The greatest strength of your board is the diversity of its membership and their different points of view. Unfortunately, sometimes this can also present the biggest challenge when it comes to running effective, agenda-driven board meetings. Differences of opinion have a way of becoming arguments. And that’s never productive.
What to do? Have a plan for running meetings that works by helping your board work together better. Scott Bole, general manager of the Skypoint high-rise in downtown Tampa, said that he thinks the most important elements of productive meetings are advance education and careful planning. “We send out a board packet about five days before every meeting,” he said. “It includes a tightly scripted agenda and suggested motions, as well as answers to commonly asked questions and any other important information that members need to be prepared for the meeting. This approach gives us a huge head start on board meeting minutes – whoever is taking the minutes just needs to write down anything that deviated from it.”
Here are five more tips to help make your board meetings run smoothly and efficiently.
1. Leave emotions at the door.
Board members are passionate about their communities – and that’s a good thing! But the community is a business first and foremost, and it’s important to keep that in mind when running board meetings. Having an agenda mapped out and educating board members about basic procedures, such as making and seconding motions, will help keep meetings businesslike. Limiting discussion is also helpful in managing emotions during meetings.
“We keep the focus on business by providing the motions and so much other information well in advance of the meeting,” Bole said. “That way everyone is literally on the same page and we move through the agenda with little deviation.”
2. Watch the clock.
Long meetings are seldom productive. Typically, the longer a meeting goes on, the more the quality of decision-making is diminished. It’s best to keep board meetings under two hours – preferably one. Even the most dedicated note-taker will lose energy and focus after an hour! Bole said that his scripted agendas are an enormous help in this regard. “Our meetings go 45 minutes to an hour – that’s where the tight scripting and time limits for discussion come in handy,” he said. “We’ve had productive meetings that were over in 15 minutes.”
Even if meetings run over occasionally, planning down to the minute will go a long way toward preventing meeting fatigue – and the short tempers that come along with it.
3. Don’t allow venting.
“There are always people who want to vent – it’s human nature. We have a rule that no one can speak more than three minutes on any given topic, and the topic has to be on the agenda,” Bole said. “Any member can speak at a meeting, provided they have provided 24 hours written notice that they want to do so. Each member is only permitted to speak once per meeting, preventing dominance of it by one disgruntled person.” After the meeting is formally over, people can talk about whatever they want, for as long as they like, but the board members can also leave at that time.
Respect is the key concept here...let a venting board member or community member know that their opinions (and passion) are valued, but the board meeting may not be the ideal venue to be heard.
4. Implement rules of basic good conduct.
Encourage all board members to be familiar with (and adhere to!) a code of conduct if needed. Disrespect and a lack of courtesy have no place in any community, but that’s especially true at board meetings. Remember that it’s a place of business, and all board members should treat their time at the board meeting the same way they would treat any business meeting. If you don’t have a code of conduct and need one, a quality property management company can help you develop one for your board.
Bole said that he hasn’t needed to worry about a separate code of conduct per se. The governing documents for Skypoint include basic rules such as time limits on speaking, who can attend meetings and speak during them and the rights of members to create audio and visual recordings of meetings.
5. Listen more than you talk.
Nothing makes people feel more important, more valued, than knowing that they are heard. If you are a board member, pay close attention to everyone speaking at the meeting, whether that person is a fellow board member, homeowner or special guest. Practice active listening, and respond to people with a summary of what they just said. You don’t have to agree with what you hear, but you need to hear it.
Your board is made up of many different personalities but it’s essential that it operates as a unified body. If it doesn’t operate cohesively, your board will not be able to fulfill its responsibilities to the community, including managing the community’s finances and protecting its property values.