Five tips for a successful pivot to virtual board meetings
At a recent credit union board retreat, we asked the group (a mix of board members and executive leadership); “How do you think the post-COVID-19 world will be different from the pre-COVID-19 world?”
The answers were varied and included:
- More of the workforce will work remotely
- Better overall hygiene practices
- Less brick-and-mortar retail and other traditional storefront businesses
- Increased consolidation of the credit union field
- Fewer major airlines and fewer travelers
We ask this question because, as they say, “the genie is out of the bottle” on so many of our new norms and behaviors. Our businesses and our culture have made a sharp turn to adapt to new laws about social distancing—a foreign concept just a few months ago. This pandemic has accelerated our transition into the digital realm.
Which of the changes that we have made are likely to stick? Which ones should we adapt to craft the “new normal”?
Perhaps the most immediate change our boards have had to make is switching to virtual meetings. So many boards are asking us and themselves if and how can they effectively and meaningfully conduct their work virtually?
Quantum has had to make some changes along these same lines. While the majority of our work is conducted remotely, our facilitated retreats, often considered the pivotal “aha!” moment for many of our clients, had to be reinvented as virtual experiences. It was a daunting challenge but one that we attacked as a team composed of different strengths, talents and experiences. Some of us are more confident with new technologies than others. And then there was a sense of mourning for the loss of our in-person retreats. We had invested so much of ourselves over eight long years and hundreds of thousands of miles to fine-tuning our practices. Who are we without our flip charts, big stickies and colorful illustrations?
How did we pivot?
We practiced … a lot! We spent countless hours choreographing and rehearsing for our first virtual retreat. It is safe to say that we have successfully pivoted now that a number of our clients have commented, “I think this was actually a much better format for our retreat. We were so focused and got so much accomplished in a shorter period of time!” And, “This (virtual retreat) raised the board’s governance IQ but also our video conferencing and communication skills which will make us stronger, too.”
Here are a few best practices that this short and intense period of adjustment has taught us about teamwork and conducting successful virtual meetings:
- While we are limited to only a virtual meeting format, make it the best possible experience. Be present just as you would be if you were seated in the same room with your colleagues. Make sure your video is on, that your face is well lit, that your sound is strong with no background noise or distractions, and that you are knowledgeable about how to use whichever conferencing platform you are using, such as Zoom or Google Meet.
- Come prepared in every other way and review in advance the board materials you were provided in advance. It may seem like common sense, but many board members still treat virtual meetings like “board meeting light,” as if they are in a holding pattern until they can meet in person again. This experience of continuing to operate and indeed grow your organization in a pandemic has likely already provided you with opportunities to conduct vital business and make board-level decisions remotely. If it hasn’t already, it will. Your loyalty to the mission of your credit union and your responsibilities as board members are the same today as they were in the pre-COVID-19 world.
- Have a focused agenda and aim to keep your virtual meetings to about 90 minutes. (We think two hours is the max.) Participation can fall off a cliff if a video conference goes on too long ... we have all been there! Consider meeting for more than one session if you need more than 90 minutes. Keep your agenda tight while leaving room for strategic discussion. It is a delicate balance and requires excellent meeting facilitation by the chair and active participation by the rest of the board.
- Use all of the tools available to you on whichever video conferencing platform you use, including “breakout rooms” for small groups and strategic discussions, “polling” (which is a great way to efficiently get a Five-Finger Consensus) and the “chat” feature (which, used appropriately, is a great way to take the pulse of your entire group in record time.)
- Remember that teamwork is essential. Everyone has to be “all in” on the virtual experience and 100% committed to your meeting’s purpose. The pandemic crisis has been a gut check for leaders in the credit union community. Having a deep bench of various talents, experiences and cultures has never been more important.
Perhaps nothing is a complete substitute for “breaking bread” and the ways that in-person meetings, practices and rituals build community and culture. However, think about how a hybrid model of virtual meetings (when done well) and in-person meetings (with social distancing, masks and hand sanitizer) can help you to expand the reach of your board recruitment and diversify your membership.
As we continue to adjust to the post-COVID-19 “new normal,” the most important lesson is to remain nimble; don’t be afraid to try new things and accept that experimentation will lead to some failures, but ultimately to success as well.
Michael Daigneault, CCD, is co-founder and CEO of Quantum Governance L3C, Herndon, Virginia, CUES’ strategic provider for governance services. Daigneault has more than 35 years of experience in the field of governance, management, strategy, planning and facilitation, and served as an executive in residence at CUES Governance Leadership Institute.
Gisèle Manole is director of communications for Quantum Governance L3C. Her work with credit union and nonprofit clients and as a liaison to CUES leverages more than 20 years of integrated marketing, public relations and communications experience working among the titans of media at Condé Nast Publications, Hearst Corp. and Time Inc.