Recently, I worked in a country where board members seldom disagree. Their meetings are purposely harmonious. No voices raised or fingers pointed. They prefer courtesy over confrontation.

In the U.S., association boards embrace a different model. Debate and deliberation are expected at meetings.

The chairman is likely to ask, "Have we fully vetted all aspects of this proposal?" Directors are urged to delve into an issue before voting on motions.

Vigorous discussions may be the reason organizations develop meeting guidelines for directors. These are principles are in addition to what is prescribed in the bylaws.

Agree to Disagree

Many meeting guidelines start with, "Agree to disagree." This encourages robust conversation in order to produce the best results.

Because boards are made up of people with diverse opinions, there is an expectation that that not everyone will share the same view. Along the way, feelings could be hurt. Volunteers are informed it is OK to disagree, while maintaining cordiality and respect in the boardroom.

A second meeting principle is, "Remove personalities from discussions while focusing on outcomes." For example, eliminating a committee is not about the people but about organizational efficacy.

A third principle is to urge support for the decisions of the board. Directors are asked to speak up inside the meeting, expressing their opinions. Once the vote is cast, directors are expected to support the decisions of the board of directors.

Conveying Meeting Principles

Meeting principles are developed through consensus and distributed at orientation or in the directors’ leadership manual.

There is a good way to keep them blatantly in front of the board at meetings. The backside of each director’s name tent card is prime real estate.

There is minimal value to printing a director’s name on both sides of a tent card. He or she already knows their name.

Some groups use the side facing the director to convey the mission statement. Others communicate ground rules on the tent card.

Here’s a paraphrased example from the Carolinas Ready Mixed Concrete Association (CRMCA). They address risk and behavior on the reverse side of the tent card.

Antitrust Compliance — Do not discuss pricing or pricing practices; do follow all company and association guidelines pertinent to antitrust compliance; conduct all business activities within the spirit of the law; remember that antitrust violations apply to social events as well.

Disagree Constructively without Being Disagreeable — Achieve consensus, then support the decisions of the board; adhere to the meeting agenda; treat others with respect; and focus on the best interests of industry and members.

Listen and Understand — Address issues with integrity; no grandstanding nor hidden conflicts; have fun.

How does your organization make best use of the name tent cards at meetings? Thanks to CRMCA for sharing their successful practice.