Anyone have any suggestions or sample agendas for conducting a board retreat?
07/06Agendas will be driven by and unique to each individual organisation, its goals at circumstances at the time - so I don't think there is such a think as a good proforma agenda to use.
Certainly there are three key questions to ask;
1 Where have we been ?
2 Where are we at ?
3 Where are we going ?
Like always - the devil is in the detail. One shortcoming I have found in several organisation is the lack of material (information) distributed and preparation done prior to the meeting.
We often say meetings comprise of 40% preparation, 20% meeting, 40% follow up. Boards often do well in the middle and third one - but not the first in that they fail to distribute information and prepare for meetings prior to them- especially collectively. Doing so sets up the foundations for a successful meeting/retreat.
We tend to have specialised planning meetings over a day to focus on Policy review and creation - but content drives the process and hence the Agenda. Such meetings are very process driven rather than strategic or brainstorming sessions.
Perhaps the most important things we have done is "Strategic Reviews". We have done those both to evaluate past Strategic Plans and also to set future Goals. If there is no Strategic Plan in existence and/or no measures to gauge it success - they need to be created - and they don't need to be over complicated - but do need to be very intelligently considered. Obviously information is key.
The question - "How good is the information we have on which we make decisions and what additional information would be
useful and how do we collect it?" can be critical in successful organisations and outcomes. And for the effective action and decision making of the Board or Committee of Management. This is often addressed in general meetings - but also having a open and general discussion on this point is very useful - especially when not under time pressure and when members are asked to reflect on requirements and past experiences prior to meeting so they bring experiences and thoughts to the table. Most improvements in information and information flow in organisations I am involved in come from indervidual members - requiring further information to form opinions and make decisions with or stopping unnecessary information flowing to them which can become overwhelming. Collectively identifying information which is needed (and NOT needed) for decision making can be very useful - good to have on an agenda. Internal communication is often omitted from such Agendas - it should be on them. Communication is also important in relation information flow within and between to Board/Staff/Users/Stakeholders.. It is a bugbear of mine - finding the balance between keeping people informed and information overload.
Change is obviously also critical- and in the direct scope of a Board. Sometimes organisations need to evolve to meet the needs of the community. Knowing these changes and needs is important - and sometimes the voices of members/clients/users can become absent in discussions where boards are not central to daily operation and users are not present. Collecting information
and creating discussion papers prior to the meeting is critical when evaluating future changes, direction, opportunities and needs.The need for change and its direction needs to be proved rather than guessed at. It is one of the shortfalls of AGMs - they are a chance to engage with users/members en mass - but it is rare that enough time is alocated to that at AGMs. AGMs could be such useful tools - but few use them as such. The are also critical Marketing Activities - but few use them as such...The AGM should be an agenda item as well.
The physical premises that organisations occupy can also get over looked as a potential way to improve organisational and service effectiveness. Changing the use of space - or identifying potential uses of space - and hence potential strengths, is something which individuals often raise towards the end of the day as a "side issue" in "Other Business" or as part of other discussions. Next time I am involved in such a meeting - I would like to see that on the agenda. Often using the building for promotional purposes gets over looked. Even simple and rudimentary things like signage project important information about the organisation and creates community presence. One non-profit I am involved in only has its title on the building - with no contact details - and as it generally operates after hours - it misses a chance to promote itself to the community and hence potential members. (It is a Community Building run through a trust.). One organisation I am involved in transformed one of the buildings they occupy - it made a huge difference to the organisation and its users - and came out of such a review.
Examination of success is also really important. What did we do right and what effect has that had on staff/users/clients/customers/members. How can that success be further strengthened and is it within the key goals of the organisation? However, that is obviously central to the three questions I listed above.
Rereading this - I think various organisations I am involved in are also greatly influenced by there committee structure. In the larger
organisations - boards delegate a lot of stuff to committees. For instance, one organisation I am a director of has many committees like "Executive Committee", "Asset Management", "Corporate Governance", "Marketing", "Sponsorship and Grants", "Audit", "Finance" & Cost Control", "Staff", "Corporate Governance" etc. Reviewing the effectiveness of committees and there scope should be on every agenda of a strategic review. If too much time is used in Board or COM meetings for issues which could be dealt
quickly by smaller specialised groups - Sub Committees should be formed to deal with those issues and short written reports given to the Board and read prior to the regular meetings. Obviously the scale of the organisation and issues will affect length - but the shorter the better.In all instances these committees need clear Terms of References.
Another thing which annoys no end is the use of SWOT analysis at such meeting and there use as planning tools rather than initial analysis tools. . A SWOT is not a plan - it is simply a tool to record ideas more in a brainstorm framework than planning. Again, there is no need to do this at the meeting as it could be done and circulated prior to the meeting via e-mail or post.
Required Skill Mix is also another important thing to organisations - and worthy of focusing on. Once again - the current skill mix should be established prior to the meeting via questionnaire. Skills like Financial, Strategic Planing, Marketing, Property, Secretarial, Industrial Relations will be important to most organisations to some degree. Gaps in skills need to be identified and filled - and strategies discussed on how to do that within voluntary boards.
The agenda for our second such meeting in an organisation I am involved in read
1 Vision/mission - E.g.:
- An example was given
2 SWOT Analysis
* The Non-Profit itself. (which in this instance is a community company - and actually for profit which is then returned to the community.)
3 Resources available
* Clubs, societies that we have sponsored
* Potential Customers
4 Business Planning
5 Action Plan
6 Sponsorship & Grant Program
7 Board & Director Responsibilities
* Monitor Performance
* Ensure Compliance
8 Board Structure with Committees
9 Board Review
* Board Performance
* Director Performance
Oppps.. sorry for rambling..