Among the many boards I have worked with as an AGB consultant, one of the most frequent concerns I hear is that their committees area not as effective as they would like. One look at their agendas shows a major reason why: they are not designed to make a difference in addressing the most important fiduciary and strategic issues facing the board. Boards may also need to take other steps to strengthen their committees, but almost all could become more effective by designing consequential agendas.
Consequential agendas differ from traditional agendas in several ways:
- The board and its committee chairs, not the senior leadership team, are the ones who set the agenda. Of course, committee chairs consult senior leaders, but the chair is the one to decide what is on the agenda and how it operates.
- Good agendas ensure that the committee addresses the major goals and responsibilities assigned to it by the full board. So the committee is thus fulfilling its role as an agent of the board with substantive authority and responsibility.
- Rather than management updates and operational diversions, board committees must focus on major issues of fiduciary significance. These involve matters such as institutional direction and strategy, educational quality, long-term sustainability, significant risks and opportunities, and fidelity to mission and identity.
- Consequential agendas are built around questions for board discussion and decision, not administrative reports. Reports should be distributed in advance, leaving committee time for discussion to address important matters not yet resolved. Presentations are used only to set up good discussions.
With consequential agendas built around those principles, your committees will not only perform more effectively, but committee work itself will be more engaging and rewarding for board members.