Getting the agenda right for UK pension schemes
31 October 2023
Well-structured meetings are productive meetings. In the hurly-burly of trustee board life, meeting Chairs can often overlook straightforward ways to make meetings more productive.
ZEDRA’s Director of Client Services, Judith Codling and Better Decisions Founder, Paul Richards share their combined insights on crafting effective agendas by focusing on CONTENT, SIGNPOSTING, TIME and ORDER.
Getting the agenda CONTENT right
The constant increase in market complexity and regulation has meant that trustee board meeting agendas have become ever more crowded.
There will almost always be too much to discuss at trustee board meetings. What takes priority deserves careful consideration but there are some simple rules of thumb that we’ve seen work well to keep meetings on track.
Some of most our effective clients have mastered the art of delegation. A key part of this is continually asking, what should be a main board issue and what should be dealt with by a committee.
Meeting time is valuable. Always ask, does this need to be in the meeting, or can it be tackled effectively in other ways?
SIGNPOSTING: How should you categorise agenda items
To promote clarity and focus during meetings, it’s helpful to clearly define the purpose and desired outcome for each agenda item. Knowing in advance the action or outcome of each item on the agenda helps to make room for the items which require more time to conclude.
Categorising content into three primary actions – Note, Discuss, Decide – can help guide the flow of the meeting.
These items are primarily meant to inform the trustees. They provide updates or reports that require minimal discussion. Allocating an appropriate amount of time for ‘note’ items allows participants to absorb the information without wasting time.
These items require a more extensive conversation and exploration of ideas or options. Assigning sufficient time to discuss items allows for thorough exploration and avoids cutting off valuable contributions.
Decision-making items typically require careful consideration, evaluation of options, and consensus-building. Allocating an adequate amount of time for decision items ensures that trustees have ample opportunity to weigh the pros and cons, enabling effective decision-making.
One effective Chair with whom Paul has worked insists that agendas are circulated early and the note items are reviewed ahead of time. As well as freeing time, this ensures that trustees are getting into the flow of trustee business ahead of the meeting.
Ensuring meeting minutes are produced, reviewed and circulated as soon as possible following a meeting ensures that decisions agreed identified can be implemented quickly and efficiently. Other actions identified can also be allocated and completed in a timely manner.
How much TIME will each agenda item need?
It is vital to allocate enough time for each agenda item; however it is equally crucial to avoid excessive discussion that may lead to tangents or unnecessary delays. Effective time management requires an understanding of the complexity and significance of each item, estimating the required time accordingly, and communicating those time expectations to participants in advance.
It’s one thing to set to set realistic time limits for each item but the second part of the equation requires effective chairing to actively manage the discussion to keep conversations on track.
We’ve seen some really effective Chairs who are able to navigate discussions and ensure that they remain focussed on the issue, whilst ensuring all trustees are able to input to those discussions.
Paul finds ‘Timeboxing’ discussions can help maintain focus and prevent discussions from spiralling into unproductive tangents. The key (and very tough challenge) is making the call on whether discussions are unproductive and should be curtailed or, whether a longer discussion is an important part of trustees building understanding. There are no easy answers here, but a Chair’s role is vital in making sure meetings are productive, with clear outcomes.
What’s the best ORDER for agenda items?
Trustee decision-making is hard – cognitive fatigue can impact the quality of discussion and decision-making during meetings. To minimise these effects, carefully consider the placement of complex or critical items on the agenda. Avoid scheduling mentally demanding items when participants are likely to be tired or distracted.
Instead, strategically position important decision items at the beginning or after breaks when participants are more refreshed and engaged. Additionally, it’s worth considering if you can place related items in proximity to leverage contextual understanding and streamline the decision-making process.
As well as deciding where on an agenda an item should be placed, it is really important to consider who needs to be present for each section of the meeting. Inclusion or exclusion of specific advisers for relevant sections of the meeting is a difficult decision which should be led by the Chair. It is not cost effective or conducive to have advisers joining, leaving and then re-join meetings. The agenda is, therefore, an important tool to maximise everyone’s time.
What should come first when everything seems important? One very easy way for Chairs to triangulate their thinking and get perspective is to simply ask their professional advisers what they believe is the most important issue facing the board right now and why. This can help prioritise ordering and also ensure that important issues are not missed.
Make sure the right content is on the agenda
Attribute each agenda item to the ‘Note, discuss, decide’ criteria
TIME & ORDER
Allocate time carefully, and maximise adviser involvement by ordering agenda items efficiently
Trustee Board representatives and Chairs are often so busy with important ‘business as usual’ activities that considering changes to day-to-day practice can often be put off until there’s more time to reflect. The reality for many boards is that this time may never come.
Implementing small tweaks to processes may be the only viable short-term option to ensure trustee boards and Chairs are making the most of their meetings.
How ZEDRA & Better Decisions can help
Whatever governance and secretariat challenge you’re facing, be it during regular trustee meeting cycles or in relation to a special project, you can rely on ZEDRA to support you.
ZEDRA’s highly qualified specialists guide the way for Boards to meet their objectives, providing bespoke governance and secretariat services, either stand-alone or as part of professional trustee services.
Better Decisions support boards by providing workshops to help understand and improve decision-making.
Contact Judith Codling to find out how we can help you.