How to have a productive discussion about the results of your board review

Whether you’re working through a light touch or a comprehensive board review, when discussing the results with your board you should focus predominantly on developing a plan of action. There are three things you need to have a productive discussion, and one you don’t. 

1. You need clear ownership

Productive board review discussions require someone to lead and direct them. In most instances, the chair should take responsibility for understanding the review in depth and formulating a set of key actions in response. In some instances, it may be appropriate for a committee chair or another director to take on this responsibility. 

Once actions have been formulated, they then need to be socialised with the rest of the board and implementation plans put in place.

2. You need a structured discussion

Board evaluations cover a lot of ground across a range of topics. Without structure, a session to discuss the report is likely to jump from issue to issue. To ensure issues and actions are prioritised and real actions formulated, the discussion needs to be structured. 

In some instances, the board may feel like it needs to do more work to understand the issues. An in-depth workshop run outside of a board meeting setting can be highly productive to this end. To help structure the discussion and drive clear outcomes, it may make sense for this to be facilitated by a consultant or an experienced director.

3. You need a well-prepared chair

While all board members should prepare for discussions about the board review, directors will inevitably look to the chair for guidance. The chair must always be the most prepared director for a board evaluation discussion.

The chair must always be the most prepared director for a board evaluation discussion

4. You don’t need sensemaking in meeting

The issues raised in a board review can be sensitive and may be interpreted in different ways. To avoid unstructured or emotional responses, it is best to avoid sensemaking in meeting. It’s important that directors come to the discussion with a well structured understanding of the results, rather than trying to understand them for the first time.

A productive board review discussion requires everyone to come into the meeting with a perspective on what the report means and areas where action should be taken (even if they don’t yet know what could or should be done). The focus of the discussion is on “what are we going to do about this?”. 

The result of a productive board review discussion should be issues that have been prioritised and clear actions with accountabilities. This provides a platform from which real improvement can be made and the board can move forward.

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