What If Agenda Items Were Questions?


To help board members engage in decisions and focus discussions on governance, try framing all agenda items as questions.

In their Harvard Business Review guest post Four Ways to Cultivate a Culture of Curiosity, Kate Smith Milway and Alex Goldmark share this approach from their work with California-based nonprofit HopeLab. Although the article discusses approaches for enhancing the creative input of employees, it’s easy to see the benefits to a board.


Questions invite responses. By presenting the work of the board as a series of questions, the agenda can encourage directors to engage issues, offer opinions, and seek facts. And questions often invite more questions. In trying to answer an agenda question, directors may discover they need additional information that supports and strengthens their decision-making.


How the board chair frames the questions matters. What the questions ask can move the board from routine updates to continuous strategic thinking. It’s the difference between asking “What happened in our programs last quarter?” and asking “How did we deliver intended benefits to our clients, and a what cost or value?” It’s the difference between “What has the executive director been doing?” and asking “Is this organization achieving its intended outcomes while avoiding what the board has identified as unacceptable?” 


Asking only “Shall we approve the annual budget?” can quickly divert the board out of its governance role and into areas best delegated to management. But asking “Does this budget support efforts to achieve our intended results?” offers an opportunity for the board and CEO to talk about finances in ways that respect their distinct roles. Structure the questions so that they direct the board towards making policy decisions, monitoring performance against those policies, or gathering information and expertise necessary to do its work.

10-Minute Board Discussion

Looking at a recent board agenda, how could we restate the items as questions?


Photos courtesy of iStockphoto user studiovision.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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