It cannot be denied that many of us regard board meetings in particular as a necessary evil. It is a routine that cannot be avoided and in many instances does not produce much meaningful output. Some of this criticism can be attributed to a disconnection between the governing board and the executive staff. Members invariably see these meetings as an opportunity to exchange views and experiences directly related to their individual businesses or practices, whereas attending staff are more concerned with procedural matters. This is due in many cases to a lack of comprehension of each other’s priorities. Association executives, unless they are drawn from the industry they serve, may lack an understanding of the practicalities of their member firms, whereas elected board are not aware of the issues being dealt with by their association’s employees. This is at stark variance with their relationship as company employers. At the same time we are all part of the same team.
As individuals participating in board meetings we are seldom given the opportunity to experience what it is like to be on the other side of the table. But it need not be this way. While care should be taken to maintain a clear delineation between governance and execution, board members should be encouraged following election and installation to familiarise themselves with the responsibilities and functions of the secretariat. This should involve getting to know individual staffers. Similarly, new appointees should be given the opportunity to spend a few days in one or more member firms to observe at close hand what the industry is all about. Following this prescription invariable results in strong partnerships and more productive meetings.
As stakeholders in the organisations both the chief executive and board members can influence the agenda and the items to be included on it. Board meetings should not be limited to governance and strategic oversight, but should include interesting operational contents with sufficient time allowed for questions and discussion. This could involve a guest speaker with expertise to achieve greater understanding and decision taking. It will result in an engaging meeting, stimulate debate and with it encourage attendance and commitment.
Strategic planning and innovation is best served in separate meetings away from the usual venue in an informal environment. It should involve all senior staff, who will be involved in implementation. Collaborative planning will assist stakeholders from both sides to work collaboratively and not in a subservient manner. Depending on the size of the organisation there could be merit in allocating individual board members portfolio oversight. Areas that come readily to mind are Public Affairs, Finance, External Risks, Government Relations and Special Projects.