Money & Business

Get Your Board to Cut the Cord

By / Jun 1, 2015 (Glow RF/Thinkstock)

How to get board members to put their phones away for a little while.

Board members who can’t put down their devices at meetings present a tricky challenge. Can you bluntly tell your volunteer leaders to get off their phones and tablets so they can attend to the association’s business? Awkward.

“How engaged are these boards if they’re on their phones or computers at the meetings?” asks Amy Lestition, CAE, vice president of strategic communications and outreach for the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association. “They’re not really leaving their day job, and they need to, because it’s their fiduciary responsibility. Also, people aren’t actively conversing or asking the right questions if they’re preoccupied.”

Sometimes consultant Robert Van Hook, FASAE, CAE, uses “phone timeouts,” where everyone sets aside their smartphones for a set period to focus on discussion. He also asks board members to “declare a cellphone need, like an expected important text, in the same way as you’d declare a conflict of interest. Then it’s fine.”

Another tactic? Lose the meeting table. This subtly encourages members not to use laptops.

If device use in meetings is part of board culture, though, these tactics may not work. “I can’t change it unless I open a board conversation,” he says. “They’re adults; they have to manage themselves.”

Kristin Clarke

Kristin Clarke is books editor for Associations Now and a business journalist and sustainability director for ASAE. More »

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