Since the board of a community association is usually composed of a collective group of unique individuals with their own perspective and opinions, no two boards are ever the same. However, there are certain overall, universal qualities that can either make or break a board, and these are traits that everyone involved should emulate so things run smoothly.
One of the leading characteristics that makes an association board successful is having members that come from diverse personal and professional backgrounds. “With all of the HOA boards that I work with, I recognize that every board member has a unique strength,” says Kevin Kelliher, CEO ofLundgren Management Group, based in Chelsea, Massachusetts. “Whether it’s a background in architecture or a strong understanding of the history of the association, each person brings a valuable set of skills to the group.
“The key,” Kelliher says, “is to identifyeveryone’s strengths and capitalize on them.”
A board that’s top-heavy with accountants, or engineers, or retired teachers, may lack the breadth of experience – and variety of ideas – that will be found on a well-rounded board. Since every board member brings his or her own professional and personal experiences to the job, with awide range of backgrounds, it’s more likely that new ideas will surface. At the same time, it’s essential for those people to be willing to listen to each other’s perspectives.
That leads to a second characteristicof successful boards: The ability to be open to a variety of ideas.
Just the Facts
“The board has to be open-minded,”notes Jasmine Martirossian, PhD, a leading expert in group dynamics and board decision-making. “You don’t want people trying to retrofit all the facts to what they wanted to decide, but are open-minded about their decision. Too often, people decide to do something, they get married to the idea, then they discard any facts that point in a contrary direction,” says the author of “Decision Making in Communities: Why Groups of Smart People Sometimes Make Bad Decisions.”
Listening only to ideas that will lead to the conclusion that board members wanted in the first place, shewarns, can be a shortcut to disaster.
Size Does Matter
Along with having a board that is open to discussion, Martirossian notes, it’s important for the board to be of a size that works for the particular association. While the number of board members may have been established at the time the association was created, that composition is often open to change by a vote of the owners. “In some cases, you need to secure a certainpercentage of the vote (in order to change the board’s size). It may sound difficult to achieve, but it’s doable,” she says.
A case in point is her own community association board. With only five units in the condominium, the board was initially composed of two members. “I proposed that all five of us be boardmembers, because it made sense,” she says. “Why exclude anyone, on such a small scale?” The change, she notes, has worked out well.
Time Well Spent
That leads to yet another key characteristic of a successful board: Being willing, even eager, to devote the time and energy needed to serving. Beyond the regular board meetings, serving on a board can involve a significant amount of “homework” – researching solutions to problems, keeping abreast of what’s happening in the community, and preparing for meetings.
“What’s important are volunteers who are willing to give the time and participate in the procedures of being on a board,” says an experienced association manager. “Board members should have a true desire to serve the community and look out for the best interests of the members of the association.”
The board is not an island, Marti-rossian reminds those who wish to serve. “Good boards are tied to the community, and don’t let power go to their head. Good boards seek feedback from the community.”
Rules of the House
How that feedback is acquired varies from board to board –and, it seems, from hour to hour. Board members may be approached individually in the lobby, or through email correspondence, but the board as a whole is most likely addressed in the context of a regular meeting. The structure for how meetings run can vary from board to board. Some are very loose and informal, while others are strict as can be. Usually, the community’s documents guide how the board should run.
Boards may use the “Robert’s Rules of Order” guidebook – what the U. S. House and Senate are using when you watch them on C-SPAN –or another formal set of rules. Whether using Robert’s or any published document, there are very specific rules involved on how discussions and motions are brought to the floor. It’s a formal process that is important for any legislative body, and to which many association boards adhere as well.
The best boards run a very structured, businesslike meeting. At the end of the day, every community is first and foremost a corporation. In a community association, an observance of those formalities is important.
The setting can also be relevant. While most boards meet somewhere in the building on a monthly basis, the environment can definitely have an effect on the meeting. A business-like meeting place, set up in an orderly fashion, will lend itself to a business-like atmosphere among those in attendance.
When a matter is introduced for a vote, the board will most often discuss it, then open the discussion to residents before a vote is taken. Giving residents that input demonstrates that the boardis, indeed, tied to the community and open to other ideas.
Association boards have enough to deal with – they don’t want to have a strained or even bad relationship with their property manager. The board/ manager relationship is very importantto both sides.
A critical component of a successful relationship is an open and honest communication channel in which the board clearly communicates their expectations and provides follow-up and reevaluation as times and circumstances change. The board needs to evaluate the association operations regularly to ensure the management company is meeting the particular needs of the community.
Trusting one another is also vital. A board that doesn’t have faith that a management company will successfully follow through on its decisions will face problems. Once the board has hired a manager, it’s important to haveconfidence in that manager, and let him or her carry out the board’s directions in a professional manner.
One way for boards to work toward a “successful” title is to learn from the professionals. Boards can hone their skills by becoming involved with organizations like the Community Associations Institute (CAI), which provides training and education for board members to make them more effective in their responsibilities. Courses for association volunteers – and the managers they work with –are available nationwide through organizations like CAI, and with the popularity of the Internet, helpful information is available at every board member’s fingertips.
In its introductory online course, “Fundamentals of Community Volun-teer Leadership,” CAI notes that “the effectiveness of a board depends on the effectiveness of its individual members, so it’s important to start with competent, intelligent, mature people who are willing to work hard and make sacrifices. The association is neither a civic league nor a social club. Running it requires making hard decisions and being involved almost on a daily basis.”
That, it seems, is the definition of a successful board in a nutshell.
Keith Loria is a freelance writer living in Westchester County, N.Y. Pat Gale, associate editor of New England Condominium, also contributed to this article.