“It’s not that we have little time, but more that we waste a good deal of it.” (Seneca)
Good governance is often described as being a balance between efficiency and effectiveness in setting strategy, overseeing operations, and monitoring performance and conformance.
As meetings are the chief means by which the board formally addresses its duties, the efficiency of those meetings is a key determinant of governance effectiveness.
The Board Chair has a complex role to perform in managing board meetings, and that work commences well before each meeting starts. Good planning and preparation are required to set a meeting up for success.
Efficiency is generally judged by the extent to which a process uses the lowest amount of inputs to create the greatest amount of outputs. In most non-profit organisations that translates into identifying how much labour (paid and unpaid) is involved in producing any given output, and at what financial cost. This approach encourages a focus on the concept of ‘minimal waste’.
In manufacturing, zero waste and recycling commitments have been widely adopted by firms aiming for sustainable operations. In governance, it is inefficient to spend the board’s valuable time on procedural or low priority matters, when these could be approved collectively, or delegated to responsible officers.
Efficient ‘time governance‘ aims to ensure the effective use of time by directors, the board secretariat, and management, before, during and after board meetings.
Here are just a few suggestions for attention by the Board, the Board Chair, Secretariat and CEO, which may help:
- Set limits to the length of meetings and the size of the agenda pack (and stick to them)
- Limit the number of meetings scheduled each year (6-8 meetings p.a. should be sufficient, unless your organisation is dealing with exceptional circumstances)
- Consider the volume of reading and time required for preparation and follow up for each meeting
- Move strategic and other priority items to the start of the agenda so that the most important matters are addressed while participants are alert, and with time to give them the attention they deserve (rather than being rushed later in the meeting because people are tired and the hour is late)
- Allocate a time budget or allowance to each agenda item (or section), and publish this on the agenda paper *
- Label agenda items ‘For Noting’, ‘For Discussion’ or ‘For Decision’, and ensure that recommendations for the last of these are on the agenda, along with longer time allowances for deliberation on these items
- Set agenda item deadlines which allow the secretariat time to provide a draft agenda to the Chair well before it must be distributed to participants. This allows the Chair to amend the agenda as required before approving it for circulation, but also ensures the identification of priority items and the allocation of suitable time allowances
- Use a consent agenda to ‘star’ items of business for discussion or decision, and otherwise note or approve all other business in a single motion
- Use a large ‘time remaining’ timer as a constant reminder to participants of the time budget, and the intention to finish no later than the nominated time *
- Consider use of a cost/benefit analysis when deliberating on high priority proposals to assess the ratio of inputs (e.g. funds, labour, etc.) to outputs (e.g. member or charitable services) in reaching a decision
* See header image
While implementation of these suggestions does not directly affect the quality of deliberations and decision-making, and there is much more that can be said about deliberative processes, a board using such efficiency measures would certainly be less likely to ‘waste’ time.
Australian suppliers of the 120 minute timer (and other similar devices) are listed here.
NB No referral fee or commission arrangements exist between the author and these suppliers.