Regardless of whether you live in a large condo community with a thousand units, a small self-managed co-op with a dozen, or an HOA with just a few, board meetings can be both a chore and a headache. From shareholders or owners getting up on their soapboxes to rail at board members to inefficient time management in the meetings, what should be a well-managed and fairly painless monthly recurrence can turn into an hours-long nightmare.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Frank Aprilano is the president of the 16-member board of the Clinton Hill Apartment Owners Corporation, also known as the Clinton Hill Co-ops. There are 1,221 units in the cooperative, which is divided into two campuses located a few blocks from each other in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn, New York.
Aprilano worked hard with the board to develop strategies to make their meetings run more smoothly, and run on average of 90 minutes instead of three or four hours.“Rule number one was we’re going to run more efficient meetings. Rule number two was see rule number one,” he says.
Whether your monthly meetings are run by the board president or the building management, the rules are the same.
“The way you manage a five-unit building is the same as if you manage a 200-unit building,” says Giovanni Puerta, account executive at Trion Real Estate Management. He oversees Trion’s co-op and condo management division in New York City and Westchester. “You need to have order across the board.”
Here are some tips on how boards, shareholders, and committees can improve the quality and productivity of their meetings.
Stick to the Agenda
First and foremost, one of the primary factors that gets in the way of a smoothly run meeting is not having an agenda. Not only does each meeting need one, it should also be strictly adhered to, experts say.
“That’s something that I prepare on a monthly basis. That’s a must for me,” explains Puerta. “Every association and board has different takes on how they want to run things. We like to have a streamlined system where they have their meeting and there’s an agenda.”
The agenda is focused on financial reports and minutes followed by new and old business, he says.
Steven Hirsch, executive managing director at property management company FirstService Residential in New York City, agrees. One of the most common problems that bogs down board meetings is deviation from the structured agenda, he says.
“Re-gaining control of a meeting that has lost focus and order can be very challenging; especially to the managing agent who is sometimes put in a position of being an air traffic controller with responsibility of navigating the group back on task with a smooth landing. This requires finesse and discipline … Boards that get off on tangents can be redirected back to the agenda with an agreement to carve out non-agenda or ‘new business’ items for discussion at the end of the meeting or at the next meeting,” he says.
Set Time Constraints
In addition to having an agenda, each item on that agenda should have a time limit.
It’s very important for the manager to keep time on certain topics, says Puerta. For example, setting 15 minutes per agenda item. “And if there’s no agreement you table it and move forward. A manager needs to mediate … I make it a point to bring back-up resources on new business and tie up old business.”
He adds: “An efficient board meeting should be no longer than an hour to an hour and 15 minutes.”
For Hirsch, the magic number is a touch bigger. “An organized board meeting should not last longer than 90 minutes, unless there are specific topics or agenda items that would reasonably extend discussions, such as presentations,” he says. “Experience has shown that focus, attention and sometimes mood, start to wane after 90 minutes. Good decision making is not captured when this happens.”
So how can boards keep to a set time? Limit the topics of discussion.
“You shouldn’t be talking about something you’ve never spoken about,” says Puerta. “What you want to handle at the meeting is decisions and approvals. That’s how you have efficient meetings.”
Don’t Get Personal
Although it can be difficult, especially for new board members, another tip that will help and keep meetings on track is one that deals in human emotion. Try and keep all meetings professional and not emotional.
For Aprilano, he says the other board members don’t take it personally when he has to end side conversation or even cut off a discussion. “Everybody understands where I’m coming from and everyone understands the benefits of an efficient meeting,” he says.
According to Aprilano, it’s human nature for things to get off track. “We all try … not to step on each other’s toes … Everybody respects everybody else’s opinions.”
Puerta says a good way to not get personal is to have professional management running the meeting, or at least present. That “professional perspective” will “help you get over that hump,” he says. “Unless you have a professional opinion, you could just go on and on until you’re blue in the face.”
Embrace Technology for Timeliness’ Sake
Another way to keep board meetings efficient is to send minutes from the previous meeting and the agenda electronically. That way, experts say, reading happens before the meeting and concerns can be addressed before the meeting even begins.
Puerta says as the managing agent, he works with boards to draft the agenda and get it out to members about a week before the meeting is scheduled. That way, he says, questions can be answered ahead of time.
“I work with management on the agenda for the meeting and one of the biggest timesavers that we’ve found [is sending] the minutes from the prior meeting,” he says.
Puerta also sends out an “action list” each week that goes over everything the building or association has pending or under discussion. “Taking the time to look at the packet and being prepared is the best advice I could give to any board,” he says.
Hirsch says in addition to agendas and minutes, reports from property managers should also be sent to board members prior to meetings. Managers should be sure to include accounts payable, receivable and budget reports, any sales and title transfer reports, or refinancing and capital projects reports, as needed.
Aprilano’s board is even more technologically advanced. They work off Google Drive and only allot 10 minutes per meeting to discussion of minutes.
“If it goes beyond that, the question is did you read and edit on the Google Drive? Honestly we should spend 10 seconds on that,” he says, adding that the board has really embraced technology, with much discussion taking place on email.
Keep a Firm Grasp on Side Discussion
It can be difficult, but a meeting that doesn’t veer off into uncharted territory will be the most efficient.
“If it doesn’t have to do with the topic at hand, bring it up in new business later in the agenda or table it to committee,” Aprilano suggests.
“Disruptive cross-talk and sidebar conversations” are one of the most common issues that boards face that can throw a meeting into the weeds, Hirsch says.
Monthly vs. Annual Meeting?
Monthly meetings are not only shorter than annual meetings, but annual meetings are also more formal, experts say. There are board elections and often, if a building has one, a certified public accountant (CPA) will present an annual report.
However, preparation for the meetings and the running of them remains the same, says Hirsch. Pre-work is still necessary, as is providing agendas and making sure the meeting stays on course.
An Option: Follow Robert’s Rules of Order
Robert’s Rules of Order is a widely-used and established set of procedures that groups use to lead meetings, discussions and more. Some co-op and condo boards use them, at least roughly, to dictate how a meeting will proceed. The official website (robertsrules.com) associated with the rules offers full text of the rules.
Aprilano says when he became board president, Robert’s Rules were adopted.
“When we first came together, we introduced Robert’s Rules,” he says. “I’m not saying we follow it to the letter. If there’s talking over people, I put an immediate stop to that. If you have something to say, raise your hand and I will recognize you.”
Organization Is Everything
For meetings to be their best, whether a manager or board president is taking the reins, what’s paramount is organization. That includes prior planning amongst members, agendas with time limits, pre-approval of minutes, and more.
“Organization is the cornerstone to an efficient and productive meeting. The foundation to conducting an efficient meeting is developed weeks before,” says Hirsch.
Georgia Kral is a staff writer at The New Jersey Cooperator.