A focus on meeting ‘machinery’ could imply ‘a victory of process over substance‘ in board decision-making. My experience in a range of government, corporate, and non-profit settings however, tells me that getting your decision-making systems into good working order is a key success factor in supporting substantive board decisions.
Something as simple as structuring your agenda items under the headings Items for Noting, Items for Discussion, and Items for Decision can make a big difference to the efficiency and effectiveness of a meeting.
The chart below recognises these three categories of agenda items in a schematic Decision Making Selector, alongside deliberative approaches and decision types. Making sure that your motion is well framed, that the deliberative approach is suitable, and that the resulting decision is classified appropriately, all contribute to ensuring that your organisation is well governed.
Using a consent agenda whereby all matters for noting are adopted via a single motion is also best practice.
A well constructed agenda can streamline the preparation of the minutes of the meeting. With relatively few additional notes and changes to some headings, the recommendations on the agenda (as amended and agreed) become the resolutions in the minutes.
While few non-profit organisations resort to using formal standing orders (or Parliamentary procedures), even if they are detailed in by-laws to the constitution, knowledge of these procedures can certainly aid effective time management. Sometimes, it can also defuse a tense debate, for example by suggesting that a matter be referred to staff or a committee for clarification or advice, or by proposing that the board move into committee so that it can consider the matter informally (and off the record) before resuming formal deliberations.
The charts below suggest three types of procedural motions that could be used during a meeting, and three main types of substantive motions that would normally appear in a board agenda. Non-profit board chairs and secretaries may wish to refer to these in thinking about their approach to agenda preparation, managing deliberations, and recording meeting outcomes.