How meeting agendas bolster success for community college boards

Jennifer Rose Hale

Board meetings running over time. An overwhelming number of emails and documents to sift through. Ineffective decision-making. Sound familiar?  

Your college board meeting is a regular opportunity for board members to discuss goals, review progress and come up with strategies to meet your mission. If your meetings are poorly-run, however, you could lose sight of those goals and miss key opportunities for your college. 

​​​Our checklist for community college board effectiveness outlines the steps boards can take to improve their performance. But let’s take a moment to consider how a thoughtful and well-managed board meeting agenda can make your meetings even more productive. 

The agenda’s role in effective board management

A streamlined agenda process is key to improved board performance and better outcomes. It encompasses much more than an orderly list of discussion topics compiled on a single document; rather, your agenda should capture the entire workflow of a meeting, from identifying challenges to facilitating discussion, identifying action steps and creating documentation.  

Effective board meeting agendas provide direction, organization and guidance for the board, and contribute to the efficiency and success of board meetings.  

For community college boards that must manage multiple teams and committees, make important decisions about leadership, and evaluate enrollment trends and grant opportunities, agendas impose a necessary sense of order and prioritization.  

Agendas are often prepared by staff outside the board — either a professor or an administrator — and materials presented for board consideration can come from anywhere. Therefore, many boards struggle with inconsistent sources or storage places for supplemental documents, unpredictable versioning, floods of emails and texts with notes and updates, and other factors that contribute to disorder. It doesn’t have to be this way. 

How to improve your board’s agenda process

Consider these steps as you work to improve your board agenda process. 

Look at the process as comprehensive, full-cycle meeting management

As noted above, the agenda process is more than the creation of a single document. From gathering data to fostering discussions and sharing information that can influence important decisions, the process involves numerous roles and touch points. Your board needs to pare down the manual work that goes into meeting preparation and ensure materials are collected and presented as consistently and succinctly as possible. A robust digital board management tool can simplify this process by allowing individuals to contribute to the meeting agenda through a standardized process.  

Implement templates

Consistency and simplicity are two additional benefits of using standardized templates to create agenda materials. Your board management software should offer numerous templates to fit the needs of your board’s work. Implementing templates will reduce time spent and confusion parsing the quantities of information board members must review. 

Share the agenda and supporting documents ahead of meetings

Board meetings should be centered around discussion, debate and decisions. Instead, many boards are left playing catch-up with new information during these precious hours. Making documents available prior to meetings allows trustees to be more efficient with the time they give to board service.  

Streamline and customize the workflow and approval process

Taking a step back and evaluating your current process is key. Boards can often reduce the number of emails and back-and-forth discussions by storing supplemental materials in a board portal and using automated notifications for agendas and approvals. Boards can also implement one-click publishing and distribution of agendas and minutes.  

Incorporate committee reports into the board decision-making process

As part of their role directing a college’s priorities, boards often receive input from multiple teams and committees. Incorporating these reports into the board’s decision-making process — a process ordered by the agenda — will help boards manage the deluge of information and set priorities.   

Common agenda mistakes to avoid

Even after implementing board management software, boards can make choices that prevent the solution from doing everything it is capable of. Consider these common mistakes with agendas and how your board can avoid them. 

Being over-ambitious in your agenda-setting

We have all created a to-do list that reflects what we wish we could accomplish, rather than the reality of time constraints and priorities. An overly ambitious agenda will not only fail to be completed; it will also leave board members exhausted and frustrated. Use past performance to determine what the board can realistically accomplish in the time allowed. 

Neglecting time limits on agenda items

In a similar vein, keeping discussions open-ended introduces the risk of an unproductive meeting and encourages individual members to focus on minutiae, rather than building consensus. Add time limits to agenda items to guide discussion productively, and don’t be reluctant to enforce them.  

Distributing the agenda and supporting materials at the meeting

As noted earlier, providing materials ahead of time allows board members to be fully prepared for discussion — a sure time-saver. Set internal deadlines to permit early agenda-packet publication.  

Leaving key items off the agenda

Mistakes happen, and overlooking a critical topic is something every board does at one time or another. You can minimize the likelihood of missed agenda items by ensuring your agenda-creation process has clear steps, milestones and timelines.  

Optimize your college board’s agenda process

Every minute counts during board meetings. Community college boards can benefit from carefully crafted agendas and a streamlined agenda management process to help optimize time and make board meetings even more effective. 

Community college governance supported by technology is the key to success for the college, the staff and the students.  

The right board portal solution offers built-in tools for preparation, collaboration, efficiency and security, so boards can focus on governing effectively and delivering student success. 

We at Diligent are here to support you as you use technology to become an even more effective board. Learn how Diligent Community can help your college board.