Manager’s Perspective: Productive Board Meeting
Do you have that one monthly association board meeting that is the most dreaded of all meetings in your portfolio? Does it last three, four or five hours? Yes, I said five hours. Why?
It’s not a budget meeting, not an annual meeting, no homeowners grilling the board. It’s the meeting that lasts so long, you and board members are visibly yawning because it’s way past your bedtime and you haven’t even had dinner yet. Starting the meeting early does NOT mean you can go longer. Then, when the meeting finally adjourns, you realize not much was accomplished. Your Recap/Action item list tripled in size, and you only have four weeks before you’re doing it all over again. Ugh! This is unproductive and a complete waste of everyone’s time. Burn out will come quickly for all, including the community manager.
There are thousands upon thousands of publications on the best practices of how to run a successful board meeting, and all are extremely helpful. However, implementation from text to actual can sometimes be difficult for some communities. The dynamics of every community is different — not just their financial situation, common areas and elements, and governing documents, but the homeowner personalities and the makeup of the board of directors. The one standard of all board meetings is that they should only last a maximum of two hours. Beyond two hours, attendees’ minds will begin to wander onto other things needing attention or to other things they would rather be doing.
In my state, Indiana, we will finally have some incentive to move things along. With Indiana passing House Bill 1222, which includes open board meetings for association members, it is imperative for boards to keep their meetings on schedule and productive. Boards want to hear from their homeowners and are allowing a specific time slot for homeowner questions and answers. It is believed that allowing fifteen to thirty minutes at the beginning or end of the meeting is best for homeowners to feel they’re getting a say, or that the board is not hiding from them.
Regardless of the specific time slot, homeowners and the board need to be clear on the meeting protocol. The board may not be able to answer every question or resolve every issue instantly, but will document issues and get back to the homeowner. The law states a homeowner has the right to attend any meeting of the association’s board, but NOT participate in the meeting or be allowed to speak. Once the fifteen to thirty minute Q&A session is completed, the board either turns back to the table to conduct the rest of the items on their agenda without further homeowner interaction or adjourn if held at the end of the meeting.
Regardless of what state an association is located in, keeping meetings efficient is a best practice for managers and boards. Here are some suggestions for any association, anywhere.
Assign a “time keeper” to place time limits on each agenda item. Managers can further implement non-routine labor costs for meetings lasting over a specified amount of time. An occasional three-hour meeting to review annual bids or the budget meeting is acceptable, but meetings routinely lasting three plus hours could cost the association an additional hourly rate.
There are several items to consider before a meeting is called to order.
Define the roles. Your community association is a business entity, subject to the governing documents as well as laws of government municipalities. Who facilitates the meeting, prepares the agenda, take minutes, presents the monthly financials, provides committee updates, and project presentations? The president facilitates the meeting and prepares the agenda. Your community manager’s management report is either listed as a line item on the president’s agenda or accepted by the board as the actual agenda.
Be prepared. The agenda, along with any supporting documents, should be sent to all board members three to five days prior to the meeting. The board members should carefully review all material to acquaint themselves with the specific issues to be discussed. Don’t wait until the day of the meeting to ask questions or request additional information. Even though an agenda item may not be of interest to a particular board member personally, knowledgeable participation in the discussion will help move the meeting along in a timely manner and it is each board member’s duty to make informed decisions.
Meeting Manners. Proper meeting etiquette is not just defined by Roberts Rules of Order. Arrive on time, listen, respect and consider other opinions and suggestions, avoid unnecessary interruptions, observe time limits, don’t participate in side conversations during the meeting and stay until the meeting is adjourned. The goal is to conduct a productive meeting, take care of association business and ensure all board members are on the same page for follow up action items. Although it is great to see homeowner participation in board meetings, this is not the time for social hour, it’s business.
Streamline the agenda. Minutes should be sent out to the board within a few days following the meeting. All board members are to review the minutes while the material is still fresh in their minds, and advise the secretary of any corrections. A copy of minutes is also included with the agenda packet for the next meeting, and reviewed by the board prior to that meeting. Therefore, following the “Call to Order,” the board can move directly to a motion to accept the minutes as written, sign and deem them ready to be posted to the community website. Remember this is a board meeting, not an annual meeting. Homeowners present can read the meeting minutes once posted to the community website. Items listed on the agenda under “For Board Information” is just that. The board should have reviewed this information prior to the meeting. There should only be minimal conversation on this section if there are any questions.
Don’t beat a topic to death. If more information is required or needs an expert to attend a future meeting, table discussion of this topic and move on.
Hijacking is not allowed. We’ve all experienced that unhappy, disruptive homeowner who talks over everyone very loudly. Their issue has been previously addressed and settled long ago, but the owner didn’t like the answer received, so believes an audience of homeowners will join his or her cause. What do you do? Give them three warnings to stop, then if they don’t, adjourn the meeting and, if necessary, call security or the police. Although adjourning the meeting seems more of a hindrance to the board and other reasonable homeowners present, the disruption causes the inability to effectively continue with the meeting, as well as the possibility of the disruption escalating into something more serious or unsafe.
The board, homeowners and the community management team are the professional partners who work together for the community association. Often with new or inexperienced boards, the community manager will guide, make suggestions and often provide training until board members feel comfortable in their roles. Consistent professionalism, respectful consideration and follow-through of all the partners will ensure a successful and productive board meeting and association.
Tracy Barker is a Community Manger with Community Association Services of Indiana in Carmel, IN. She has been a community manager for over 16 years with a diverse portfolio of single family and condominium associations in Indianapolis and the surrounding areas. She earned her CMCA in 2004, AMS in 2005 and in 2010, she earned Associa’s Ambassadors Circle Award for recognition of outstanding leadership and dedication to the job. She can be reached at 317-875-5600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.