4 Reasons to Bring Your “Other Agenda” into the Boardroom

4 Reasons to Bring Your “Other Agenda” into the Boardroom

By Steve Smith, Account Executive and Karen Nason, Account Executive

We’ve all been there before. You’re discussing an important issue for your association, but instead of concentrating on your organization’s agenda, someone is trying to further their own. These hidden agendas can derail important conversations, complicate decision-making, and result in poor solutions for your association.

But we’re not here to advocate that you bring a discussion-killer into the boardroom. Rather, the annotated “other agenda” we’re discussing does the exact opposite. How do you prepare your Board President or Chair to navigate these tricky situations? One method is to produce an annotated agenda to help them keep board conversations on track.

This is the same agenda that is shared with the board but with one important difference—it includes notes (in another font or color) that help the leader facilitate the meeting. Developed in collaboration with the leader, the board leader’s annotated agenda includes additional relevant information, questions to direct discussion, and guidance for taking control of wayward conversations. It also helps leaders consider and plan for ways to introduce, engage and transition from one topic to another.


1. Keep the Conversation on Track

Have you ever been in the midst of a complicated conversation only to have someone bring up another issue entirely? Even when they’re about a related topic, such interruptions can divert a discussion and delay resolution.

But the “other” or annotated agenda helps your leader anticipate deviations and get back on track. Your leader may also benefit from a few helpful phrases for when they want to acknowledge the interrupter, but not give in to the interruption. This could include suggesting that the new issue can be added to the next agenda or move it to the “parking lot” until the discussion at hand is completed. This will ensure everyone leaves the room feeling heard—without letting your objectives in addressing the current agenda fall by the wayside.

2. Maintain Forward Momentum

Even worse than an interruption is a conversation that has stalled entirely, resulting in an awkward silence. As moderator, it’s your leader’s job to gently encourage conversation progress—and the “other agenda” can help there, too.

Be sure to include in the annotations a few questions your leader can ask the group to spark discussion on the topic. This may include inquiring about logistical concerns staff have brought up, similar situations the association has dealt with in the past, or by recapping the group’s initial thoughts about the issue. Coming up with meaningful, conversation-generating questions off the cuff can be difficult, but with some prepared prompts, your leader will be well-positioned to ensure the issue is thoroughly discussed—or tabled for another day.

3. Read the Room and Act

What if your leader has expertly avoided an interruption and posed just the right questions to get people talking—but the conversation is going long and becoming repetitive? The “other agenda” also can include guidelines for how your leader can direct the conversation toward a decision or closure.

For example, you can include on your annotated agenda prompts for the leader to finish the discussion and request a call for a vote if he or she senses colleagues are ready to take decisive action. Or, if a topic has the room feeling tense or confused, the leader also can ask what information the group thinks may be missing and suggest it be tabled until the additional information can be gathered and shared. Regardless of which direction the conversation goes, these simple prompts can help empower the leader to take the action necessary to move forward the group forward and onto the next item.

4. Support Your Leader

Regardless of how it is used, the most important benefit of the “other agenda” is how it helps empower your leader to facilitate the board meeting.

Incoming presidents often express concerns about being as prepared and efficient as their predecessors—and share an equal measure of relief when they realize they’ll have support from a staff member. The real secret to the “other agenda” is the opportunity it gives you and your leader to discuss the agenda items, understand issues that will be covered and prepare for many possibilities, before even entering the boardroom.

Do you empower your leaders with tools like the “other” or annotated agenda? Tell us how you help and the results you’ve seen in your own leadership!

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