Dear Paul: Our board meetings are quite long. It is not uncommon for us to engage in long discussions over small issues, or going into different directions, with each board member wanting a piece of the action. Do you know how we can prevent this from happening?
Dear H.R.: Long meetings can certainly be frustrating, especially when no decisions are made. The Chair needs to take control and stick to the agenda that should have been adopted at the beginning of your meeting. For smaller boards, there should be agreement about who speaks when, and for how long. One rule could be that no one can speak for more than two or three minutes until everyone has had a turn. Then a person can speak a second time if they have something new or different to contribute. Another way to stay on track is to have a motion on the table before anyone speaks to an issue. Quite often, the discussion takes place before a motion is made. The better way is to have a motion that can be debated. This focuses attention on one specific matter. Individuals should then be asked to speak for or against the motion. Once the Chair determines that there is no more debate, s/he can ask for a vote. While this seems a bit formal, it does do away with any unnecessary chatter.
I encourage all board members to get a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised In Brief. This book, a summary of the larger edition, provides all you should need for more effective board meetings. Good luck!
Tip: In many areas, there are groups that provide training on how to conduct more effective meetings. Take advantage of these opportunities.