on in Nonprofit

Having just come off a weekend flurry of emails and calls, I started reflecting on how much of a board chair’s work happens behind the scenes.

When it goes well.

Drop a critical issue into the mix at a board meeting without some preparatory groundwork? It might lead to important next steps; it might get sidestepped; it might panic board members right into even deeper disengagement.

But raise a point for discussion that’s been vetted and “owned” by a small group of board members – and the conversation’s more likely to get steered in a productive direction.

Full groups are good for brainstorming. Throwing out idea upon idea and seeing what sticks.

Paradoxically, large group meetings also lend themselves to passively listening to reports. Stand up, deliver, sit down, next.


Two extremes.

When meetings – of more than 4 or 5 – gallop away with themselves (brainstorming leading to enthusiastic adoption of unrealistic scenarios), the culprit is often not enough priming of the pump.

Likewise, when meetings “dud” – questions get raised and no-one ventures an opinion – the culprit is also likely not enough drawing out beforehand of the concerned parties.

What do we want the meeting to accomplish? Who is critical to that outcome? Can I talk with them ahead-of-time, secure their buy-in, get their creative juices flowing, so that at the actual meeting they tug the larger group towards a positive and lively dialogue?

Sure, it adds time to a board chair’s already-busy plate – but it also makes the time spent more productive.

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