Keep Things Running Smoothly by Setting Board Meeting Rules
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.
Hulion also recommends that boards make sure to keep executive issues in executive session and let the rest of the discussion remain in open session.
1. 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, a property manager can help by giving them some pointers.
2. 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.
Keeping meetings as short and sweet as possible – and ending on time – will make everyone feel that their schedules are being respected.
3. 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 watchword here... 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.”
4. 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.