Great (board) meetings are made not born

by Jini Stolk

We all know the difference between a good meeting and a great meeting – and the even wider gap between a great meeting and one that’s just a frustrating waste of time. Board chairs, in particular, are charged with creating a two-hour gathering every month or so that is: intellectually stimulating, energizing, productive and decisive, building strong bonds among participants and the common will to move the organization forward.

It’s really not a position for the faint of heart.

That’s why I was very happy to receive Seven Tips to Facilitating a Great Meeting from fellow CSI member Jessica Bell. It’s written for professional facilitators, us folks who occasionally haul out the flip charts and multi-coloured markers, but I think it’s equally valuable for anyone running board, membership, or community meetings.

Lead the process so the group can get on with the important work of making decision. The agenda is key. Logistics matter (that means that the room should be comfortable, well set up, and easy to get to.) Respect the culture (Robert’s Rules for a creative arts organization’s meetings? probably not.) Listen, track conversations for solutions, and synthesize. Make sure people stay on topic. Deal with difficult people: don’t expect the tension they create to go away or have no negative impact.

These things sound very logical but they take work, and require a good working partnership between the board chair and managing and artistic directors. Board meetings are among the most important platforms where these core relationships are forged and tested.

I will never forget a conversation I had years ago with a very smart young ED about a colleague she was working with. She whispered to me, almost with horror, that he “came to meetings unprepared.” That was a real personal kick in the pants, and no matter what side of the board table I’ve sat on since, I’ve tried to be very sure not to repeat his mistake. This document (and its attached list of resources) is going to help with that.

I’ll be writing more in the next few months about the lessons I’ve learned from my experiences of being on – and in a number of cases, leading – a board

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