Meeting at the right time and frequency

Tips for Effective Board and Committee Meeting Scheduling

How often should your board and committees meet? Here’s a quick guide to getting it right.

First, ensure your agendas are not cluttered with unnecessary items, remembering that meetings are principally for debate and decision-making. Are there unnecessary or repetitive report items? Papers for information or noting need not be discussed at the meeting and some boards circulate them separately (queries can be addressed outside the meeting). Information can be provided to directors at any time using, for example, BoardPad Reading Room, to avoid using board meetings as an information conduit or ‘talking shop’.

Make sure you don’t waste time at meetings going over the content of board papers in detail. The time should be spent on debating and challenging the issues raised in the papers, hopefully leading to an agreed decision. It’s useful to prepare forward board and committee agendas and they help ensure you have the right number of meetings arranged. First, list the things your board needs to consider during the year. Start by looking at your schedule of matters reserved for the board and list the regular governance and compliance items the board needs to discuss each year (eg annual report and figures, dividend recommendations, risk approach, key risks, various group policies, etc.) Some matters will be delegated to committees, but you need time on every board agenda for each committee chair to give a verbal report on the key issues the committee has been considering and for the directors to raise any points on this. Add these committee reports to your list as well as the regular business reports your board receives each year.

Review your list and against each item note the time of year it needs to be considered. For some items, like financial results, this will be clear. Other items can be fitted in when the agenda is lighter. Decide how long to allow for each item.

You can now plot how many meetings you will need and can draft forward agendas for the year, including plenty of space on every agenda for items which arise during the year. Follow the same process for committees, working from their terms of reference.

Next, schedule your meetings. Aim to schedule committee meetings a day or two before the board if possible so that committee chairs can report to the board on their recent deliberations (remember, the board is ultimately responsible for the issues the committees consider, so it needs up to date briefings.) One board considered a matter delegated to a committee before the committee looked at it because of inefficient meeting scheduling!

Forward agendas and timely meeting scheduling will help you ensure you don’t waste time in unnecessary meetings (or miss any important issues.) Executives producing papers have time to plan for this and directors are alert to upcoming matters they might want to prepare for. Your board processes should run more smoothly –but be sure your forward agendas stay updated to reflect everything your board is required to address.