We have all been there at some point – a nightmare board meeting. This is the meeting that never seems to end. It is unorganized and chaotic. A nightmare meeting is the meeting where Ms. Smith, the longtime resident, shows up with a laundry list of complaints and completely derails the board’s meeting agenda. It is the meeting where the Treasurer shows up to the meeting and reviews the financial statements for the first time when the meeting begins. They then start pinging their property manager with questions in front of the rest of the group with no warning. This is the meeting where the board cannot agree on an agenda item and start personally insulting each other instead of moving on to the next topic.
Nightmare board meetings can have a detrimental effect on a homeowners association. Not only are they unproductive but they are also demoralizing to everyone involved. Board members who allow meetings to spin out of control are not only creating more work for themselves, but also deterring future association leaders from wanting to volunteer their services and run for the board in the future.
The purpose of a board meeting is to allow board members to meet and conduct business in an open forum. Conducting business means the board discusses and votes on agenda items in an open session. When meetings spin out of control, it is often because the attendees of the meeting don’t understand how they are supposed to “conduct business.” Homeowners feel the need to participate even though the items they are bringing up aren’t on the agenda. Board members who allow this type of participation are too intimidated to stop it because they want to keep the association “casual or informal.” All the while, the meetings drag on to over two hours with little or nothing accomplished.
Keep in mind that your association volunteers and homeowners have many other commitments including family and careers. Out of respect for this time, keeping meetings concise and timely is key to an efficient meeting. As a rule of thumb, association meetings should not extend beyond two hours on the high end. If things are on track, members should be able to easily accomplish the meeting agenda items in an hour or less.
Tips to Keep Board Meetings on Track
If you find that your nightmare meetings can use some work, consider the following tips to get them back on track:
Set Time Limits on Agenda Topics
In order to keep meetings on track, consider limiting each agenda topic to a designated time. This time can be pre – determined when the agenda is set and can be adjusted depending on how many items are up for discussion at the meeting. For example, assign ten to fifteen minutes for each agenda item for discussion and decision. Nominate a timekeeper at each meeting to keep the agenda moving to the next topic. If a decision is not made during the designated time, table the discussion until the next meeting. If a decision cannot be accomplished in ten to fifteen minutes, it is likely because more information is needed before a decision can be made. Quickly get to that point and table the discussion until all the information is confirmed.
Include a Time Limit on Home Owner Forums
Too often, association members forget that a board meeting is intended for the board only to conduct business. This means homeowners may attend meetings to hear the board conduct business, but should not take part in discussion. Allowing a “Home Owner Forum” at the beginning or after the board meeting has concluded will give homeowners the opportunity to bring their concern to the board. This session should be limited to 15 – 20 minutes and each owner should be given a limited amount of time to voice their concern. Board members shouldn’t feel obligated to provide a response immediately once an issue is voiced by an owner. Often times, these items require consideration or research before an action can be taken. In order to keep with the time, simply acknowledge the request and thank the owner for bringing it to your attention. It may either be a simple fix or follow up from your manager at a later date, or something the board needs to consider against its current priorities to see if they should add this to the agenda at the next meeting for decision.
Utilize Parliamentary Procedure (Roberts Rules of Order)
Parliamentary Procedure provides basic guidelines for conducting business. These guidelines are universally recognized as a fair, orderly and democratic system for discussion, debate and voting. A great book for board members and managers to use a guide is Roberts Rules of Order Newly Revised In Brief, 2nd Edition by Henry M. III Robert, Daniel H. Honemann and Thomas J. Balch. More than just a guide for voting, Roberts Rules will give guidelines for how the board should discuss agenda topics equally among all members. This is especially important if there is a divide among the board and discussion on agenda items can get passionate or emotional.
Adopt a Board Resolution on Meeting Conduct
Associations who are serious about keeping their meetings on track should consider adopting a resolution for meeting conduct on the suggestions discussed above. A key component to ensuring these standards are kept is educating board members and homeowners on the purpose and expected conduct of association meetings. Announcing “Ground Rules” at the beginning of each meeting will set the expectation of when everyone in the room will have the opportunity to participate. Having ground rules set ahead of time will help curb getting off track, especially at those heavily attended meetings where a hot topic is being discussed and decided on. Ensuring all meeting attendees know when and how they can voice their concerns will reduce the constant disruptions and getting off topic.
Be Prepared and Stick to the Agenda
Meeting agendas should be set several days in advance of the meeting. I prefer at least one week but know there are exceptions. At the most, agendas should be finalized a minimum of three days before the meeting. This allows board members and managers to prepare and research all the relevant material for the agenda items in anticipation of making a decision. Adding agenda items last-minute unnecessarily mean s managers and board members may appear unprepared for the discussion and often it is something that can wait for the next meeting. Sticking to the agenda is easier said than done. There will always be more priorities for the association than the board has time to handle at one time. Ensuring the board sticks to their agreed-upon priorities will help keep agendas on track and avoid last-minute additions that often can lead to long, unproductive tangents. Most importantly, being prepared to discuss agenda items at a board meeting means reading and researching the material ahead of time. Managers should prepare and deliver board packets well in advance of the meeting ensuring the board has the opportunity to review all relevant materials prior to the meeting beginning. Board meeting sessions should not be used to read contracts, financial packets or other material up for decision. In order to keep meetings on time, board members should take the time to review the material prior to the meeting.