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How to Chair a Meeting Well
By Catherine Stalker and Dineshi Ramesh
Effective meetings are dependent on skilful leadership and some people chair meetings considerably better than others. But what are the hallmarks of a good Chair? Catherine Stalker of Independent Audit works with boards to help them hold constructive and effective meetings. Dineshi Ramesh of Board Intelligence helps boards facilitate better discussions and decision-making by improving board information. In these two videos, they discuss the hallmarks of an effective Chair and what to avoid, drawing on their extensive experience of the good, the bad and the ugly of board meetings, ExCos and other committees.
What works and what doesn’t
Anyone who’s ever sat through a board meeting knows that some just work better than others. In our years of working with boards and committees, we have spent hours sitting in hundreds of meetings. And we’ve experienced pretty much the whole range. There have been times when the energy in the room was low – everyone seemed exhausted – and others where the pace has been exhilarating, with everyone participating in the discussion.
Of course there are lots of factors which all combine to create a positive board meeting – a key one being the quality of information board members receive beforehand – but there’s no overlooking the fact that the Chair plays a key role. No-one has more power to help a board have better conversations.
So what are the things a Chair can do – or needs to avoid at all costs – to raise the chances of everyone getting as much as possible out of a board meeting?
1. Watch the time
- Allow important conversations more space – you can always catch up time on later items
- Plan the agenda carefully to balance the content and allow for deeper discussion on fewer subjects
2. Facilitate don’t dominate
- The Chair should hold back with their opinions until others have had time to contribute
- Leave time for other people to challenge the Chair’s view before summing up
- Sum up the outcome of each discussion clearly
3. Create the right atmosphere
- Call breaks at the right time to stop energy flagging
- Encourage executives to share the bad news as well as the good by fostering a relationship of trust and looking for ways to overcome problems rather than apportioning blame
4. Nip bad behaviour in the bud
- When possible, stop someone who talks too much or and intervene to stop side conversations
- Alternatively, take people aside after the meeting and suggest constructive changes to behaviour
- The Chair needs to ask for proper feedback from colleagues via the Senior Independent Director or another member of the Board or Committee
- Or commission an independent board review from an external evaluator – at Independent Audit, that’s what we do….
We’ve worked with more than 160 clients. They are mainly FTSE 350 comanies – including 20 from the FTSE 100.
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