Board Meetings: 5 Rules to Live By
The greatest strength of your board is the diverse perspectives of all of its members. Unfortunately, sometimes this can also present the biggest challenges in meetings. Creating and maintaining the right dynamics at those meetings will help your association board conduct business smoothly and efficiently.
Diverging opinions can have a way of becoming arguments. That’s never productive. But there are ways to help prevent that from happening. Gary Hulion is a regional director for FirstService Residential. In his 20+ years in property management, he’s worked with many association boards and attended countless board meetings.
“Many boards I work with adopt Robert’s Rules of Order. It’s amazing how much more quickly a meeting can move along when everyone abides by them,” Hulion said. “Those attending tend to respect the motion and vote better when there is order and a process that is followed. It allows those who are watching the meeting to understand the topic and why the board may have come to the conclusion that it has.” Robert’s Rules of Order is the most widely-used guide to parliamentary procedure in the United States; it was written in 1876 and is used by church groups, non-profit boards, school boards and many other organizations. Ultimately, your board will discover the procedures and tools that work best for you and use them to operate at maximum efficiency.
Hulion also recommends that boards keep executive issues in executive session and let the rest of the discussion remain in open session. What other rules should board members keep in mind when running board meetings? Read on for 5 practical tips.
Keep emotions in check.
Boards are typically made up of residents who display a passionate attitude about their community. And that’s a good thing. But it’s important to remember that board meetings are business meetings, which leaves little room for emotion. Implementing Robert’s Rules of Order, as Hulion suggested, can help instill a sense of professionalism and focus for board members.
Encourage board members to present motions and then allow a second to the motion. Don’t allow discussion unless there is a second to the motion. Hulion said he has been in meetings in which 30 minutes were spent on discussing a motion before it was seconded, and that time is wasted if there is ultimately no second. Structuring your meeting in a way that’s business-minded can help keep emotions under control, and that makes for more productive interactions and exchanges of ideas. If some of your board members are unfamiliar with the formal procedural elements of meetings, your property management company can help by giving them pointers.
Watch the clock.
Typically, the longer a meeting, the lower the quality of decision-making in it. “I’ve worked with boards that used to conduct meetings from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and we cut that to 90 minutes for the longest meetings. Everyone starts to drift after that time, and it’s hard on even the best secretary to take good minutes after an hour and a half,” Hulion said. “You should limit the number of items on the agenda to ensure all of them can be addressed during the allotted meeting time. See if some items can be voted by email and affirmed at the next meeting.”
Plan ahead to help meetings run on time. Provide an agenda seven to 10 days prior to the meeting to all board members so there is plenty of time to change the agenda if needed. This also gives board members time to prepare for any guests who will be in attendance. Your property management company should assist your board with preparing a brief, but effective, agenda that prioritizes action items.
Keeping meetings as short and sweet as possible – and ending on time – will make everyone feel that their schedules are being respected.
Don’t let meetings becoming gripe sessions.
Sometimes you just have to let it out. That’s part of being human. But community association board meetings aren’t the right place for it. Empower fellow board members to keep one another in check should a person start to go off on a tangent. Speaking up can stop poor behavior in its tracks. Just remember that “respect” is the key here. Always let a venting board member know that their opinions (and passion) are valued, but the board meeting may not be the ideal venue to be heard. Never make a situation worse by disrespecting or embarrassing another board member.
“Board members are also members of the community, and sometimes issues become personal,” Hulion explained. “I always advise the member to step out of the role as a director if the item being discussed is a personal issue.”
Enforce a code of conduct.
Hulion provides board members with a written code of conduct which they all sign and agree to follow. Disrespect and a lack of courtesy have no place in any community but that’s especially true at board meetings. It’s a place of business, and all board members should treat their time with the board the same way they would treat a meeting at a place of business. Encourage them to bring copies of the governing documents to meetings as well to reinforce that professionalism. If you don’t have a code of conduct, a quality property management company can help you develop one for your board.
“We provide board members with a board training session,” Hulion said. “It's a great investment in helping everyone understand their roles, responsibilities, and how to conduct business as a board. Board members are often new to meetings of this nature and just need some help understanding their role and what the meetings are about.”
If board members do not abide by the code of conduct, it’s important to bring that to their attention, but do so professionally, in private – never make things worse through public embarrassment.
Listen actively and attentively.
Listening to others – really listening – is the best way to build a sense of community. Make sure that board members don’t dominate meetings, talking over each other and never hearing other points of view. Your board president may want to summarize what a board member says, in just a few words, to reiterate their understanding of the comments being made. Agreement is optional, but respectful listening should be required.
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.
Remembering these easy tips can help your board run more productive and effective board meetings.