Best practice chairing: how to run better board meetings

SupportChairing meetings effectively is a real skill. It’s also essential if you want meetings to be efficient, constructive and decision-driven.

How can you ensure your meetings – whether board meetings, committees or others – are chaired well? What does best practice chairing look like, and how can you achieve it? We investigate.

Back to basics - what is chairing?

The chair is responsible for:

  • Making sure that meetings keep to the agenda and stay on track
  • Ensuring the meeting runs to time
  • Giving everyone present their chance to contribute to discussions
  • Ensuring that the meeting’s objectives are achieved

How can you make certain your meetings are well-chaired?

Giving meetings a purpose

It’s important that meetings have a clear purpose: the chair can be central to driving this, by making sure the agenda is followed and discussions do not digress.

Time-keeping

Time-keeping is also vital – senior executives’ time is precious, and ensuring meetings start on time and keep to the schedule is important. The chair plays a key role here.

Driving constructive debate

The chair is crucial in ensuring that discussions and decisions reflect the organisation’s strategy and objectives, and that the decisions made strike the right balance between opportunity and risk.

With some people claiming that the female brain may be the secret weapon of the best boards, it’s also vital that discussions benefit from a suitably diverse range of viewpoints.

You need to have the right mix of perspectives in the boardroom. All board members should be encouraged to contribute to the meeting, and the chair should allow all views and aspects of an issue to be discussed before any decision is made.

The chair should manage discussions, closing down conversations that deviate from the meeting’s purpose and allowing the right amount of debate to deliver informed decisions, while moderating any disagreements.

Avoiding ambiguity

When decisions are made, it’s the chair’s role to ensure that this is done clearly and explicitly, avoiding any potential for misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the chosen path.

The chair doesn’t usually have a voting role at the meeting, unless there is a tied vote – but this can vary within different organisations.

De-coding the language of the boardroom

The issues discussed at board and other strategy meetings can be complex. Part of the chair’s remit is to ensure that everyone involved understands the subject being debated, by asking for clarification if required. They may also play a role in interpreting some of the (often opaque) terminology used at formal meetings.

Where else can the chair influence a meeting’s success?

Minute-taking doesn’t usually fall to the chair, but they can help to ensure that minutes are accurate and complete.

Similarly, it isn’t typically the chair’s responsibility to produce and distribute board papers, but their involvement and proactivity in making sure that members get the information they need before the meeting can make the difference between an effective or ineffective meeting.

In the chair’s absence…

If the usual chair cannot attend a meeting, a designated vice-chair or other appointed board member needs to assume their duties and responsibilities.

Understanding board meeting protocols and terminology

Hopefully this has given you a clearer understanding of the role of the meeting chair. The chair’s role is one example of the often-complex protocols that govern board and other formal meetings.

The language used in formal meetings can be equally if not more complex and confusing. To help with this, we have published a free board and business meeting glossary.

The glossary decodes some of the terms and acronyms most frequently used in formal meetings, and you can download a free copy here.

Nothing in this document should be treated as an authoritative statement of the law. Action should not be taken as a result of this document alone. We make no warranty and accept no responsibility for consequences arising from relying on this document.

 Board and Business Meeting Glossary