Working in groups can be a challenge. Working in groups when people’s homes—and possibly their life savings—are involved can be a far greater challenge. It’s one faced every day by those brave souls who volunteer to serve on their co-op or condo board. While there is no sure-fire recipe for building a board that is 100 percent successful day in and day out, there are definitely traits and tactics that the most well-run and effective boards share.
Don’t Get Personal
One of the biggest components to success is ensuring that those individuals who are elected to the board do not come to their new duties with a personal mission. It’s important to make sure that no one looking to join in saying, “‘If I can get on that board I am going to change whatever that one little thing is,’ or that thorn in your personal side,” says Jane Beddall, president of Dovetail Resolutions, a mediation and consulting firm based in New Haven, Connecticut. Beddall, who also presides over the New England chapter of the Association for Conflict Resolution, says other bad motivations for joining a board include, “it looks good on your resume, or you’re trying to impress your neighbors or your friends.”
Board-member aspirants need to keep in mind that the job is to serve the building—and act in the interest of the association as a whole. Criterion No. 1 should be that “you have a genuine interest in whatever it is the board does, the mission of that organization,” says Beddall. Aspiring board members also need to have a clear picture of what the job really entails. She adds, “You have to be clear in your mind that you can honor the commitment that you make.” The best board members are the ones who prioritize fair thinking and who remember to put the needs of the building community as a whole above their own preferences.
It’s also very important to have a proper understanding of what a board wants from you as a member. Whether it’s your legal expertise, your deep pockets, or your time, “if you don't know what the expectation is before you say yes, then you’re not honoring the commitment because you don’t know what your committing to,” says Beddall.
Problems can also arise when board members have issues with not getting their own way. If you are a member of a five-person board and three people vote opposite of you, it’s important that you respect the decision. Otherwise, the board may not operate with trust and mutual respect—which is to say, the board is dysfunctional and potentially headed for trouble.