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Jeb Banner

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Lead Through Uncertain Times With Digital Board of Directors Engagement

Optimize your agenda and ensure your board’s productivity remotely.

Published: Wednesday, October 7, 2020 - 12:03

As the current pandemic unfolds, organizations’ boards of directors—especially in the healthcare industry—must continue leading and guiding. But gathering board members for in-person meetings is no longer an option.

In response, board engagement has gone digital. Planning, hosting, and following up on board meetings must happen in a virtual environment. If that’s something new for your board members, here are a few suggestions on how you can optimize your agenda and ensure your board’s productivity remotely.

Virtual board meeting planning

Most likely, your board will need to meet virtually for the foreseeable future. Although much of what will happen in that meeting will be similar to in-person meetings, you’ll want to consider a few key points:
• Ahead of the meeting, create a detailed agenda. Remote meetings make it easy for board members’ attention to drift. Be clear on why an item is on the agenda and assign blocks of time to each item.
• While no time will work for everyone, select a time that works for most board members. Daytime meetings could be tough to organize, and you may have multiple time zones to consider. A digital scheduling solution or email can help you find the right time.
• You should include a video solution for your virtual meeting. It will help fill in some of the nonverbal cues you’d normally get during an in-person meeting. Be sure to test your chosen solution beforehand. Some have limits on call length, so check to ensure you don’t get cut off mid-meeting.
• Designate a board or staff member as the tech point person. He should know how to handle any technical snafus or help with any special features on your chosen tech solutions.

Hosting virtual meetings

Once you’ve set up your virtual meeting solution and prepared the agenda, it’s time to host your meeting. Start your meeting on time and work through your agenda. You’ll want to keep the energy level high, as board members face a lot of distractions from their remote work site. Some ways to do that:
• Keep reports short. Board members struggle to pay attention to lengthy orations from committee chairs during in-person meetings; it’s even tougher virtually. Since you’ve assigned every item a time limit, stick to that time limit as your meeting progresses.
• Maintain the energy in the “room” by asking members for feedback. Like many boards, you probably have some members who talk before thinking and others who think before talking. Encourage those who stay quiet to share their thoughts. And try not to go more than five minutes without asking for feedback.
• If you include committee discussions in your agenda, encourage board members to break out in small groups. Assign staff or board members to lead the discussion. Did you know many online video solutions also offer ways to break large calls into smaller groups?
• Review your board’s governing documents. If your board has always held in-person meetings before now, do your bylaws allow a member to vote remotely? Your board may need to vote to suspend certain bylaws on account of these extraordinary times. Track these suspensions in emails or an online voting tool so you can officially amend bylaws in person later.

After your board meeting

Your board meeting may have ended, but your board will still have plenty of work ahead of it. Like an in-person meeting, digital board engagement requires touch points and reminders to keep your board on track with tasks and projects until the next meeting.
• Send the meeting minutes promptly to board members. Consider breaking out important follow-up tasks and projects into a summary section to simplify pressing tasks for board members.
• Follow-up tasks assigned to board members can easily disappear during a virtual meeting. A board or staff member should track who is tasked with what. Your digital board engagement solution could help you automate much of this.
• Evaluate the meeting. You should consider sending a poll soon after the meeting, asking: What went well? What could be improved? Were any important topics missed? This feedback will help you plan a more effective agenda for the next meeting.

With preparation and a grasp of digital board engagement fundamentals, your board can use virtual meetings to set strategy and lead with confidence. You’ll have all the right tools in place to weather these changes and ensure your organization emerges stronger.

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About The Author

Jeb Banner’s picture

Jeb Banner

Jeb Banner is CEO and co-founder of Boardable, a board management software company serving nonprofits around the world. Previously the CEO of SmallBox, a creative agency he co-founded in 2006, Jeb is also the founder of Musical Family Tree, a nonprofit dedicated to spreading Indiana music, and co-founder and past chair of The Speak Easy, an entrepreneurial co-working nonprofit located in Indianapolis. Along the way Jeb has co-founded or invested in a number of other Indianapolis-based businesses. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife Jenny and their three lovely daughters. In his spare time, Jeb collects vinyl records, records music, and cooks as much as possible.