Eliminate Chaos & Foster Success: Facilitating Association Board Meetings

Eliminate Chaos & Foster Success: Facilitating Association Board Meetings


If you’ve ever been at a board meeting that went off the rails, you know how disastrous it can be. Here are five tips for facilitating your board of directors so that your organization can get the most from every meeting.

Designate a Facilitator

Don’t wait until a meeting begins to decide who will lead it. Choose a facilitator in advance. It may be the board president or chair, the vice president, or an association staff person who runs the meeting. Some organizations like to rotate the facilitator’s role, as it gives everyone a chance to lead and makes the entire board more sympathetic to the job.

Create an Agenda

A good meeting starts before the actual gathering of the board members. A week or so before the meeting, the facilitator should put together a prospective agenda. A draft should be sent to all involved parties if you wish to solicit additional items not already listed. In some cases, this is a requirement. Most agendas begin with any necessary introductions and approval of the previous meeting’s minutes before delving into the meat of the discussion. Place your most important items at the start of the agenda to ensure you have time and energy to discuss them, and be realistic about what your group can cover in the time allotted. New business can be added at the end and may need to be carried over to the next meeting.

Send the agenda to all attendees in time for them to review it and prepare as needed. Let people know how long they have to present if they will be speaking before the board. Include any vital attachments, like budgets or marketing materials for approval, so time isn’t wasted at the meeting reading them.

Keep the Meeting on Task

The toughest part of the facilitator’s job is usually keeping the meeting from veering out of control. Set the tone by calling the meeting to order on time, even if a few people are late. Use house ground rules or parameters like Robert’s Rules of Order to progress through the agenda. Key facilitator tasks include:

  • keeping track of time and letting people know when it’s time to move on,
  • calling for a vote when you sense the board has reached a decision one way or the other,
  • reminding members how voting rules work (consensus, majority, etc.),
  • encouraging the group to carry over unresolved issues to another meeting, and
  • suggesting committees and caucuses to work on special tasks.


Lead by Example

Of all the board members, the facilitator should be most conscientious about leading by example, by demonstrating active listening and nurturing everyone to participate without fear of criticism. Don’t let breaches of conduct slide, such as when a toxic board member hijacks the debate:

  • Stay on topic–Don’t participate in tangents, gossip, or jokes.
  • Reiterate the ground rules as needed.
  • Ask the board if they want to continue off topic or stay with the agenda. (This usually reminds them of the importance of the task at hand.)
  • Sidebar with any particularly disruptive entities to let them know their distractions will not be tolerated.


Handle Logistics in Advance

Nothing can waylay a board meeting like A/V equipment difficulties or a caterer interrupting at the peak of discussion with a tray of sandwiches. Work out your media needs in advance of the meeting, or better yet, use an association management company (AMC) to handle all that for you, including the venue. Decide when you want to eat, and stick to it; satiated board members may be more content, but participants waiting until the end to eat may stay more focused, knowing they can’t eat until they finish the agenda.

Facilitator roles differ greatly between associations and with the makeup of each board. Expect a new board of directors to need more navigational help than a seasoned one. Take the time to ponder what your board needs in the way of facilitation, and your meetings will go from chaos to success in short order.