We’ve all used the term “pipeline.” Most often, we use it when the association board asks, “do we have enough future leaders in the pipeline to sustain our volunteer structure of board and committees?”

The leadership pipeline for volunteers include the processes of identification, assessment, training, election or appointment, role fulfillment and succession. The processes must be taken in order to maximize volunteer impact. The pipeline is somewhat rigid. Often it ends with volunteer burnout or a sense of, “I’m out, I’ve done my civic duty.”

In the book “Platform Revolution,” the authors describe the traditional business model as a pipeline. “Pipelines rely on inefficient gatekeepers to manage the flow of value from the producer to the consumer.” Think of the pipeline as narrowly focused.

Contrast a Pipeline with a Platform

A platform is a business model that integrates technology to connect people, ideas, organizations and resources for the purpose of creating value and benefits. (Sound like an association?)

The platform model can apply to nearly any business wanting to collaborate and maximize resources to create worth. There is less need for large investments because value results from the exchange of information.

In the pipeline, value is produced towards the end of a cycle. The product or service has to be processed, similar to an assembly plant, to create value for participants.

Pipeline Board Meeting

Can the traditional model of a board meeting be transformed from pipeline to platform? Will the value of the meeting and the outcomes be increased by removing the rigid structure, repositioning it as a platform?

Board meetings might be described as a pipeline. From start to finish, there is an expectation of the desired outcomes and a very parliamentary format and approach.

Or course governance is necessary. The usual processes include the meeting announcement, agenda development, attendance and confirmation of a quorum, meeting room setup, rules of order, appropriate decorum, reports, discussion and adjournment.

The process is rather rigid, guided by bylaws, policies and rules of order. To bring a thought or idea to the meeting, the chair has to recognize that person. The parameters of time and resources limitations may squash an idea before it gets to be presented and considered.

By adjournment, there is expectation or hope value has been created. Sometimes the meeting ends with the major results being more than the approval of reports and updates, although there are plenty of boards that build a vision and fulfill strategies at their board meetings.

Platform Board Meeting

The platform board meeting takes liberties from the traditional start-to-finish pipeline model. It encourages collaboration before, during and after the meeting. The intent is to make best use of the input, expertise and resources to create value for the membership and community.

While some of the rigidity of a board meeting must be respected, for example protocols, policies and bylaws, more opportunities to collaborate and add value can be integrated, making it more like a platform model.

Here are ideas to integrate the platform in board meetings:

Topics: Announce the topics on the agenda and strategic questions well in advance; then provide electronic forums for the input of stakeholders. Open channels of communication about the purpose of the board meeting. Gather and summarize the input.

Reports: Reduce the reporting mechanism. Where reports do not demand the attending of the board of trustees, remove them from the agenda or use a consent agenda. Regarding reports, usually “brief is better,” learn to use bullets and create a format that identifies what’s the impact of the committee or staff report.

Outcomes: Open the meeting with a summary of what must be achieved to add value for the organization, members and community. For example, the chair might say, “At this meeting, we especially have the solve the problem of ____ before we adjourn.”

Strategic Plan: Maintain a focus on the mission and strategy, rather than the process of governance. Don’t let a fanatic about bylaws or rules of order take away from the value of convening experts.

Group Work: Create opportunities for problem solving. Not all work has to be at the board table. Identity the problem, then break into smaller groups to solve the problems, bringing ideas back to the board table in 30 minutes. Invite keynote speakers to address the board before the start of the meeting; for example, the vision of an industry futurist before the meeting convenes.

Breaks: Take breaks and keep the energy up with nutritional snacks. Stretch. If directors start texting and checking emails, it is a sign they are no longer focused on the purpose of the meeting. Keep things interesting.

Technology: Reduce the paperwork with technology. Switch to digital platforms for reviewing pertinent information. Provide a voting mechanism so straw votes can be taking during the meeting on topics. Invest in technology that facilitates governance.

Resources: Make best use of resources, including the volunteer leaders at the table, the financial position, the intellectual property and the professional staff. Work to make best use of all the resources to create value. Too many boards won’t spend savings, preferring to maintain something called a rainy-day fund.

Value Creation: Summarize. Continually discuss how the idea, time, discussions add value. If they don’t add value, why delve into them? Avoid pet projects. Set performance measures and sunset underperforming programs at lease annually.

Purpose: Meet with a purpose. Postpone meetings that have no purpose. Be sure the governance structure is designed for the future (lean, nimble, competent) and not the past.

ROI: Assess return on investment. Members and stakeholders expect ROI for their membership, conference and sponsorship fees. Evaluate and promote ROI. Drop programs that are outdated to redirect the resources.

Environmental Scanning: Continuously find ways to conduct environmental scanning. From focus groups to surveys, identify the trends influencing the future and work with or around the external influences. Doing thing the same as the last decade or prior 50 years is too much like the pipeline model.

Voice of the Member: Know the needs of members. Seek their input continuously, with directors arriving at meetings having knowledge of member pain points. Frequently ask the community (members and prospects), “What is the number one challenge you face?” and “What keeps you awake at night?” Use member input to guide outcomes rather than bylaws and policies.

Future Focus: End your meeting knowing where you are going during your next meeting. Before your meeting ends, place time on the agenda to discuss (in small groups), what the will advance relevance and value for the members and solve their major pain points.

Eliminate the approach of the “call for agenda meeting topics” from the board prior to a meeting and employ this approach to structure a future agenda focused on critical issues and aligned to the organization’s strategic goals.

The concept of governance is to maximize value and increase engagement and diversity on the board in order to make sure that members are seeing the most ROI out of the dollars they invest in your organization. Don’t let structure and processes impact outcomes.

Transform from a pipeline to a platform for board meetings by integrating technology and problem solving. Allow flexibility to guide board meetings to outcomes. Make your platform board meeting an exciting event where your directors look forward to attending and making a solid contribution and meaningful advances for the members.