How to Run Board Meetings in Times of Crisis
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, remote meetings have become a regular part of most people's work routines. In fact, an Owl Labs survey report shows that 60% of the respondents participated in virtual meetings more in 2020 than in 2019.
Due to rapid changes in market reactions and government policy caused by the global pandemic, many executive committees and boards are gathering more frequently to deal with these unprecedented circumstances and to brainstorm as well as implement the necessary pivots in strategy needed. But fortunately, during these times, many have also recognised the convenience of remote meetings. And in fact, with companies making permanent changes to work from home requirements for their staff, remote meetings may actually be here to stay post-COVID.
In “normal” times, it was already clear that a virtual meeting was harder to chair because it required better preparation and better collaboration prior to the actual meeting. Now, though, it’s grown clear that in order to run a successful but remote board meeting, one that encapsulates a wide range of topics and in-depth conversations, demands new skills from leaders.
And so to help, BoardPro has pooled together our experiences and shared our tips to help you lead during times of crisis.
Use your time assertively
It can be a challenge to stay focused in lengthy meetings, in general, but especially during times where emotions are running high. Now that we are confined to our homes, there may be even more distractions, so greater discipline is needed. Fortunately, video conferencing can help your board members save time. According to a Lifesize survey, nearly nine in 10 employees said that video conferences reduce the time it takes to complete their projects. So here are some of BoardPro’s suggestions to lead a board meeting remotely:
Plan a meeting that is deliberately shorter
Rather than an eight-hour marathon, how about a six-hour relay of three x two hours? Or even shorter to follow the structure of critical topics? Not only will people be able to pay attention all throughout, they will also appreciate that you've taken the time to recognise, empathise and adapt to the situation and needs.
Clear the decks
Ensure clarifying questions around the board papers are answered before meetings so you don't spend time discussing them during meetings. Something that could help is a good board and leadership portal, as they can enable members to collaborate effectively ahead of time. If you don't already have a board portal, requesting questions 48 hours ahead of the meeting can also help save time.
Agree the last meeting minutes beforehand
Minutes are important, but they are not the best use of time to start a meeting. With emotions running high, board members will greatly appreciate even a little bit of time saved from reviewing minutes before a meeting. At BoardPro, we suggest you review and agree on the minutes before everyone convenes. A 20-minute call a day or two beforehand would suffice. This way, clarity increases and with that clarity, efficiency also improves.
Start with what’s important
The topics that require the most thinking horsepower should come first on your agenda, when energy is highest. As chair, you should design an agenda to reflect the priorities of the organisation. Focus on what matters most first. This can increase productivity, which is especially important when there are more unexpected challenges, such as during a pandemic. Again, while the work from home trend continues and meetings become shorter to adapt to everyone’s situations, it’s important that time is put to best and most efficient use, which includes tackling the most difficult problems first when energy among the team is still at a high.
Be clear on what you need
For each agenda item, be clear about the “ask” of the board or leadership. How do you want the board to engage with the topic and what do you want back from them? Making this clear saves time on clarifications and back-and-forth. With precious time saved, employees will appreciate you enhancing their work-life balance during high emotional stress.
Demand more from your meeting papers
Focus and attention are in shorter supply in remote meetings, especially when board members may be dealing with distractions from a pandemic. Instead of presentations during the meeting, send out a succinct pre-read and use it to guide the meeting. To achieve this, your board pack or meeting papers should fulfil these basic requirements:
Keep it short
Update papers should be within a predefined limit, e.g. five pages maximum, and complex decision papers should be within 10 pages (or whatever your board decides on). This way, board members can remain focused on their board responsibilities without getting side-tracked.
Include an executive summary
Preface all papers with a one-page executive summary that tells the reader everything they need. The author’s key messages should be clear from reading that alone. Keeping important topics clear makes it easier for board members to pay close attention to the key points of a meeting, allowing meetings to be more efficient.
Keep it to the point
Brief papers with the key questions that you need board members to answer ahead of time. If you can do this via a workflow tool embedded in your board portal, even better. Doing this saves time, which members will always appreciate.
Make the “ask” of the board clear
Some papers that come to the board leave you wondering, “why does this matter?” Papers may be prefaced with “for information,” which end up being unhelpful. Either sift them out or give them a purpose. This elucidates any confusion there might be. During difficult times, board members don’t need another source of confusion, so clarity is a must.
Chair with efficiency and compassion
Chairing remote meetings during a crisis requires new techniques and skills. As remote meetings are different from in-person meetings in many ways, you will need to adapt old skills for new mediums and circumstances.
Here are some of the things we think you should consider:
Building rapport is important – it’s something people do naturally when they are together, to orient themselves and check in with one another in a group. In a virtual meeting, you can build rapport by using the first five to 10 minutes to encourage people to share what’s going on in their minds and how they’re feeling. This will help build a greater connection to the business and across teams even when people remain physically apart.
Empathy is important, but especially now during the global health crisis. With that, it’s particularly important to take time during those first minutes to understand how your colleagues may be impacted, both personally and professionally. Knowing whether your colleagues, their families or friends are suffering or in any way impacted by COVID-19 can help you adopt a more holistic understanding toward that particular colleague and thus bond better with them. It is also with this greater and more well-rounded understanding that you can chair a better meeting.
Set housekeeping rules
To keep things running smoothly, set some housekeeping rules at the beginning of meetings. This is especially important for virtual meetings because as we mentioned above, there are naturally more distractions when people are working away from the offices.
For example, consider using visual signals such as raising your hand to indicate you want to speak or using the mute options to avoid audio clashes during group calls. You can also communicate what methods and rules you plan to set for meetings. With this transparency with the team, they’re aware and have the opportunity to fully embrace the fact that extraordinary times require different ways of communication to ensure that meetings remain effective and efficient.
Address your audience
Beginning a remote meeting with the chair’s remarks is a good way to set the tone and highlight the topics on the agenda. It’s a good idea to prepare your opening and closing comments before remote meetings as well so you’re not caught off guard and make the objective clear from the get-go.
Pick up the cues
Drawing people into a debate at the right moment is easier when you can see the body language, such as leaning in and catching your eye. Use video conferencing for your remote meeting if possible to get catch body language cues, and make sure you pay attention to these cues because with that, you can adapt accordingly.
For example, if board members are beginning to look distracted or inundated with information, it might be helpful to take a few minutes to let everyone clear their minds. This is particularly important when everyone is working remotely and there may not be as many clear opportunities to follow up after the meeting.
At the correct time, invite everyone to express their views one by one by going around the virtual table. Also, you can ask attendees to review and annotate board papers in advance, then encourage them to use the annotations to make their contributions and challenges at the right point in the discussion. This fosters collaboration, engagement and shows your board members that you value their input, and may even improve the bond within your board.
But, keep it focused
Keeping meetings and individual contributions short and concise is extremely important in a virtual setting. Be assertive in curtailing lengthy contributions and cut in using the agreed-on visual signals or tools when necessary. After all, a focused meeting means a quicker, more efficient meeting.
Get the right tools and support
Running a successful remote meeting doesn’t need to be the responsibility of solely the chair. Work closely with your team and company secretary to ensure they are prepared to assist and participate in the meeting and that the right technology is in place. Here are a few things to think about:
Allocate a meeting assistant
A meeting assistant can facilitate aspects of the meeting to make sure everyone joins on time and their technology is working. They can also alert you when questions or comments come via chat or when technical issues arise. This will let you pay attention to more important details and make sure the meeting runs smoothly and more effectively.
Choose the right conferencing tool
A video conferencing app is essential. Ask for your team’s support in sourcing the right app. Help meeting attendees get set up and test the conferencing app before the meeting. 82% of video users in a Lifesize survey report less multitasking as opposed to just voice calls, so choose a conferencing tool that allows members to turn on their videos to keep members focused.
Use a digital board portal
A board portal will make it easy for people to exchange questions and ideas and collaborate before the meeting. This makes room for more important discussions, leading to a more productive meeting. When emotional stress is high, people want to feel like they are completing important duties, so a digital board portal can achieve that by streamlining your board meetings and papers. Additionally, a board portal is secure and dynamic, allowing for last-minute changes to be made easily and drawing attention to what’s new.
Chairing a virtual meeting is demanding enough as it takes a special kind of skill and discipline to prepare for these meetings and to keep the board focused on what matters most. While restrictions have eased, the fear of the virus persists and this lingering fear won’t be going away anytime soon. And so now is more important than ever to dedicate the time to develop the effective skills needed to run remote board meetings.
Lead meetings with main ideas in mind and approach board members with empathy; remember that this discipline will stay with the group far beyond the boundaries of the current situation, and your organisation will undoubtedly be better for it.
How BoardPro Drives Boardroom Efficiency
BoardPro understands that board members and leaders want to perform well and succeed, but the truth is that sometimes they are not enabled and fully equipped to do that. The challenge is in the board and leadership meeting itself.
Oftentimes, agendas are packed with backward-looking, operational and short-term issues. Board packs are long-winded and poorly written. There may not be enough alignment within the board, and there’s too little focus on strategy and long-term success.
In addition, there may be data overload, a growing weight of compliance and the need to serve all stakeholders. With so much pressure and so many requirements, boards and leaders can feel inundated and neglect important matters.
That’s why we have developed the world’s only platform for small to large companies and nonprofits that enable boards and leadership teams to focus on what matters most, ensuring smarter meetings, decisions and actions.
Efficient meetings start with priority planning and agenda management tools that drive alignment across the board and leadership teams. This ensures time is spent on those issues that will make the biggest difference. The agenda builder and best practice template ensure key questions are answered and that writers produce sharp, clear reports and papers that get to the heart of the issue quickly.