The three major roles in a board meeting: Part 2
Members have the same responsibility as the chair in making sure the meeting is successful.
When asked who has the most “power” in a meeting, or whose responsibility it is to make sure a meeting is successful most people will answer, “It is the chair’s responsibility.” But that answer is simply not true. Members of a board have as much responsibility in making sure that a meeting is successful as the chair. Moreover, they have as much power as the chair to make sure the meeting runs smoothly. They also have as much power as the chair when it comes to making decisions - keep in mind that in a deliberative assembly each person’s opinion is weighted equally through a vote. The responsibilities of being a member start with being familiar with parliamentary rules, allowing and supporting the presiding officer in facilitating the meeting, and participating appropriately. Other responsibilities of board members include:
Presumably, when someone decides to be on a board, they will make the commitment to attending meetings. When members do not attend meetings, productivity of a board can be derailed. Decisions are delayed, information is not shared and assignments are not completed. I tell people that before they volunteer or run for election to be on a board, they should be clear with themself, their family and their employer about the time commitment to do the job and fulfill their obligations.
Have working knowledge of rules and other governing documents
It is as much a member’s responsibility as it is the chairperson’s to have read the rules that govern the organization. This includes state laws the organization may be bound to, all the way down to adopted board policies. Naturally, a member cannot be an expert and know everything about all the different aspects of the organization, but should at a minimum know where to find the information. I have found that board members are most successful when given an orientation to the organization prior to or at the beginning of their term. A notebook or website where important documents are stored and readily accessible is extremely useful.
Prepare reports, and read meeting materials ahead of time (be prepared)
I have witnessed board members in meetings open their packet of board materials for the very first time as soon as the sit down at the meeting. I have seen members (and maybe done this myself from time to time) verbally “wing it” when giving a report when policy is to submit reports in advance and in writing. Although we all have a bad day (week or month) occasionally, some members have a habit of this kind of behavior. When members are not prepared, they waste meeting time by asking for clarification on what was already sent to them ahead of time. If they had read the materials, they would be ready to discuss the issue “intelligently” instead of wasting other members’ time with questions already provided to them. It is important to take the work on a board seriously as well as have respect for other members on your board by being prepared to participate. In addition, part of being professional is being prepared with written reports of your own activities when requested. Reviewing the meeting materials in advance enables a member to get questions answered that might only be important to that member before the meeting, and also provides a heads up to staff to be to prepared with additional information that may helpful to the entire board when they come together to deliberate.
Participate in deliberation
If you do not participate in discussion, then the board will not hear your position. Help the chairperson out by offering the dissenting viewpoint if it has not already been presented. If elected, your constituents also expect you to voice their opinion. However, if your point of view on an issue has already been expressed, there is no need to repeat it unless you need to make a motion to change the proposal on the floor to accommodate that point (i.e through an amendment). Participating in deliberation also means to be respectful of fellow board members by paying attention to them as they speak and following proper debate rules as adopted by your board.
A right to enforcement of the rules
As you recall from Part 1 on the role of the chairperson, one of the chair’s responsibilities is to protect the rights of the members, reciprocally, members have a right to the enforcement of the rules. Therefore, if the chair is not enforcing the rules or if a member disagrees with a ruling or action of the chair, a member has the right to disagree. A member can do this with a variety of parliamentary motions such as parliamentary inquiry, point of order or appeal from the decision of the chair.
Represent the opinions of constituency or electorate
If elected or representing a constituency, a board member may not always be able to speak their personal viewpoint or vote in the way they personally would like to. Rather, after having done research on the position of their constituency or having been given a directive to vote in a certain way, the member should represent the will of those they represent. This can be difficult at times when trying to weigh the benefits of the small against the benefits for the greater good. A member should always seek out the best and most reliable information, and also work to educate constituents on the issues if for some reason the member does not believe the opinion of the constituents will serve the community best in the long run. Constituent relationship-building and community outreach work takes time, so making sure you have enough of that before deciding to serve is another consideration in being an active and contributing board member.
A meeting is only successful with contributions from active and prepared members of the group. The members have just as much obligation as the chair in making sure that a meeting is successful, that rules are followed and that the group gets something to done.
For more details on each of these roles and responsibilities from Michigan State University Extension read:
- Introduction: Each needs to play their parts correctly for a successful meeting.
- Part 1: A good chairperson knows the leader plays a supporting role and doesn’t always have to be the star
- Part 3: Guests play an important role in informing the board and share responsibility in knowing the rules