I’ve just come off a board meeting at Ambrose University and once again it was particularly good that at the end of our two days of meetings, our board chair led us in a brief exercise that has been his practice since he assumed the role of chair. Before we adjourn, he asks each person present if they would kindly, as a gift to the whole board, tell us something about their experience of this particular board meeting: that is, to identify something from our time together that stood out for them: a point of encouragement, a new learning perhaps, but something that stood out that they would like to give particular mention to. Some might speak of how gratifying it was that the board came to a strong cohesiveness around a particular action item. Others might reference a guest presenter, someone who came in as a consultant or advisor to address a particular issue – perhaps as part of the board development session.
But others might mention something that did not happen in the board meeting but in the hallway during the coffee break when they stepped out of the board room and happened to get into a conversation with a faculty member. And while obviously not discussing board business, nevertheless the “business” of the university was very much on their mind as the faculty member made reference to a significant and encouraging encounter in the classroom earlier that day.
This exercise always comes at the end of the board meeting. And each time around we are all aware of those who need to get away to catch a flight or those who are eager to head to the parking lot and home. But I am so glad that our board chair insists on this little exercise. It is a kind of spiritual discipline where we sit back, for just a few minutes, and see the whole meeting through the eyes and the experience of each board member. The chair always insists that if someone does not wish to speak, they are under no obligation. But everyone has something to say that, each time, always holds particular meaning. And it draws attention to those things that sometimes happen at the margin or those aspects of the meeting that cannot be choreographed. And it gives them air time.
The net result is that we are not merely “doing business” together but instead allowing that experience of doing this work, together, to settle in our hearts and minds . . . and it helps us to see the meeting through the eyes of our fellow board members. And the outcome is a stronger board: our cohesiveness as a board is strengthened and our appreciation for each other enhanced. And we always come out of this exercise encouraged as we move towards our formal adjournment.