As anyone on a condo, co-op or homeowner association (HOA) board knows too well, board meetings can be extremely delicate situations. Board members don't always agree with each other, discussion about a single, minor issue can eat up entire meetings, and those who speak the loudest aren't always looking at the issues with the best perspective. Some days, it may feel nearly impossible to get anything done.
Communities that are employing the service of a property management company often have an advantage when it comes to improving the flow and productivity of their board meetings. Do you have a partnership with a property management company but still feel frustrated from the output of your board meetings? Read on to find out what your residential property management company could do to help. You can also find some helpful tips that you can employ to ensure you have a productive and professional environment at your next board meeting.
"Oftentimes, a board meeting turns into a social hour and a lot of talking but there's not a motion," says James McCormick, Jr. Esq., Managing Partner of Peters & Freedman, LLP, a prominent California law firm that specializes in homeowner assessments. It can be difficult to ensure that your board members stay on topic. Many of them know each other socially and treat meetings as a time to get together and talk about the news of the day. Of course, fostering this sense of camaraderie can make the meetings run a lot smoother, but it's important to keep the group on task.
Solution? Set a clear agenda, circulate it, and stick to it. Having clear objectives set for the meeting in advance will help ensure that everyone knows which topics are being addressed – and the one’s that aren’t. If you have a property management company, they can create this agenda for you and circulate it before you ever get into the meeting. Most importantly, your community manager can host the meeting and ensure that the meeting stays on task. When the meeting veers off track, your community manager will deftly guide board members back to the topic up for discussion.
Board members can sometimes become divided on an issue and it may seem impossible to reconcile them. "I've seen many board meetings go sideways really fast," says Kathryn Henricksen, Vice President of Community Management, FirstService Residential North America’s leading property management company. "You may have a really comfortable setting and then all of a sudden a nightmare happens."
When disputes occur – and they will – you can offer up a neutral position to try to control the atmosphere and get everyone back on the same page. If you have a professional property management company, your property manager should operate as a third-party during any disputes and help negotiate between disagreeing parties. The best property management professionals are extremely experienced and should be able to make recommendations and offer expertise without taking sides.
It's not always clear whether an issue is a legitimate one or if someone is simply complaining for the sake of complaining. "We're seeing so many angry people in so many communities, it's becoming prevalent," says Jennifer Jacobsen, Esq., of Baydaline & Jacobson, LLP, a firm that serves as corporate counsel to more than over 800 community associations throughout California and Nevada. "People are getting on the board to air their grievances."
If you've found that a single member is controlling the discussion, it may be time to suggest that a mediator or your community manager step in. This unbiased person should note that the member’s comments have been recorded and encourage the group to move on to the next item on the agenda. Everyone should be given time to discuss legitimate issues with the board, but it's also important that no single person dominate the entire meeting.
To really get the most out of a board meeting, everyone needs to be on the same page and work towards the same goals. While all board members may not always agree with each other, they should at least be able to collaborate on the issues that are important. "Effective boards set policies on day-to-day recurring issues and then instruct management to execute them," according to Drew Schlegel, Executive Vice President of Community Management at FirstService Residential in California. This would allow for more productive board meetings where the discussions would more be about strategy, important projects and policies and the more challenging decisions, which require more time and energy.
Action items, along with next steps and agreed upon deadlines should be set at the end of every board meeting. If you are working with a property management company, the objective would be for the board to agree upon the most important policies, and the management company would implement and help to enforce the new policies. Having the right property manager by your side at the meeting, reviewing all these action items directly with the board, will inspire confidence and increase board unity. Most importantly, it will allow you and your board to focus on your own personal business after the meeting, while someone else takes the responsibility for actually implementing all the changes discussed.
To get the most out of your board meetings, it's important to have the right property management company as your partner – one that will actively collaborate with you, help keep board members on task, guide you in making well-informed decisions about improvements to your property, and responsibly implement the decisions once they have been made.
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