Executive sessions should be a regular agenda item for every board meeting. Are they at yours?
If your board is like many others, perhaps your honest answer is no. Why have an executive session if no pressing issues need to be addressed? Are they necessary if things are going well and the president and cabinet have everything in hand? I believe the answer to that question is yes.
An executive session is typically defined as a portion of a meeting where proceedings are limited to only members of the governing body and can also include the president as invited. These sessions are often referred to as a closed meeting or in-camera session. Executive sessions are a useful tool for an institution and its governing board and leadership.
In our work with boards over the past 30 years, the In Trust Center has shared about the important practice of including executive sessions at each board meeting – first an executive session that includes the president, and then, immediately following, an executive session that does not include the president. When executive sessions are a regular part of the agenda, no one questions the reason for them, nor is anyone alarmed by their inclusion. Putting executive sessions on the agenda at each meeting serves as a reminder to the board of their need to discuss important issues with only the executive leader or among themselves.
There are many articles, posts, and resources on executive sessions, including a few listed below.
In Trust magazine: “The board’s executive session: A wise governance practice” (New Year 2011)
BoardSource: “Structure, committees, and meetings”
BoardEffect: “Open meetings, closed sessions: Executive sessions as a tool”
Interested in resources on boards or in discussing executive sessions? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.