Board meetings provide a number of challenges for the chairperson. They vary from handling different personalities and ensuring everyone has a say to keeping the room energised and the directors focused. All the while, the chair has to navigate these issues and facilitate the making of good decisions that benefit the organisation. This article features seven chairing meeting skills that help chairs lead board meetings in the most effective way possible.
A strong chair is essential. The Institute of Directors states that “at all meetings the chair should direct discussions towards the emergence of a consensus view and sum up discussions so that everyone understands what has been agreed”.
Without someone possessing the necessary competencies, there can be deadlock, confusion or meetings that last beyond a reasonable length. All of this can lead to rushed decisions or missed agenda items towards the end.
Why is effective chairing important?
Effective chairing produces many benefits for an organisation:
|Ensure that debates are focused||Discussions can head into unrelated territory unless you keep control of them. With directors’ busy schedules, you only have a relatively short time frame in which to debate the major issues. This is why focus, instilled by the chair, is important for covering all necessary topics during a board meeting.|
|Make decision-making more efficient||Another risk of board meeting debates is that it becomes difficult to reach a consensus. The chair guides the debate towards a place where there can be an agreement over an issue in a timely and amicable manner.|
|Contribute to teamwork||A diverse board is desirable as it offers a range of experiences, characteristics and points of view that can lead to fresh solutions for overcoming challenges. However, this means that the chair needs to be effective in bringing all parties together to work as a team even though they might not be the type of people that usually collaborate.|
Chairing meeting skills every chair should develop
In order to chair meetings in the most efficient manner, there are certain key skills that you should look to strengthen. Here are seven that will increase your effectiveness in the boardroom.
1. Active listening
In order to facilitate productive discussion, you must hear and understand what people are saying. Although there can be many distractions within a boardroom, just getting the gist of someone’s argument is not enough. Only when you adopt active listening, concentrating wholly on the speaker, can you fully understand and summarise in a way that keeps the conversation efficient and focused.
Active listening involves listening to all of the words, but also the complete message that the speaker is expressing. An active listener should not be formulating a reply or counterargument whilst the speaker is talking, but they might ask pertinent questions and listen intently to the answers.
When performing active listening as a chair, you should:
- Pay attention by looking directly at the speaker, noticing their body language and shutting out other distractions.
- Show them that you are listening and interested using an open posture, smiling, nodding and encouraging them to continue.
- Offer feedback by summarising their points and asking for confirmation that you have understood. You can also ask questions to help clarify anything that wasn’t clear.
There can be a temptation to multitask by looking through papers for the next agenda item or noting down thoughts to bring up later, but try to avoid this so that you can concentrate on the speaker.
2. Effective communication
Try to practise word economy when leading a board meeting. There will be a lot of information for directors to take in during the meeting, so they need the chair to guide the discussion with efficiency and without adding to that burden.
Simple, concise speech tells board members exactly what they need to know or do to get the most out of the meeting. This leads to a more effective board, fewer opportunities to move off-topic and more chance of working through all of the agenda items within the allotted time.
In addition to verbal communication, it is important that the chair encourages and implements effective written communication too. Rather than relying on outdated paper board packs, using a board portal streamlines the whole board meeting process, from distribution of the agenda and other documents, to collaboration between directors, voting and monitoring the progress of action points after the meeting takes place.
iBabs board software is a platform that revolutionises how your board communicates before, during and after a meeting. It stores all important documents securely in the cloud, as well as offering all the functionality you need to run an efficient and productive meeting.
3. Assertiveness and diplomacy
It may seem at first glance that assertiveness and diplomacy are mutually exclusive, but this is not the case. A chair must possess both skills and be able to judge correctly when to utilise them.
There is a fine line between ensuring everyone has an opportunity to speak and air their views and being able to work through the agenda in good time. This requires the chair to display both skills, knowing when to move away from a topic and when to search for alternative viewpoints.
During a discussion, particularly on a contentious topic, there may be a time when a director dominates proceedings. In this case, the chair will have to utilise their assertiveness to move the focus from them and then their diplomacy to find either a counterargument or a specialist insight from another director.
Juggling everyone’s right to speak without interruption and moving the conversation away from someone who is taking over is an important competency for a chair.
The chair is not in place to sway the board, but rather to facilitate debate (by playing devil’s advocate if they must) and guide the assembled directors to a consensus. They must develop their ability to root out the facts of a situation and to summarise them in an independent manner that allows directors to make fully informed decisions.
Although it is tempting to express your viewpoint and try to manoeuvre the decision towards what you think is best, as a chair, that is not your role. To be most effective, you must use your position to encourage healthy debate and find the consensus within the board, based on the members’ genuine wishes once they are armed with the full facts of the situation.
That is not to say that chairs shouldn’t vote. Of course, they will prefer one or another option, but as impartial facilitators, they should not use their position to influence the board in any direction.
As previously mentioned, board diversity is ever more important in the corporate world as boards seek out fresh perspectives and understand the benefits of decision-making that come with pooling an array of experiences and world views.
However, this does mean that chairs must develop their adaptability skills so they are able to engage a wide range of personalities. By using active listening, chairs will gain a better understanding of what motivates each individual and how to ensure everyone in the group feels comfortable contributing to the discussion.
Adaptability also helps build a robust and resilient board that can face the challenges that seem to be hitting the business world with increasing frequency. Not being stuck in old ways of working means that the chair can change tack quickly and help the company better shift focus in the event of external circumstances changing.
The chair often finds themselves working with many strong personalities in board meetings, but you should always remember that, behind the brash and robust exterior, you are dealing with human beings during each gathering.
You must respect people’s points of view and their right to express them, be sensitive to the feelings of board members and respect any confidences into which you are taken. Managing people requires empathy to help them reach their full potential.
When a board member exhibits high levels of emotional intelligence, the empathy that forms part of that attribute contributes to a more cohesive environment and sets the benchmark for how other directors should interact with each other.
As you would expect, leadership is a key skill for board chairs to possess. Not only when facilitating discussions, but also in guiding the whole process of the board meeting.
Starting and closing the meeting on time are the responsibilities of the chair, for example, and are key to effective and productive meetings with engaged participants. Another important skill is to ensure decisions are reached and recorded.
In order to perform their role to the best of their ability, the chair should show leadership in terms of delegation and strategic thinking.
How great chairs manage meeting energy
Minimise the meeting time
Long meetings can sap energy. Humans can only dedicate their full attention to a topic for so long before they become fatigued. Make sure your board meetings are efficient with time and you wrap them up before directors lose concentration and the quality of work diminishes.
Include the most important items first in the agenda so you capture the board at their most energetic. This also grabs their attention from the start, which can provide momentum to get them through the “lesser” items later on.
Create an inviting meeting environment
Make sure there is plenty of natural light to keep people alert and that the room is comfortable. However, ensure the chairs are not so comfortable that directors can find themselves relaxing too much and losing concentration.
Bring in quiet board members
Reaching to those directors who have been passive during the meeting so far for their point of view keeps people focused and alert. They know they can’t afford to shut off and let their minds wander.
Refocus the room
By summarising points or discussions, or even asking others to do so, you keep participants’ attention on the matters at hand.
How do you effectively chair a meeting?
You effectively chair a meeting by allowing all voices and points of view to be heard before guiding the collective towards a decision that fits with the majority opinion.
What are the responsibilities of a chairperson?
A chair should facilitate debate and decision-making within the meeting, create the agenda and ensure that the meeting objectives are met as they should be.
The chair is a fully fledged member of the board and has their own point of view and right to vote, but they also need to present the arguments from all sides in an impartial manner. This involves bringing all voices into the discussion, empathising with directors, listening to what each member says and ensuring everything that needs to be done is completed in good time and is recorded.
One way to complement these chairing meeting skills is to utilise the iBabs board portal, which ensures more effective communication, collaboration and decision-making, as well as providing a digital record of voting and agreed-upon actions. Try a free demo of iBabs today.