Board Etiquette: Five Important Rules and Procedures

Proper board etiquette describes the unwritten rules and procedures that executive leadership and board members must follow.

It’s always an honour to serve as a board member for an organisation or institution. Because of the degree of work, the required expertise, and nature of the job, the expectations on the behaviour and conduct of the board members are typically set high. There are certain codes of conduct board members will benefit from exhibiting in a board setting, also referred to as board etiquette.

Like any other formal event, a lot goes into planning, preparation, and execution of the board meeting. And eventually, board meeting minutes are reported to the relevant stakeholders. For example, organisations employ board meeting management software to assist their administrators and secretaries in creating, distributing, and organising meeting information in real time.

The formality of a board meeting, borne out of respect for the board members, calls for seamless meeting preparation, up-to-date meeting information, and above all, observance of the board meeting etiquette.

This article will highlight the five most important rules and procedures board members can observe to maintain proper board etiquette.

What is Board Etiquette?

Etiquette is generally a code of conduct that defines collective behaviour in a particular setting. In this case, board etiquette refers to how the board of directors communicates and relates with each other, including their peers, executives, juniors, and others. Their etiquette describes how they talk and conduct themselves inside and outside the boardroom.

In other words, board etiquette is a set of unwritten or implicit rules and procedures that the board members should observe in line with the position they hold. The actions and behaviours of the board of directors show their service and commitment to the organisation and the general public. Abiding by board etiquette helps the members keep their meetings productive and influential while also holding high the organisation’s image.

Like Robert’s Rules of Order, the board meeting etiquette ensures standards on legal and ethical principles, general order and protocol, and a culture of collegiality. While every organisation may have its own unique board protocols, there are general board etiquette guidelines that ensure the board members speak in one voice and to the organisation’s interest.

Board Etiquette Rules and Procedures

Board meeting etiquette rules and procedures generally ensure that all board members have an equal chance to air their opinions and perspectives and receive a fair hearing from everyone. They also ensure the board members observe legal and ethical standards before, during, and after the meeting. Below are the five most important rules and procedures of board etiquette for board members:

1. Understand the Purpose and Intent of Board Meetings

Understanding the meeting’s purpose and intent is the first step to maintaining and conforming to board etiquette rules and standards. The purpose of the meeting and all other elements that will contribute to the debate should be clear, simple, and meaningful to board members. It helps them anticipate and prepare early enough for the board meeting.

From the date, location, and time of the meeting to their roles and responsibilities, board members need to familiarise themselves with the meeting even before it occurs. They should check the board papers and suggest what they need to include. This explains why the board etiquette starts long before the actual meeting begins.

2. Follow the Board Meeting Agenda

The board chairperson or the CEO will play an integral role in ensuring that the meeting strictly follows the stated agenda. As soon as the meeting begins, any relevant conflict of interest must be declared to the chair or the person who is designated to handle such issues. The board members should thoroughly and keenly review the board papers and the items in the agenda list (in the order they will be addressed during the meeting) and set the stage for an effective board meeting.

From calling the meeting to order, reading the minutes of the previous meeting and various reports to the adjournment of the meeting, the objective is to strictly follow the board meeting agenda and focus on the issues at hand.

3. Listen to Board Member Feedback

Another important etiquette rule is to listen to the board members’ feedback respectfully. By virtue of their positions, board members are expected to exhibit high standards of conduct while also utilising their expertise to take on responsibilities and help the organisation fulfil its missions.

However, one thing’s sure; there’s always room for improvement.

That’s why board members will benefit from listening to feedback, whether from colleagues or junior stakeholders, and act on it accordingly. This will help them to improve, and also help the board speak with one voice. Organisations can map their directors’ strengths and weaknesses using a board skills matrix and offer constructive feedback. As a general rule, the board members will listen and examine what is said and not who speaks.

4. Read Post-Meeting Papers

Board meeting etiquette extends beyond the meeting itself. It’s up to the chair or board secretary to provide a summary of the meeting, read the resolutions and the future steps. But board members must also review the post-meeting papers, raise any suggestions or concerns regarding possible meeting reviews, understand the resolutions, and carry on appropriately.

Reading and reviewing the post-meeting papers also helps them flag any corrections on the action points, raise, and make necessary adjustments to documents. If you use an online board meeting portal, the software will enable you to update documents from anywhere, anytime.

5. Recognise and Respect the Confidentiality of Board Meetings

Board etiquette describes the actions and behaviours of the board meeting members even beyond the eyes of the organisation. Board members operating with integrity take the position of observing meeting etiquette rules and procedures whether they’re being watched or not. In other words, board directors must never talk about the business of the board outside of the boardroom or after the meeting.

Frankly, sensitive matters and information will always be discussed and passed during the meeting. To keep such information safe and intact, it’s the board members’ collective responsibility to recognise and respect the meeting’s confidentiality. Organisations can also employ board management software systems like OnBoard to enhance the security of the documents by preventing unauthorised access and tracking the actions made on the final document even after the meeting is adjourned.

How OnBoard Can Help Your Board Achieve Seamless Board Management

While board protocols may vary from one organisation to the next, these are the most common guidelines for general board etiquette. Board etiquette helps boards observe ethical and legal requirements, and it also makes the board meetings more effective before, during, and after the meetings. The board also becomes more efficient.

Take advantage of the right board management software to make your board more effective and align the organisation’s objectives for better performance. Get started with OnBoard’s comprehensive board management software buyer’s guide for a healthier board and improved business outcomes.

* This article is sponsored by OnBoard; a board management program that frees boards and leadership teams to make better decisions and pursue bold action. To find out more about OnBoard, visit their website or email enquire@onboardmeetings.com.

More on Boardroom Etiquette: Board Shorts Podcast Ep. 07 with Alana Lenart


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