Meeting Makeovers: Time to Reflect and Review

Courtesy of Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

In this new series, Meeting Makeovers, board development expert and founder of CSR Communications, Nancy Murphy, highlights a different meeting challenge each quarter and offers a makeover solution. See the first blog post here.

Problem Area: Failing to “look in the mirror.”

Makeover Solution: Institute a regular meeting evaluation using a consistent format.

For many boards, the end of a meeting looks like this: people rushing out the door to catch flights or dropping off the call a few minutes early for another meeting; tired faces staring at the board chair with that “can-we-please-end-this” look; or congratulatory, “nice meeting” comments to each other for having completed another convening.

Problem is, in each scenario above, the meeting ends without a proper “look in the mirror.”

When we skip that reflection step, we miss the opportunity to learn what’s working and what isn’t. We might even overlook a significant problem (Shirt on backwards?!) or something we meant to do but didn’t (Forgot to brush my hair?!).

Without a consistent way to capture feedback in each meeting, we’re likely to repeat the same mistakes or forget to repeat what contributes to success. The board chair and staff are left with guesses and assumptions to inform planning for the next meeting.

The fix: make time each meeting for review and reflection. This can be a formal meeting evaluation or survey submitted anonymously, or a short, informal feedback discussion at the end of the meeting, depending on the norms and culture of your organization.

A few years ago, JF Maddox Foundation added a formal evaluation to the end of their board meetings. Using a paper form, directors share reflections on their own participation (using board norms and operating agreements as the benchmark), the board’s collective performance, the quality and usefulness of pre-meeting materials, and satisfaction with the meeting outcomes. They also suggest topics for future meetings and offer feedback on the meeting overall.

Ann Maddox Utterback, JF Maddox Foundation board chair, describes the meeting evaluation as “my most effective tool for improving our meetings.”  “In fact,” she says, “it’s the number one way I learn what my board needs more of and what’s not working for them. Since we started using the evaluation form, I understand better where our processes get stuck and how to avoid that, what helps people feel like they contributed to the meeting, what gets in the way of full participation, and how to help everyone prepare effectively for the next meeting.”

Below is an example of how JF Maddox Foundation used the meeting evaluation for improvement.

Feedback: It seemed we prioritized sticking to the schedule more than achieving outcomes in this meeting. The structure was too rigid.

Application: Next meeting, the board chair allowed for more flexibility and alerted the board members to time extensions and agenda adjustments. The conversations flowed better, with better results.

Are you ready to look in the mirror? Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  1. Communicate to your board that the purpose of the evaluation is to learn and improve, so you want honest feedback. [Hint: that means receiving the feedback in the same spirit, without getting defensive.]
  2. Reflect and review before the meeting ends. If necessary, leave space at the end of the meeting for participants to complete their evaluation form. That way, you get feedback while it’s top of mind and avoid the evaluation form getting lost or forgotten.
  3. Close the feedback loop. Share how you incorporated previous meeting feedback into the next meeting. If the evaluation was done via form versus group discussion, share a summary of the results with the full board so that they know how their individual feedback compared to others’.

Looking for a sample meeting evaluation to get you started? Cathy Trower’s “The Practitioner’s Guide to Governance as Leadership” is a good resource.

For more tips, download a free copy of the Meeting Makeover Kit here.

Nancy Murphy is the Founder and President of CSR Communications

The views and opinions expressed in individual blog posts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Center for Family Philanthropy.