Good Governance: 7 Ways to Activate Board Engagement in Your Strategy Session

engaged board members
Carolyn Reeves, SPHR, CUDE Photo
Principal Consultant, Strategic Talent Development
Carolyn Reeves Consulting

6 minutes

Insights and practical tips for making incremental changes that ignite participation and drive positive outcomes

For credit union executives, effective strategic planning is crucial to establish a clear path for future growth and long-term success. However, the success of any strategic plan depends on the active involvement and engagement of the board of directors. Given the board’s pivotal role in shaping the credit union’s future, its commitment to the strategic planning process is vital. 

If you struggle to keep board members engaged during planning sessions, this article is a must-read. It offers insights and practical tips for making incremental changes that ignite participation and drive positive outcomes. Drawing from my experience facilitating hundreds of strategy sessions and organizational meetings, I will explain how you can create meaningful and impactful strategy session experiences. 

It’s worth noting that these concepts are not limited to the boardroom. They can also be applied in team meetings or organizational gatherings. By adopting these practices, you can encourage your participants to contribute their ideas and perspectives, leading to more creative and effective outcomes.

Why Board Engagement in a Strategy Session Matters

According to the 2023 State of Credit Union Governance report, board engagement ranks lowest among the four governing elements, alongside roles and responsibilities, trust and accountability. The consultants from Quantum Governance who co-authored the report with CUES emphasize the foundational role of these elements in cultivating good governance and fostering a highly effective board. Furthermore, they stress the importance of nurturing board engagement within your credit union. A well-crafted and well-structured board planning session is an effective means to strengthen board engagement, enabling meaningful contributions that drive your credit union forward.

Guiding Your Board in the Strategic Planning Process

Active board engagement is fundamental in ensuring the sustainable growth and success of a credit union. Through collaborative efforts and strategic guidance, the board can effectively steer the institution toward fulfilling its mission and meeting the needs of its members and the community. However, the question remains: How can you effectively involve them in planning sessions? This section provides practical solutions to address this challenge. 

  1. Define your purpose. Clarifying your purpose lays the groundwork for a successful strategic planning session. A well-defined purpose not only aligns the expectations of board members but also encourages active engagement, leading to more productive discussions. Often, we mistakenly assume that the type of gathering determines the design. However, we should first understand our “why” before selecting the structure and activities. Additionally, selecting a theme that resonates with the objectives can further focus and energize the planning session. A carefully chosen theme can serve as a guiding principle, unifying discussions and initiatives while developing a sense of collective purpose among board members. These themes provide a cohesive framework for discussions and activities during the planning session while also emphasizing the credit union’s strategic objectives.
  2. Set the stage. The initial invitation extended to board members is a precursor to the strategic planning process. To ensure board members are well-prepared and ready to actively engage in productive and purpose-driven conversations, the initial invitation should provide clear and comprehensive information, outlining the goals of the meeting, the expectations from their participation and a detailed overview of what they can anticipate during the meetings. This thoughtful preparation is key to setting the stage for a successful planning process, ultimately leading to positive and impactful outcomes for the organization.
  3. Use a skilled facilitator. Effective facilitation can make a world of difference in steering your discussions. A skilled facilitator ensures that meetings are well-structured, inclusive and productive, enabling board members to actively contribute their expertise. For instance, when conversations reach an impasse, a skilled facilitator adeptly employs targeted questions to reignite the discussion and keep the board moving forward.
  4. Start in a compelling way. The first five minutes of a planning session are crucial as they set the tone for the rest of the meeting and determine its direction. A compelling opening should establish expectations, remind participants of the purpose of the meeting and convey that you value their contribution. It should also create a shared context that unites the board. For example, you may start with a member story that connects the session’s theme with the credit union’s mission. This will inspire the board to approach the strategic planning process with a deeper sense of purpose and commitment.
  5. Build a thought-provoking agenda. When structuring your agenda, consider framing it as a series of thought-provoking questions. Encouraging the board’s involvement through thoughtful questioning not only promotes a deeper understanding of the strategic goals but also nurtures a sense of ownership and accountability among the members. By inviting them to actively contribute their insights and perspectives, you can cultivate a collaborative atmosphere that encourages meaningful discussions and ensures that every voice is heard and valued.
  6. Set up the meeting room to support your efforts. How you arrange the space can greatly affect the dynamics and outcomes of your discussions. A well-thought-out physical setup can support having an atmosphere that’s conducive to open communication and collaboration among board members, encouraging active participation and idea-sharing. For instance, consider a well-designed meeting room that encourages face-to-face discussions and collaboration. Arranging the seating in a circular or U-shape format can promote a sense of inclusivity and open communication, encouraging all board members to actively participate and contribute.
  7. Close with intention. The conclusion of your session is as important as the opening. It is a reminder of the meeting’s intention and allows participants to reflect on their shared experience. As you wrap up, ensure the closing evokes a sense of accomplishment, purpose and gratitude, leaving each board member with a lasting, meaningful impression. The concluding moments should not only inform but also inspire and empower the board members to lead their credit union toward a brighter, more prosperous future.

Successful strategic planning for credit union executives hinges on effectively engaging the board. Captivating the board in the strategic planning process is one way to inspire their involvement. It requires a thoughtful approach and a clear vision from start to finish. While the incremental changes outlined may appear minor, their impact can be significant. By fostering a culture of collaboration, accountability and shared purpose among the board members, these practices can inspire them to become active, engaged and enthusiastic contributors. Ultimately, this can lead to a more successful and effective strategic planning process for the credit union.

Carolyn Reeves is a former learning and talent development executive at a $28 billion credit union. She has extensive experience elevating events, planning sessions and meetings by providing customized agendas, workshops and skilled facilitation to inspire participation and engagement. Her desire to help leaders accelerate business results through learning and performance led her to establish Carolyn Reeves Consulting.

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