BCLTA Governance Workbook: Effective Board Meetings

Boards carry out much of their work in meetings. Effective board meetings happen in the context of the public library’s mission, vision, and values. The meeting agenda reflects the roles of the board and what is important for the board to fulfill its responsibility in providing the strategic and fiduciary oversight of the organizations.

Importantly, the role of the library director is recognized and respected as an expert advisor  to the board for their meeting work. The board chair works in partnership with the library director to ensure that the agenda and supporting materials meet the governance needs of the board.

Board Committees

In-depth discussion and analysis of key issues is not always possible at full board meetings and so boards often work through committees. It is important that boards make use of committees wisely as they can become places of “busy work” that take up valuable time and energy without a meaningful return or impact on the organization.

Some board committees are “standing” committees and tend to continue from year to year and are concerned with the ongoing work of the board such as overseeing finances.  Other committees are “ad hoc” or temporary committees that may be concerned with work that has a limited time-frame such as planning a board event or hiring a library director. All committees need to have a term of reference that describes the work, deliverables or expectations, and the time-frame of the committee. Committees make recommendations to the board and the final decision or approval for committee work is made by the board.

Committees have many benefits, such as

  • the opportunity for a trustee, who is not the board chair, to chair
  • being able to focus on one strategic area, such as developing a plan for stronger board governance, recruiting a new library director, drafting the budget, or developing a new policy
  • engaging trustees with work that has immediate results or outputs
  • developing trustee skills through working closely with subject experts, such as outside consultants or staff
  • bringing evidence-based, mission-focused recommendations to the full board for a decision

Effective Meetings

The following are indicators of effective board and committee meetings:

  • Trustees are familiar with and use the board policies, by-laws, procedures, and committee terms of references for positive meeting outcomes.
  • Trustees receive clear and succinct agendas and supporting material sufficiently prior to board and committee meetings
  • Trustees demonstrate that they have reviewed the agenda and supporting documents
  • Committee assignments reflect the interests, experience, or skills of the trustees
  • Board and committee meetings are well-organized, productive, and make good use of board members’ time
  • A consent agenda is appropriately used (see Use of a Consent Agenda below)
  • The chair presides and facilitates healthy discussion and decision making
  • Everyone participates respectfully, listens to understand, and asks questions or comments for clarification and developing understanding
  • In-camera meetings are only used to discuss land, labour, and law
  • The library director provides accurate, timely, and appropriate reports for board  oversight, direction, and decision
  • The board respects the expert advisement and support from the library director

Use of a Consent Agenda

The following explanation of a consent agenda is from BoardEffect (J. Barlow, “What is a Consent Agenda for a Board Meeting?”, 2016).

A consent agenda is a board meeting practice that groups routine business and reports into one agenda item. The consent agenda can be approved in one action, rather than filing motions on each item separately. Using a consent agenda can save boards anywhere from a few minutes to a half hour. A consent agenda moves routine items along quickly so that the board has time for discussing more important issues.

These items are frequently found in a consent agenda:

  • minutes for approval
  • financial reports where no strategic direction or decision is required
  • program or committee updates where no strategic direction or decision is required
  • human resources updates, such as routine staff appointments
  • correspondence that is included for information only

Any item can be pulled out of the consent  agenda by request.

It is recommended that guidelines for the use of the consent agenda be included in board  policy, procedures, or by-laws.