May 4

How To Take Away the Element of Surprise in Meetings or Watch Your Influence Diminish!


By Dr. Jason Carthen

Frequently I am asked to go around the country and provide trainings or workshops dealing with various topics. One of the themes/topics regularly requested is effective board training or the key steps needed to develop trust in a board context. Now, some may ask, why would there be a need to develop trust amongst like-minded individuals who have come together to achieve a common purpose? The answer may surprise you.

Dr. Jason Carthen: Take Away the Element of Surprise in Meetings

Meeting Protocol

Often when individuals come together they may have the best intentions, but not the best methodology for seeing individualism maximized for the group’s benefit or setting aside differences for optimal performance. There are usually two or three things that contribute to the presence of factions or unrestrained individualism in a board context. Ulterior motives when joining the board, unrealistic board expectations or the presence of contention due to interpersonal conflicts related to power and leadership. Due to the brevity constraints of this article, let me share some of the insights I have gleaned over a period of time as it relates to one contributing factor…meeting protocol.

Heart-to-Heart Conversation

After a board assessment (Usually, I conduct interviews or a qualitative survey, etc.) and subsequent meetings to discuss findings, I typically have a heart-to-heart conversation before a large scale board training which centers around how they may want to transcend the current level of board functioning. This meeting fleshes out some pretty interesting conversations. For example, without fail, one of the interesting complaints or concerns are how the meetings are conducted or what I like to call, “The dreaded meeting surprise!”

This typically occurs when a gotcha takes place in a meeting or a carefully timed “zinger” of new information is shared for effect. When this occurs, it immediately breaks trust and threatens the very fabric of the board’s mission, because without trust, the board cannot go forward with a clear conscious and resolution. So, how do we resolve this potentially toxic situation?

Adherence to an Agenda

The first thing is the creation and adherence to an agenda. The agenda needs to be agreed upon by the board chairperson and officers with the intention of no surprises taking place prior to the meeting. Here are the elements of an effective agenda that eliminates surprises:

1. Time Bound
2. An Opening
3. Concise
4. Action Items
5. Clear Attendee Responsibilities
6. A Closing

Through the adherence of this well lit pathway, boards have clear protocol that fosters trust and transparency which leads to healthier board functioning and realizing goals. While not the only necessary steps for optimal board functioning, a clear and precise agenda is an excellent starting point.

Please leave a comment or post on my Facebook Page and share with me positive or negative stories related to meetings you have been involved in!


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  • Hi Dr. Jason — Thanks for this thought-provoking post. In my experience, I believe that you’ve hit several “nails” on their “heads!” People on boards do have differing hidden (sometimes secret) agendas. They also sometimes struggle for power dominance. However, I have to question if these really only apply to boards. In my experience, I’ve witnessed dysfunctional behaviors that seemed to have stemmed from similar latent attitudes and values among people at all levels within various leavels and in multiple industries. Whether on shop floors, in sales managers’ “bull-pens,” or in training supervisors’ cubicles; it seems that teams and groups of all shapes and sizes arguably face similar struggles and likely need similar facilitative work. After all, even if all board members agree with each other and create the best strategic teams and plans on the planet, it will come to naught, if coordinative and operative level teams can’t (or won’t) do their jobs because of the same blockages. Additionally, please see my listed “website” for some of my recent thoughts on trust…

    • Bud, excellent thoughts regarding coordinative and operative teams! As a Board member/leader we must remain in tune with what our decisions or mandates mean for the entire organization. Well said and keep those comments coming!

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