5 Tips to Limit Distractions at Board Meetings
Keeping board members engaged during meetings is not a new goal, but it is somewhat more complicated these days than it used to be. The ubiquity of smart phones and tablets makes it far easier for people to stay connected, but it also causes distractions. This certainly can be the case at association board meetings. Here are some tips that may help limit distractions and keep board members attentive and focused.

1. Document Boardroom Distractions.
You may think your board is impacted by distractions, but you won’t know to what extent unless you quantify them. Have someone count the distractions at a board meeting. This could include cell phones ringing, side conversations, people coming in late or exiting, or participants texting, answering emails, or browsing the Internet with their mobile devices or laptops. This exercise will provide a baseline from which the group can progress.

2. Consider Limiting the Use of Mobile Devices.
The White House under President Barack Obama reportedly banned mobile devices at all cabinet meetings in order to limit distractions. The cabinet members all placed them in the box before entering the meeting and picked them up on their way out. While this may be difficult for many boards to do since agendas and other board meeting materials are posted online, there are other ways to limit the use of mobile devices. Consider a written policy or protocol that says any mobile device use that is not in direct relation to an agenda item is prohibited, outside of emergencies or special circumstances. If someone repeatedly disregards the protocol, pull them aside after the meeting to reiterate the importance of being fully engaged and present. As much as people think they can multi-task, research suggests otherwise.

3. Keep Agendas Tight. When agendas are tightly constructed, meetings are more productive and there’s less time for distractions. Agendas should focus on matters that pertain to policy, strategy, and other key decisions. Consider eliminating or reducing some reports, such as certain committee reports that are provided in advance in the board book or other advance materials. Also, board chairs should re-direct or end discussions when they veer into tactical issues, which are the purview of staff.

4. Encourage Participation from All. There’s nothing that will disengage board members faster than when they feel their voice is not heard. The board chair should encourage participation and feedback from all members, perhaps even seeking out their input first before making a statement themselves. Or, assign each director an area of focus and let them lead discussions on those matters.

5. Code of Conduct. In addition to establishing protocols on mobile device usage, consider developing a meeting conduct policy. It might include rules that discourage distractions like side conversations or people arriving late. Above all, don’t let distractions sap energy and derail strategic discussions on the important matters at hand. Directors make a commitment to serve, but they cannot serve effectively when they are doing anything other than participating actively in the meeting.
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