Maximizing Board Productivity

As I wrote this column, I reflected on the numerous facility board meetings I have attended over the years. There have been interesting times, painful adventures, and good laughs. Some boards were effective and some were not ... ouch!! Overall, working with physicians towards the success of a healthcare venture has been an experience that is unforgettable and fun. I'm sure many of you have shared these same thoughts.

After spending several years working in a surgeon's private practice, I learned to appreciate the dynamics of a physician's life both professional and personal. Their harried daily schedules require that their time is managed efficiently and allocated to the most meaningful events. This is necessary if our doctors even hope to get home to their families in the evening. Meaningless tasks ensure longer days. As we look at a physician's non-patient care professional appointments, we must maximize the input from our board members and minimize the time commitment. Is this statement an oxymoron? I don't think so!

Effective board meetings respect the commitment and time constraints of all members. The following short list of techniques is used by our most successful boards to create the best case scenario for excellent meetings.

Establish a set schedule for meetings. Schedule your board meetings a year in advance! When determining the schedule, ask the physician members for their input on the date and time of the meetings. One of our facilities has chosen to hold their medical executive committee (MEC) and board meetings at 6 am! The physicians are delighted to get the meeting accomplished and not be detained from going home by an after work commitment.

Start the meeting on time! Waiting for late arrivals to start the meeting is disrespectful to the members who have been conscientious in planning and arriving on schedule. Chronic latecomers soon realize that they will miss out if not on time.

Be organized! Send the agenda and previous meeting minutes to each board member prior to the day of the meeting. Come to the meeting with the expectation that all board members will have read the minutes and be ready to approve them. This can shave five minutes off the meeting time.

Assignment completion. A week prior to the meeting call members and remind them of any individual assignments/action items from the past meeting. The member will appreciate being prepared in front of his colleagues.

Meeting information packets. Number the pages in the packet prior to making copies. As the meeting progresses, it is easier to have members refer to a given page number vs. flipping and searching. It also minimizes side chatter as everyone attempts to get on the same page. Keep handouts concise with the most important information on the first page for each topic.

Keep the MEC meeting separate from the board meeting! I know this seems like more work and may appear impossible to do, but it is the height of quality information evaluation. These two committees serve different functions. The MEC is designed to facilitate an intense review and generate discussion and recommendations for improving the clinical and medical care of patients. The Board is the group ultimately responsible for acting on recommendations concerning the business operations of the facility. Attempting to complete both discussions in one meeting is overwhelming in nature and fragments the process. Even in small facilities it is possible to have a different mix of physicians for the two meetings, providing greater insight and leadership opportunities for your medical staff.

Control the 'over talker'. Sometimes one individual will try to use the board meeting to further their private agenda or members will begin side discussions. Move the discussion along sticking to the original agenda.

End the meeting on time! Members are more likely to come to meetings when they know the meeting will end on time and they can move forward with the next item on their list.

In summary, board members will appreciate thoughtful preparation of the agenda, having data ready for discussion and decision-making, starting on time, and ending on time. Making every minute count will promote consistent participation by these key leaders.

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