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Board meeting agenda timings: create focus, or dampen creativity?

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When it comes to setting an agenda for your next board meeting, allocating a time estimate for each item can be somewhat controversial. Agenda timings are a useful way keep a meeting focused, cut down on dreaded ‘wafflers’ and give a clear end point to an item. Timings also allow you to:

  • Guarantee that high priority agenda topics get the required discussion time and attention
  • Make sure that everything on the agenda is covered
  • Ensure that your board meeting does not run out of time
  • Rein directors or other meeting attendees in who may be prone to focusing on minutiae, using the meeting as a data review only, or veering off on irrelevant tangents

Agenda timings can limit creative discussion

But then again, meetings that are too structured can limit creativity and flexibility – which are essential to drive real strategy in a board meeting. Board meetings also already get a bad press for being a routine-but-necessary drain on everyone’s time, and assigning timings can compound this feeling.

Luckily, there are ways to use agenda timings which don’t stifle creative discussion opportunities, but still help to keep everyone focused.

We’ll cover our top three below.

Set a rough time for each agenda item

Of course, it’s impossible to predict just how an agenda discussion is likely to progress in advance – you won’t know if someone is entering the meeting with deep seated objections, or if everyone will blissfully agree with decisions being easily reached.

But, trying for example, to fit a 6 hour meeting agenda into a 3 hour slot is never going to work, even with complete agreement on every single agenda discussion. So as a board meeting basic, setting a rough agenda time ‘budget’ is a useful way to estimate whether you’ve allocated enough time for the meeting in the first place.

Have a flexible approach to timings in the meeting

One way to provide structure to the board meeting, while still being flexible in terms of facilitating discussion is to have an open approach to changing timings actually in the meeting. This does need a real-time approach to altering the allotted segment times, which sounds simple but is often tricky to manage.

While this skill will become easier as you chair more meetings, using minute taking software will help with this. Software can usefully predict agenda item times based on how long you’ve already spent discussing it, allowing you to shift meeting timings there and then in the board meeting.

Another tool of minute taking software include an indicator if an agenda segment owner does start to run over their time. This is useful for you as the Chair, giving you a prompt to either speed things up or rejig the agenda as necessary.

Use meeting timing data for some post-meeting analysis

An important, but overlooked benefit of agenda timings is that you’ll be able to carry out some post-meeting analysis on just how long you’re spending talking about each agenda item. Minute taking software makes it easy to collate this data, but you can put it together manually too.

As well as helping you to continually refine your board meeting agendas, it’s also a valuable indicator of whether you’re spending the right proportion of time on the most important things.

What do we mean by this? Well, board meetings are important. You need to maximise the time of everyone attending, and that includes using them as important drivers of creative discussion and strategy.

Analysis of agenda timings will tell you:

  • Are you spending enough time on active discussion to move things forward for your business? This is what board meetings should really be about, so it’s important to monitor.
  • Is your board meeting constantly derailed by reviews of data, which could take place ahead of and outside the meeting instead?
  • Are you spending enough time on the right topics? If, for example, marketing is continually highlighted an issue to focus on within the business, does your timing analysis match this importance? (Hint- it should do!).
  • Are your board meetings currently so structured so that creativity and discussion aren’t actually possible?

As well as using the data to change the approach you take to these items in the future, you can also send the analysis to the attendees at the meeting, helping to maximise future board meetings.

Agenda timings are a useful tool (when used well)

Putting time ‘budgets’ on agendas can be a useful tool to keep everyone focused; as long as they’re not so rigid to completely limit discussion opportunities. With a flexible approach and some actionable data analysis, agenda timings have the potential to make your board meetings more effective, more focused and essentially, more valuable to your business.

 

 

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