Helen hurried out of the Christian school’s board meeting, a little cranky at spending three hours there. What fired her up tonight was the members jawing back and forth for a half-hour over whether to rent out the cafeteria on a Saturday night to a group that wouldn’t be leaving until nearly midnight.
No policy addressed the request. At the end, the board made no decision. The chair of the board advised the principal to “use his discretion.” As they walked out, Helen mumbled to another board member in frustration: “Dumb. So inefficient. Waste of time. Why can’t our principal come with a proposal with reasons?”
I know from experience that most board members give kudos to heads of schools and board chairs who can plan and conduct board meetings that can conduct the school’s business, and do it well, in under 90 minutes. How do they do it? Here are some ways I’ve seen:
- Tighten up financials. Accountants love numbers; financial reports are often so detailed it takes minutes for non-accountants on the board to find the place in the reports the speaker is addressing. The business manager serves the board well by writing four or five summary sentences about the monthly financials as a title page. That not only makes things clearer from the outset, but it cuts the time spent on discussing financials by 70 percent.
- Insist on written reports. This applies to all board committee and staff reports, including the report of the head of school and any other person from the community who wants an audience with the board. All these reports should be in the hands of the board members at least three days before a meeting. During the meeting, any author of a report should assume all have read the report, make only two or three oral comments to highlight certain aspects of the report, and then invite board members to ask any questions they might have.
- Stick with the agenda. The agenda for meetings can help the board be efficient. Listing approximate times for each item (10 minutes for prayer, 10 for financials, 30 for a proposal from a committee, etc.) is a service to the board. Naming the items that call for a vote will cue board members to study the material most closely that relates to making a good decision. If the agenda lists all standing committees for each meeting, write into the agenda itself “No report” if the committee has not filed one in writing, with the chair at the meeting skipping right past that agenda item.
- Consider only written proposals. This has a slightly different cast from reports. Insist that committees form their proposals for adoption in a tight, written form, perhaps even using a standard format for all committees: background (two or three sentences of context for the proposal), the proposal itself (a one-sentence statement that exactly states what the committee wants the board to approve), and rationale (two or three reasons why the board should approve it). This means of presenting proposals concentrates, and shortens, the discussion about it in the board meaning.
In a board meeting with these features, Helen would be a strong contributor instead of merely watching her watch. If a board chooses to tighten its business, it would also allow the board to hear 10-minute presentations by teachers, groups of students, or others at the school, which would connect the board with its fundamental “business”: children and young people growing in love for God, his people, and his world.
– Dan Vander Ark