Creating Effective and Engaged Boards
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By Kathie Pugaczewski, Vice President of Communications and Technology

At Ewald Consulting, we provide support for a wide variety of professions — including economic developers, property managers, cardiologists, researchers, publishers, child care providers, and training and development professionals.

One factor that all of these professions have in common is the desire for an effective association. This starts with an effective board leading the association, and effective and productive board meetings.

Quick exercise: At your next board meeting, have your board members individually list the top three issues facing members. Are these issues the same as those the organization has identified in its vision and mission? Are they truly in sync with the membership? If you get different answers from board members, chances are members will also have different answers. Make sure that you all have the same “elevator pitch” for your organization to communicate better and stay focused.

With more than 40 clients, we’ve identified common attributes of effective boards:

  • Directors have passion for the organization’s mission;
  • Directors come to every meeting prepared – they’ve read materials in advance;
  • All understand role of staff and board;
  • Board members respect each other and keep each other accountable;
  • The board stays focused on strategy — and out of the day-to-day details;
  • Board members focus on relevant issues.

We all have to deal with the following realities in the business environment:

  • Time – people are busy with multiple priorities.
  • Attention economy – the rapid growth of information causes scarcity of attention;
  • Technology – mobile devices, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, instant messaging, LinkedIn…What’s next?

Given these realities, association leaders need to…

  • Plan effectively and efficiently;
  • Make the most of in-person meetings and connect between meetings;
  • Be accountable – don’t over-commit;
  • Develop future leaders through mentorship;
  • Identify generational differences in style.

We need to develop our future leaders and work with younger generations in a way that connects. The strength of our board and association will come from engaged members of all generations who contribute to the organization in their own ways, ultimately creating an energy and vibrancy in our association. This community of involved members will drive the organization and draw potential members to belong.

Ways to engage generations on the board and in the association:

  • Start a mentoring program. Boomers can help with mentoring.
  • Invite Gen X and Gen Y to be on the board even if they haven’t “put in their time.”
  • Start a Young Professionals Group.
  • Keep meetings short and focused.
  • Share information.
  • Learn from one another.
  • Create buy-in.

In the context of all of us being “meeting-ed out,” we need to make sure our board meetings are meaningful and productive. According to the article “The Seven Sins of Deadly Meetings” by Eric Matson, the key things to avoid in your meetings are:

  • People who arrive late and leave early;
  • Meetings that are too long;
  • Discussion that goes off-topic;
  • Poor follow-through;
  • Diluted opinion sharing;
  • Insufficient preparation;
  • Stagnant/stale content.

We’ve all experienced one if not several of these items at meetings. Make sure they don’t happen in your board meeting. Before your meeting starts, set the following ground rules to ensure an effective board meeting:

  • Attend meetings and be on time.
  • ACTIVELY listen to and show respect for the opinions of others.
  • Follow the agenda – stay on track.
  • Ask questions; the only stupid question is the one that isn’t asked.
  • Ensure that credit is given where it is due.
  • Avoid disruptive side conversations.
  • Turn off cell phones, tablets, and other devices.
  • Creating effective and engaging boards that truly serve the membership is the first step to creating an engaged membership and a mission and purpose that will transcend time and generations.

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