Delegate, Delegate, Delegate The Importance of Board Committees

Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

 Read any of the major business publications or websites and you’re bound to find articles on the importance of delegating. It’s one of the most fundamental skills for a successful business owner to have. A  simple Internet search finds scores of tips for CEOs and smaller entrepreneurs  alike on how to delegate more effectively. Running an association isn’t quite like running a Fortune 500 company, but the concept of delegating tasks  works just as well with a board of directors for a homeowners association as it  does for a titan of industry or finance.  

 A Committed Effort

 Boards of directors are small teams of volunteers with a lot of work to do. They  often need help — and that’s where delegating to a committee comes in. A committee is a group of volunteers  who focus on a particular issue at hand. It is run as a mini-board, where a  chair is elected, topics are discussed and minutes are reported. Committees  then take those minutes to the board. How many committees an association has  and their responsibilities will vary from property to property, as will the  committee size. Most commonly, the larger the association, the more committees  the board will create. Ultimately, it’s the board’s responsibility to decide on the number and type of committees and to define  their purpose.  

 According to Jeff Martin, president of Foreside Real Estate Management Inc. in  Portland, Maine, committee chairs are appointed by the president of the  association. “Committees should be approved and overseen by the board of directors,” Martin said. “It is the board’s responsibility to assign the scope of the work the committee will undertake  and what information the board is requesting from the committee so that the  board can make informed decisions for the community.”  

 In many cases, committees will have a board member assigned to act as a liaison  between the two entities. “I think it’s beneficial to have one member of the board be [on the committee]. He [or she]  doesn't necessarily have to be the head of the committee—but on the committee—just so they can give an idea to the committee as to what the board maybe  expecting, and maybe give an idea of what is typical when you’re dealing in a board-type setting,” Hugh D. Shaffer, CPM, PCAM, CMCA, senior vice president of the Condominium  Division at G & G Management, LLC in Newton, Massachusetts, says.  

 Strong, well-organized committees are a boon to a busy board and manager and  offer residents an opportunity to get involved in their community. Aside from  the usual suspects—budget, landscape and maintenance committees—committees can also include a communications committee that shares news and  events with residents, nominating committee that interviews prospective  residents and a neighborhood watch committee that makes sure the property stays  safe and protected.  

 Committees not only work to uphold community standards, they also strive to set  them by forming problem-solving ad hoc committees, which are designed to  investigate community-specific problems and disband when said issue is  resolved. According to experts, most ad hoc committees are formed to resolve  issues with community amenities or rules and regulations.  

 “I managed a property that decided to put together a committee to look into  revising the documents in order to eliminate pets in the building,” Steven Hornsby, president of HM Management in Attleboro, Massachusetts, says. “The committee took a poll of the 75 units and put together a proposal to the  board that included information from owners as well as the cost for altering  the documents. The decision was that there was not enough support to change the  documents at that time, but the leg work was done so in the future it will be  easier if they decide to move forward with it.”  

 We the Committee, People

 Just as critical as it is to put the right people on the board of directors, it’s important to have the right people on the right committee, although committee  members are volunteers, not elected. So who makes a great committee member? “I think the most important quality is having an interest in improving your  community,” Martin says. “As a member of a committee, keeping an open mind and working together with the  other members will produce the best results.”  

 “I recommend those who will have the time to spend on the particular project and  are organized and responsive,” Hornsby says. “There is nothing worse than someone working on a project and not responding to  phone calls or emails.”  

 While having a strong acumen and relevant experience in your committee topic is  helpful, it isn't completely necessary—you don't have to exactly possess the keen financial insight of Suze Orman to be  on the budget committee.  

 “I strongly feel that if you’re part of a budget committee, you should at least understand financial  statements,” Shaffer says. “But to be quite honest, it’s such a hard thing just with apathy in general amongst most community  associations—it’s hard enough just to get members to want to volunteer to try to be on the board  of trustees. So, if you’ve got an active board and you’re able to then get a committee in addition to an active board, that’s a good thing. If they’re on a landscaping committee, whether they have experience in landscaping  specifically or not, I don’t think it’s a major [concern]. I just think somebody with a clear head on their shoulders  will be a valuable asset and can be very productive and in assisting the  committee to come up with a consensus,” he says.  

 The size of the committee is extremely important to its success. Experts agree a  committee should have an odd number of members to ensure they aren’t dead-locked when it comes to voting on issues. “It all depends on the committee, but I think anywhere from three to seven  [members] is a good range,” Martin says. “Some smaller associations might just have one member on a committee who wants to  be involved in a certain association task but might not want to serve directly  on the board. Any more than seven members and committee may become unwieldy and  have trouble staying on task.”  

 Just like conflicts that can occur among board members and in board meetings,  committees can find themselves in the midst of a conflict, too. Committees can  be counterproductive when they do not stick to the task at hand and aren’t communicative with the board, Martin warns. “Efforts by the committee that inhibit the board in meeting their responsibility  are counterproductive,” Martin says. “Examples of this are committees not meeting timelines set by the board,  committees not sticking to the task or projects that have been assigned, and  not properly reporting back to the board or performing functions and making  decisions that require board approval.”  

 If the board does not set boundaries for committees, a power struggle can ensue,  in which there is a risk of them becoming more problematic than beneficial,  Shaffer warns. “Really, the only thing I can think of that would make them counterproductive or  less helpful would be if you’ve got very strong personalities on the committee that don’t quite understand—or maybe the original direction wasn’t clear—and they tend to be at odds with the board of trustees, or think they have more  of a decision-making ability than they really do,” Shaffer says.  

 “While committees can perform much of the leg work to gather information and  oversee and implement approved projects, decisions that legally or financially  bind the association, or changes association policy and procedures, should rest  with the board,” Martin adds.  

 Committee members should stay in contact with each other and with board members,  as well as meet regularly, experts agree. However, how often a committee should  meet differs.  

 “This all depends on the timeline for the specific project or initiative,” Hornsby says. “If it is the end of winter and they are looking to propose a spring project, I  would recommend [they meet] at least weekly. If it is an issue with an open  timeline, I would still recommend at least every other week in order to keep it  on everyone’s mind and be sure it doesn’t slip through the cracks.”  

 Along with providing added help to boards, committees are also beneficial to  residents in that they promote a collaborative environment, further  strengthening community bonds. Martin encourages association residents to get  involved.  

 “Owners shouldn’t shy away from joining a committee because they don’t have experience,” Martin says. “Committees are the perfect training ground to get experience in association  governing and a great way to learn before joining the board.”  

 You can’t do it all yourself. Delegating to committees helps a board to accomplish what  it needs to accomplish.                       

 Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to New England  Condominium. Editorial Assistant Enjolie Esteve contributed to this article.  

 

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