How to Run an Effective Trustee Meeting
How are your trustee meetings run? Are they well organised, kept to time and good progress is made in terms of decision making and long term strategy development?
Or are people late, the meetings overrun and conversations ramble on with no conclusion, leaving you irritated and feeling you’ve wasted three hours of your life?
Running effective trustee meetings is essential for good scheme governance. This ensures timely decision making, improves scheme efficiency and can help lead to good member outcomes.
An effective meeting should provide a forum for open discussion and deliver tangible results; decisions, plans, management and improvements to governance and a shared understanding of the work ahead. Not only that, but the results should then be shared with others whose work may be affected.
Here is our handy guide to running an effective trustee meeting.
1. Have an Agenda
This helps people prepare for the meeting in advance and is an absolute ‘must have’. Make sure it’s sent out to all trustees in plenty of time and highlight areas you want attendees to read and work on ahead of the meeting. Send it out with any relevant documents you need them to read or review ahead of the meeting. If scheme advisers need to provide papers to send out with the pack make sure they are reminded well in advance.
This advance preparation ensures the meeting is run more efficiently as time isn’t wasted with people reading documents such as investment strategies in the meeting.
When decisions need to be made at the meeting, this should be made clear when the agenda is issued.
In our experience, the meeting pack should be sent out at least seven days before the meeting is due to take place and it may be worth resending the agenda and supporting documents again the day before the meeting.
TPR recommends the topics that should be covered at most board meetings include:
- apologies for absence
- conflicts of interest
- approval and signature of minutes from previous meeting
- actions arising from previous meetings
- investment performance and strategy
- risks to the scheme (new and existing)
- administration including discretion cases and complaints
- member engagement, including communications
- sub-committee decisions
- trustee and adviser fees and expenses (i.e. budget monitoring)
- any decisions made since the previous meeting
- trustee training
- business plan
- notifiable events
- any other business
Your agenda should have suggested timings for each topic and make sure there is enough time to cover off all the necessary items, particularly if there are decisions to be made around difficult matters.
2. Have an Effective Trustee Chair
Ideally, your trustee Chair should have considerable knowledge and experience in both pensions and governance.
The Chair is key to ensuring the meeting is run to time, all the important items are covered and making sure everyone gets an opportunity to speak. They should be able to summarise the conclusions and actions and to ensure that all questions have been raised and answered before the end of the meeting.
3. Focus on the Meeting
Set the expectation that the meetings will start on time and you expect everyone to be there on time ready for the start – it’s expensive when people drift in to a meeting late and irritating for those who have arrived on time.
Making sure people are concentrating on the meeting
As many as 73% of people admit to doing other work during meetings which severely limits how engaged they can be in discussions. Source: https://e-meetings.verizonbusiness.com/global/en/meetingsinamerica/uswhitepaper.php
It’s important to remove as many distractions as possible –
Remind people to switch off their phones (or at least have them on silent) and for them to be put away and not left sat on the table where they can distract as notifications ping in.
The meetings are much more than just about getting through a list of topics and actions. They are also about building trust and inclusivity which creates an environment for good decision making.
A trustee board can be made up of a range of people from different backgrounds and seniority. It can be scary for people who feel more junior to speak up. They need assurance that speaking up and voicing an opinion is not going to be punished and is welcome. It’s known as psychological safety and is one of the leading indicators of a high-performing team.
This can be encouraged by the Trustee Chair who can lead by example and be the first to offer up a controversial perspective or idea.
Asking good questions that prompt a deeper discussion can help such as:
“Why do we think that’s true?” or “Can you expand on that?” or “How could we measure that?” Even if you know the answers it demonstrates humility and curiosity on your part, which sets the tone for the rest of the group.
Are there certain people in the meeting who take up too much air space and who dominate meetings? This can result in biased decision making where only those who speak up get heard and their decisions become the accepted ones rather than other possibly better ones.
Again, it’s the Chair’s job to ensure everyone gets to speak. This is particularly true when there are new or more junior trustees who might not feel able to speak up.
Asking for their opinions is important to help them feel they are a valued member of the team.
Top tip: If one person starts to dominate the meeting, ask them to take over the role of capturing notes on a whiteboard. This moves them into a listening mode and gives the rest of the group more chance to speak.
Make it remote friendly
Do all meetings need to be conducted face to face? Whilst it is good for building rapport and relationships by having everyone together in one room, are there times when it makes sense to offer a video conferencing option?
Video conferencing is the closest thing to being there in person, and fortunately, there are lots of options available such as Zoom which allows screen sharing, so documents can be shared on the screen and you can record the session (useful for when the minutes are being typed up).
Video conferencing is also a much more cost effective use of people’s time.
4. Issue Timely Meeting Minutes
The minutes of the meeting should be issued within two weeks after the meeting. In order that the advisers and the Chair have the opportunity to review and input to meet this timescale, the Scheme Secretary needs to crack on with the minutes within a couple of days of the meeting.
Minutes should provide a clear summary of the meeting with key points and actions.
Where there are actions, these should be clearly identified along with the person who is responsible for taking the action and the timescale by which the action has to be taken.
5. Meeting Frequency
Trustee boards should meet often enough to maintain effective oversight, control and to keep forward momentum.
In most cases, Trustee meetings are quarterly, but these may need to be increased if there are urgent matters that need attending to on a more frequent basis. The use of sub committees or working parties are increasingly used to manage projects such as GDPR, GMP Equalisation and adviser reviews.
6. Use a Professional Trustee Secretary
The use of an experienced and professional trustee secretary can be invaluable to organise the agenda and send it out in good time with all the relevant supporting documentation. They will ensure the minutes are typed up and issued.
They can also follow-up on the actions to make sure these are taken and provide support to these where needed.