Some board members are eager to depart before the meeting is adjourned. Is the promise of ending on time too much pressure?

Directors must realize they are fiduciaries making decisions on behalf of the membership. They have to be present to fulfill their duties.

Ground Rules

To complete the work, a meeting should be well-organized, strategic, and have each person’s time valued. There are ways to stay on track and end in a timely manner.

Start and end on time. Avoid excuses about starting late. Ask directors to be accountable for arriving on time and staying to the end. A quorum is necessary from start to finish.

Design an agenda that’s efficient. Place a reasonable number of issues on the agenda. Forego listening to reports that usurp valuable time by distributing them in advance and asking volunteers to be accountable for reading them.

Some members will talk more than others. The board chair should orchestrate a fair discussion environment. Set a rule that nobody speaks twice until everybody has had a chance to speak once.

Ask directors to be attentive. Persons distracted by calls and digital devices are likely to ask, “Could you catch me up to where we are?” Discipline is required for the duration of the meeting.

Sidebar conversations and questions that can be answered during the break or afterwards should be checked. You’ll recognize these distractions with the phrase, “I just have a question…”

Watch for squirrels. Directors can be distracted by seemingly good ideas not on the agenda. These take up precious time. Frequently ask how the discussion advances the organization’s mission and which of the strategic goals.

Require that role of the board chair be respected. Before anybody speaks, they should ask the chair for the floor and the state reason they want to speak.

Avoid tactical discussions and questions that are better addressed by committees and staff. Successful boards remain strategic.

Include time markers on the agenda so that directors are aware of how much time is allocated to a topic.

At the Federal Bar Association, Stacy King, CAE, and executive director says, “I include reasonable, but short, time markers for each agenda item. It helps speakers stay accountable for remaining succinct and some board members even find it fun to see how close the meeting stays with the timing. It rarely stifles discussion that is strategic but curbs tactical or in the weeds commentary.”

If the problem is agenda design, make adaptations. Consider the frequency of meetings, director orientation, or the environment in which meetings are held. If directors cannot stay until the end of the meeting, discuss their behavior and the importance of their roles.

Make the best use of meetings and the contributions of volunteers. Ending on time is preferred, although the team should want to finish the work before adjourning.