Have you ever had to chase staff for board papers, not received the papers in time to enable adequate preparation, or not had enough information to be able to ask the right questions at meetings? If you’ve answered yes to any of these, you’re not alone.
Effective planning for meetings helps everyone to fulfil their role with less stress and more productivity! Meeting dates should be in everyone’s diary for the year in advance. While admin staff will physically send out the agenda and supporting papers, it is the role of the Chair to ensure the agenda is focused on the key issues for the board.
Agendas usually have a number of standing items which come up at every meeting. These include apologies, conflicts of interest, minutes of last meeting, matters arising, agreeing items to be considered under ‘any other business’, and setting the date and time of the next meeting. Usually boards will consider management accounts and a performance report as standing items. The Chair should also ensure that any new projects and developments to be discussed are given their own agenda line. It is good practice to put a starting time against each agenda item, to indicate how long the board is expected to spend on it. This helps focus your board more on the things that are really important, and prevents time wasting on issues that are not priorities. Indicating whether items are for decision, for noting, or for discussion helps board members to plan their contribution by clarifying the intended outcome.
Research has shown that, among boards that have collectively agreed an expectation of 100% attendance, levels of attendance tend to be higher.
The purpose of the meeting notice is to make sure all board members know when and where the next meeting will take place. All board members should attend all board meetings except in truly exceptional circumstances. Everyone should get the agenda and associated board papers, even if you know they’ll not be at the meeting. If you are unable to attend, you should at least read through the board papers and provide feedback to the Chair prior to the meeting so that your views can be represented.
The agenda should state when and where the meeting is to be held. It should be sent out, with all supporting papers, at least a week before the meeting to allow board members time to prepare.
Your board should have management accounts (especially cash flow forecast, budget variances and prediction to year end) as a standing agenda item. Your board should be able to demonstrate that they scrutinise these reports, and all board members should ask questions on them.
As noted previously, another popular standing item is a clear management report on performance against targets agreed in the business plan. This will detail how the organisation is meeting its objectives, serving customers, developing staff etc.
It is good practice to include a written report on any agenda item on which the board is being asked to make a decision. Directors must take into consideration the long-term interests of the company, the effects on staff, customers, suppliers and other key stakeholders, the environment, the reputation of the company and the need to act fairly between members when making a decision. A good report will address all these factors and have a clear recommendation for the board to consider, with strong supporting evidence.
Board member responsibilities
Each board member should ensure they are fully prepared for each board meeting by reading board papers and identifying questions they need to ask. This is the final and most important step in meeting preparation.
Board members have a legal responsibility to exercise reasonable care, skill and diligence. Investing time in preparing well for meetings is one of the best ways they can do that.