Five Steps to Better HOA Board Meetings
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One of the most challenging aspects of being on your homeowner's association (HOA) board can be running board meetings. It's not always easy to keep everyone tuned in to the business at hand. In addition, you must be able to manage the inevitable disagreements among board members. How do you keep these meetings running smoothly?
Not to worry! We've put together five guidelines for making your meetings more productive. You'll find even more tips in our complimentary infographic, "Six Principles for a Better Board Meeting," which you can download simply by filling out the form below.
1) Follow "parliamentary procedure."
A parliamentary procedure means following a body of ethics, rules, and customs governing meetings and other operations of clubs, organizations, legislative bodies, and other deliberative assemblies abiding by specific established meeting rules. The purpose of following a parliamentary procedure is for a group to conduct its businesses in the most efficient way possible while considering the rights of its members. With HOAs, these are outlined in your bylaws and include standard protocols, such as providing notice of the meeting, creating an agenda, calling the meeting to order, requiring a quorum, and voting on motions. If your bylaws don't provide enough specifics, get your guidance from Robert's Rules of Order, a commonly used book on parliamentary procedure.
2) Focus on your agenda, but not too much.
Build some time into the agenda for increasing affiliation and trust amongst members. This type of agenda can enhance the Board's ability to think together; connecting at a more personal level with a "check-in" at the beginning of meetings can put something on their mind aside and encourage the group to get into a listening mode. This technic works best when all board members are given a quiet or personal minute before going around. This is especially important with virtual meetings.
Sticking to your agenda keeps discussions on track and reminds board members of your objectives. If you are working with a management company, you'll want your community manager to be present so they can help you redirect any discussions that go off course. Using Robert's Rules of Order, make sure only one subject is before the group at one time, all members are given equal time and one person may speak at any given time. This way, all members will feel heard and are given equal time to talk. You want to allow all members to speak and feel as if they have been heard.
It's important to keep things flexible within your agenda. If you stick to a meeting agenda that is too rigid, you can lose the ability to adjust and adapt. If the Board or community is going through a period when change is happening too rapidly, it can be critical to allow for agility and flexibility in your meetings. Try to move away from meeting agendas that routinely include the presentation and discussion of committee reports. If a report does not raise important issues or require a policy decision, but you want the minutes to show that the Board has seen it, the chair should ask: "Are any items in this report that anyone feels needs board discussion?" Also, allow time at the end of your agenda to discuss anything off-topic or questions that come up and need to be addressed.
3) Establish action items and responsibilities.
Board members should come out of meetings knowing what action needs to be taken, who needs to act on it and when it needs to be completed. Every single board member should have follow-up items assigned to both staff and Board. If you are not running a board that results in specific follow-through items, revisit your board meeting philosophy and structure. Reiterating the list of action items at the end of your meeting will help ensure that you haven't overlooked any important tasks and have made it clear to the members who are responsible for what and when.
4) Beware of time drains.
Ideally, board meetings should last about 60 – 90 minutes at most. However, sometimes a board member will become passionate about a topic that they will want to discuss endlessly. Keep each member's discussion short and to the point, making sure "negative" motions are generally short or not up for debate. Focus on creating a list of action items about the issue and assigning responsibility for each item. Make each member appointed a task accountable for their portion and have a resolution prepared by the next meeting. Reassure the member that the issue is being recorded in the minutes and distributed later so it can be looked back on for reference.
5) Manage disagreements by remaining neutral.
Board members will inevitably have different opinions. These differences are usually an asset for a Board. On the other hand, if these differences lead to heated debates, refrain from taking sides. Following Robert's Rules of Order, try to keep "negative" motions to a minimum if permitted at all. If you are working with a community management company, your manager should have the experience to help defuse the situation. Get their help to find common ground for the disagreeing members and keep it short so the topics aren't lost in the shuffle.
Bonus tip: Share some food! Having a pot of coffee and a plate of cookies, cheese and crackers tray, fruit tray, or a dish of candy to pass around is suitable for setting a positive atmosphere. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner time meetings; if there are resources to provide a meal, even if occasionally, works well in helping build a social atmosphere that cultivates trust and the ability for the group to work together. You're least likely to meet with grumpy members if their stomachs are full!
Remember, everyone in your HOA benefits when meetings run smoothly. Follow these basic tips, and your Board will be well on its way toward holding more effective and productive meetings. They will have more time to focus on other topics, make better decisions, and generally feel more inspired.