Lack of board engagement is a frequent complaint I hear from executive directors. They feel like they never hear from their boards and when they do, it is negative. There are lots of reasons for this. Sometimes the board isn’t asked to do anything interesting or thought-provoking so they lose interest in the work. Other times they aren’t sure what their role as a board is, or what their role as an individual board member is. To help have better board meetings, I’ve suggested two books: Boards on Fire and The Art of Gathering.
In this article, I want to specifically address how to start a meeting so that everyone will stay engaged. A great beginning will make for a great meeting. I highly recommend taking the extra time to engage your board members at the start with one of these questions.
This has many benefits. A well-crafted question will get everyone to think for a minute, and then learn something about each other. Often, one cause of people not participating in a meeting is that they don’t know the others well. Another benefit to asking everyone to share something at the beginning of a meeting has is that it gets them to talk. Studies have shown that if someone has heard their own voice in a meeting, they are much more likely to speak up later.
It does take time to have everyone share at the beginning of a meeting, but it will pay off tremendously in better meeting outcomes and engagement. If you’re short on time, you can ask people to keep their answers to one sentence or even a couple of words. (Though be prepared to enforce this sternly.) You can also ask them to talk in pairs or small groups / breakout rooms. Not everyone will hear everything said that way but it will still bring in some of the energy of connecting with someone else in the group.
Here are some of my favorite questions to ask a board. They could easily be modified to use with staff or any other team. I focused on questions that will be relevant to the meeting and the people involved. I am not a fan of questions like “What’s your favorite type of cookie?” because you don’t usually learn anything meaningful from those questions. I want to have a brief moment of connection with each person so I learn something about them that is relevant to our work together.
- What inspired you to join this board?
- What has been your favorite moment since you joined the board?
- What are you most proud of at this organization?
- When have you seen this board operating at its best?
- Have people interview each other in pairs and then introduce the other person.
- What do you expect to get out of this meeting / discussion / training?
- What talent do you have that you aren’t using on this board?
- What’s the best thing that happened in the last week?
- What are you most looking forward to in the coming week?
- Tell us about someone who has inspired you and why.
What questions would you add to this list? I’m always looking for new questions to ask a group.