Board Meetings: Discussion & Timing

We are wrapping up our section on board meetings today by focusing on the discussions you have and the time you take at a board meeting.

First, one quick question: Do you already use board packets? If so, great! If not, you may want to refer to our article on Agendas & Board Packets. The reason being that board packets should help to greatly move conversation along and keep your meeting duration to an acceptable level.

Alrighty, now into the breach.

How long do your board meetings normally take?

One hour? Two? Longer? I once sat on an organization’s board where the monthly meetings averaged THREE HOURS. Personally, my attention span (and my bum) cannot handle anything over 1.5 hours. If your monthly meetings last longer than 1.5 hours your organization needs to seriously evaluate its procedures and practices and consider some kind of fundamental change.

Here are some common reasons for lengthy board meetings:
  • Time is taken to provide detailed, information-only discussion on committee meetings and actions.
  • Time is taken to have actual committee meetings within the confines of the board meeting itself.
  • Board members are allowed to have discussions that are unrelated or tangential to the subject matter.
  • Board members are unprepared for the meeting, having no (or having not read) appropriate supporting information on important discussion topics.
  • Poor facilitation, meaning that the presiding officer does not shift interesting but committee-specific discussion to another time in order to keep the meeting on-track.

Finding the right balance between what is and isn’t relevant to the discussion at-hand is a tricky thing. The presiding officer must be able to give room for a diverse discussion with relevant points but also reign in and keep that discussion focused on the topic itself.

Board packets help to ease the time spent on “information only” reports. These reports, usually committee and staff reports, can be written ahead of time and distributed in the board packet therefore reducing the time (if any) for discussion at the board meeting itself.

Read more about board meeting times here:

Robert’s Rules of Order

Not all of us are steeped in the nuances of Robert’s Rules of Order, the granddaddy of parliamentary procedure. Regardless, there are some key points all board members should know and follow. Robert’s Rules help board meetings to follow a standardized flow of conversation and consensus building and keep the meeting moving forward.

Read more about Robert’s Rules of Order:


One aspect of board decision making is the motion. A motion is a statement for the board to take action on, create or adopt a policy, approve the distribution of funds, and much more. Any important decision that needs approval by the full board must be made in the form of a motion. And all motions should follow the following six steps:

  1. Member stands, is recognized, and makes the motion
  2. Another member seconds the motion
  3. The presiding officer restates the motion
  4. All board members discuss and debate the motion
  5. The presiding officer ask for a vote
  6. The presiding officer announces the result of the vote
Read more about Motions:

Being a good board member

In order to help keep board meetings to an acceptable amount of time, it is the responsibility of all present to be a good board member. What does this entail exactly?

  • Be present. Attend regular board meetings, don’t miss more than one in a row and don’t miss more than three in one year. (Though your bylaws may have stricter regulations).
  • Be prepared. Read materials ahead of time. Be knowledgeable about the proposed discussion topics and the actions you are responsible for.
  • Be involved. Often, being a board member means also sitting on at least one committee. You should be actively involved in your committees and be knowledgeable of their actions, needs and topics of discussion.
  • Be polite. Respect is important with all discussions. Being polite means that you are open to differing points of view, do not compete for the “smartest person in the room” award, listen to others and be gracious and accepting if your point of view does not win the day. Remember: Duty of Loyalty means more than complying with laws and policy.

Would you like more information on this and other board basic topics? Would you like to arrange a personalized phone call with our staff to discuss your board’s unique needs and concerns? Please feel free to reach out to us here.

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