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Planning for Purposeful Board Meetings

Meetings can be successful if you have a plan.

Joe Wise:   We’ve all been there.  That meeting that goes on forever.  Hours of hours upon hours talking about nothing and getting even less done.


Nathan Flora:   It’s a waste of time.


Joe Wise:   It’s a waste of everyone’s time.


Female:      Welcome to Community Watch brought to you by Wise Property Solutions.


Nathan Flora:   So let’s talk about today.  How to have a more effective meetings.


Joe Wise:   Yeah, within a homeowners association or condominium association it’s important to remember that you generally have two categories of meetings.  And those meetings have very different purposes.  Your association’s gonna have an annual meeting of the membership or of the homeowners.  And then it will also have board meetings where the board of administration or the board of directors meets to conduct the ongoing business of the association.


Nathan Flora:   One of the things I find in these types of meetings – and it’s common throughout may types of voluntary association groups like churches and various social clubs as well as the homeowners association is that people will approach these meetings with a more casual expectation or with less professional or purposeful expectations.


Joe Wise:   Yeah, I think purposeful is really the key word there.  The first thing is to remember what meeting are you going to and what is that meeting’s purpose.  And then the second thing is to approach that meeting personally and collectively with intentionality or purposefulness.  An annual meeting exists essentially to give the homeowners an opportunity to receive the financial reports of the association and elect board members.  Whereas the board meeting itself gets into a broad range of material related to the governance of the association.  So if you keep your mind clear on what the purpose of the meeting is, that can go a long way for helping you prepare to be purposefully participant in it when it occurs.


Nathan Flora:   Planning ahead for a meeting means planning for a variety of aspects to the meeting.  Whether it’s your agenda and the items on it as well as its location and who’s going to do what during the meeting.  We would recommend that for the purposefulness of these meetings that they be held not in a living room but in an official place of business like your management company’s office or in some other location.


Joe Wise:   A conference room in a library or school or community center.  Somewhere that creates an atmosphere of professionalism and business.  Getting things done.  I’ve been in meetings way back when I first started working with a homeowners association where it was in somebody’s living room and nobody ever mentioned we should turn the television off.  Well, I’m not really sure that that was an environment in which a board meeting was going to reach its highest potential.


Nathan Flora:   The very first step you will plan for is preparing your agenda.  There are different tools that come along with planning for an agenda – timed agendas, consent agendas and even detailed agendas.


Joe Wise:   Yeah, that’s right.  And I think what they do is begin to help you anticipate that everything you do and every topic you address takes time.  And it begins to give you a sense of don’t just list 15 things on a sheet of paper and start your meeting and wonder where you’re gonna end up.  Because where you’re gonna end up is a four hour or five hour meeting.  Rather, start your agenda with an idea of what are the decisions we need to reach and how much time is it realistically going to take to consider all facets of an issue and get to an effective resolution of those issues.


Nathan Flora:   The purpose of a board meeting, for example, is for the board to act on the items on their agenda.  And so you want to help prepare for those actions and that may mean using a detailed agenda where you’ve drafted some preliminary motions or options of action that the board can consider.


Joe Wise:   Yeah, so what is the question, what is the problem and then one, two or three different solutions to that problem predefined so that the board is still providing its governance function but you’re not looking to a room full of seven or nine people to solve an otherwise somewhat ambiguous problem that they may not have all the information yet before them to fully consider.


Nathan Flora:   Which also makes me think part of your plan to run an efficient meeting involves knowing when something does stray from the agenda, the plan for the meeting, and knowing how to either table it or potentially tasking it to a committee for further investigation and putting it on next meeting’s plan.


Joe Wise:   That’s right.  I think sometimes very well-meaning people haven’t given the business that they want to raise sufficient consideration and they show up at a board meeting and simply just announce to all present I’d like to talk about fill in the blank.  It comes as a total surprise to everyone else who’s there and it really does not set the stage for effectively dealing with the question at hand.  Work with your secretary, your president, your manager and get that item on the agenda in advance so that it can become a part of the agenda and frankly, I would suggest that boards would be well served to have a policy of sticking to that agenda pretty rigorously.  Don’t allow your agenda to be hijacked by last minute issues unless, of course, they’re of a most timely and urgent nature.  There are always situations that will come up that probably require attention sooner than the next meeting and may not have been known when the agenda was prepared.  But those need to be the exception, not the rule.


Nathan Flora:   So you plan ahead through your agenda planning and there are different tools to use on the agenda.


Joe Wise:   As you consider a detailed agenda, it’s helpful to kind of outline what are your solutions.  And the reality is sometimes there are homeowners in your community that may not presently be serving on the board that have unique experiences or expertise to deal with a particular issue the board may be confronting.  And this is a wonderful opportunity to engage them outside the immediate structure of the board in outlining what those plans are.  Talk a little bit about some ways that you can do that.


Nathan Flora:   If you find that during the midst of your board meeting not enough information is present for the board to make decisions or you see board members still not at a point where they’re comfortable taking actions, you can task that item to a committee putting it on next meeting’s agenda and allowing that committee to come back with a more defined option or motion for the board to consider.  Or you might simply just table it till the next meeting to allow for more reflection to occur.


Joe Wise:   And information gathering and research.  I think when you task a committee, the critical thing with using committees and frankly even deferring an action is you need to ask yourself why are we deferring this action.  Why are we sending it to committee.  Are we doing those things because we simply want to avoid delay or defer making a decision or are we doing those things because we really do believe there’s a better resolution to be worked toward if we just invest the time and energy and effort in it.  And so one of the first things a board needs to consider if you’re looking at sending something out to a committee, make very clear what questions you want that committee to answer so that what they’re bringing back to you as their work product is what you were expecting to get when you tasked them with it.


Nathan Flora:   Also as you’re making your plan, think through the agenda in terms of how it is going to flow and what you need to spend most time on, putting the items appropriately up higher on the agenda or forward on the agenda that may require more time.


Joe Wise:   That’s right.  And I think that’s just one more reason that a timed agenda can be helpful.  If nothing else, a timed agenda is akin to a budget.  It’s identifying what time you’re going to give to each thing and attempting to allocate that time appropriately to its priority to the association.  And so I think timed agendas, detailed agendas are both very helpful tools that can lead to more productive board meetings.  And I want to say, productive board meetings, effective board meetings, efficient board meetings are good for two reasons.  One is they lead the association to the best possible decisions in the most timely way.  But the other thing is it opens up the potential for broader service amongst your community.  One of the biggest challenges community associations are facing is a shortage of willing volunteers to give their time and their talents and service to their homeowners association.  And I’ll tell you, I think very often it’s a question of time.  And if you can move away from three hour meetings to 60 minute meetings, one hour meetings, you will open up a potential pool of volunteers who frankly aren’t gonna sign on for three and four and five hour board meetings.  And I don’t blame them.  I wouldn’t either.


Nathan Flora:   Running an effective meeting involves essentially two critical items.  Being well planned and being purposeful in what you do.


Joe Wise:   That’s right.  And doing those things can fundamentally alter the nature of the board member experience and the board meeting and that can lead to positive outcomes both for the board and for the homeowners they serve.


Female:      This episode of Community Wise was hosted by Nathan Flora and Joe Wise and is a production of Wise Property Solutions.  For more helpful information, visit us on the web at wisepropertysolutions.com where you can view our blog and sign up for our e-newsletter.

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