meetings to be open to virtual participants or even for the entire meeting to be held over Zoom.
However you decide to hold your board meeting, share details of your board meeting schedule well in advance so everyone can make plans to attend.
You can hold board meetings in a boardroom or at any other private location. Just be sure to follow your board policy (in the bylaws) when choosing a location and upcoming meeting dates.
What gets discussed at a board meeting?
Almost any topic is fair game at a board meeting — as long as it’s on the agenda.
Ideally, the meeting chair will send agenda items well in advance, but there may be time at the beginning of the meeting to add more items to the agenda.
Why is an agenda so important? Knowing discussion topics ahead of time gives participants a chance to think about those topics. It also helps the chairperson stick to the schedule, because they can estimate how much time each agenda item will take.
Some organizations include approving the last meeting’s minutes as their first agenda item for each meeting. Here are a few more common agenda items you’ll find at a board meeting:
- Past performance and key performance indicators (KPIs)
- Future plans and partnerships
- Officers and committees
Past performance and KPIs
Corporations use key performance indicators (KPIs) to determine whether they’re meeting their stated goals. Some companies might focus solely on revenue as a metric, while others focus on customer retention or percentage of market share.
When covering this in a meeting, it’s usually good to start by discussing past performance and KPIs. That gives everyone the information they need to look ahead.
If the board meeting includes members from different parts of the organization, it may be useful for each member to give an update on their department.
Future plans and partnerships
The next item on the agenda might be approving a strategic plan, such as a new sales strategy or a partnership with another organization.
The future plans and partnerships section is often split into “Old Business” — items that have already been discussed at previous meetings — and “New Business,” the topics that are being introduced for the first time. This helps participants keep track of what’s what.
Officers and committees
For some types of boards, especially nonprofits, you’ll have to hold elections once a year to choose officers like the president, secretary, and treasurer.
You may also want to form committees, like an audit committee for financial reporting, and determine which board members should sit on each one.
At all future meetings, make time on the meeting agenda for committee updates so everyone can stay on top of what’s going on in the organization.
What do effective board meetings entail?
Ineffective board meetings feel like wasted time and don’t really lead to significant results. If you want to walk out of the board room feeling like you’ve actually spent your time wisely, focus on achieving these four elements of effective board meetings.
Everyone has something they’d rather be doing than attending a board meeting. When meetings start on time and end on time, they’re not only more enjoyable — they’re also more effective. Your board members won’t go back and forth on the same subject for half an hour or get antsy in their chairs. Timeliness spurs concrete decisions.
Setting specific time frames for each agenda item is key to staying on schedule and ensuring board members know when they need to move on.
Your board meeting doesn’t have to start at the time of your calendar invite. Give yourself a 15-minute buffer between your gathering time and your call to order, which initiates your board meeting, to allow attendees to socialize and settle down without disrupting your schedule.
2. Active participation
Effective board meetings give every board member a chance to speak and contribute their thoughts and expertise. While the chairperson plays a big role in this by leading parliamentary procedure — and consciously practicing non-discrimination when selecting speakers — it’s also important for the entire board to be on the same page about how your board meetings will work.
Consider setting ground rules for your board of directors — for example, how often they should speak and when. This can encourage quieter members to speak up when a topic that falls under their expertise comes up, while ensuring that louder members don’t dominate the conversation.
Through active participation, you can get a more comprehensive perspective on each agenda item and make stronger decisions.
3. Clear takeaways
Every good meeting needs to lead to identifiable results. If your discussions don’t lead to actual takeaways and action items, you’re probably wasting your time. Make sure each agenda item ends with a clear decision to make the most of your board meeting. As the meeting ends, assign action items to relevant board members. Decide on a deadline, and give them any details they need to be successful.
4. Calm debates
If there’s a debate between board members, the chairperson can give both sides the chance to share their opinions while encouraging mutual respect. Professional discussions are more likely to lead to clear takeaways than heated ones.
It’s important that everyone has a chance to add their thoughts. However, to avoid unproductive debate or venting, the chairperson can decide when to close the debate and vote on a motion. This way, you can keep to your scheduled time and focus on getting results.
Use Anchor AI for board meeting action items and notes
Board meetings are formal gatherings of board of directors that are led by a chairperson and recorded through meeting minutes. Though your meeting format and invite list may vary depending on your bylaws, board meetings are always well-organized and rules-driven. Feel free to bring up any relevant topic at your next board meeting — as long as you put it on the agenda first.
Before you wrap up your meeting, be sure to review any action items that need to be done prior to the next meeting and who will be responsible for them.
You’ll also need to send out the meeting minutes so attendees can approve them and they can be added to the organization’s records.
Anchor AI can help with both of those steps by note-taking like a pro so you don’t have to. Invite Anchor AI to your virtual meetings, and it will create a time-stamped record of everything that was said and even identify action items for you.
That way, your meeting will run smoothly and you won’t have to worry about missing anything important while trying to capture meeting minutes.
Learn more about how Anchor AI works or sign up for Anchor AI today!
Want more insights on board meetings? Check out these additional resources to further improve your board meetings: