6 Elements of a Successful Monthly Meeting

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Written by Tim Polk, past President of the Roundtree Homeowners Association

When I joined the Roundtree Homeowners Association, I did so for the usual reason of wanting a say in maintaining and improving the complex. But when I became president a year later, I had another goal in mind: to make the monthly homeowners meetings less scattered and more productive.

And the results? I’d love to say every meeting now is quick, efficient, and fun—but it’s not. We as a board still go off on tangents, get bogged down in one or more issues, and even have tempers flare occasionally. But those meetings are the exception, not the norm. We’ve cut our meetings down to an average length of approximately 75 minutes and completed numerous small projects, and we are planning better for the larger, longer term needs of Roundtree.

To reach our goal of shorter, more efficient meetings while still permitting homeowners to air opinions and allow the board to discuss, debate and take action on various issues, we streamlined how and what we did. 

Starting with a Plan

To make the most out of every meeting, try starting off organized and focused. Use introductions. We start every meeting by having board members state their name and board title. Homeowners, when speaking, also begin by saying their name and unit number. This helps reduce confusion and allows both board members and homeowners to have a better idea who is speaking.

Set a Businesslike Tone

Set the tone at the beginning. After calling the meeting to order and having the introductions, I remind the board of our goal of a 75-minute meeting and state, in general terms, what are the key issues to be discussed. (We normally devote each meeting to one main topic.)

Use an Agenda

Use an agenda [Civil Code §4930] and stick to it. A lot can happen in a month’s time. Some issues are nagging, difficult, or even contentious. The president must keep the meeting moving by following the agenda, discouraging off-target and potentially illegal discussions, and encouraging board members to keep their comments or committee reports brief.

Focus on a Main Topic

Have each meeting focus on one main topic. We as a board try to go through general business, such as committee reports, fairly quickly; then we devote the bulk of the meeting to one main issue. One month this topic might be security, another month landscaping, and so on. This allows an extended, meaningful discussion—but on one topic, not six. Also, by always having the main topic discussed last, board members are more likely to wrap up in a timely manner.

Use the Pre-Meeting Reports

Emphasize and utilize pre-meeting reports. Encourage board members to read and study the pre-meeting packet of information carefully and write down any questions. If everyone has read the same information, the resulting discussion will then be more focused and more productive.

Priorities in Order

Don't give each topic the same emphasis or the same amount of time. As president, you must control how much time is spent discussing a topic. The following are several example topics along with comments about handling each of them:  

  • A request from a homeowner to fix a leaking roof - Major problem, requires resolution.
  • A report about a dog confined to a back patio and living in its own feces - Serious problem, but board’s authority is limited; person reporting must be instructed to call local humane society.
  • A board member asking for a volunteer to pick up her mail while she’s on vacation - Minor annoyance to one person; ask that this be discussed after the meeting has been adjourned.
  • A homeowner’s complaint that a neighbor’s car alarm occasionally goes off at night - Minor annoyance unless chronic problem; acknowledge and move on.

Ownership

Assign ownership immediately. People are great at complaining, making suggestions and generating ideas. The real challenge, however, comes in follow-through. For every action decided on by the board (even if it is to reconsider the issue at a later date), the following must be established:

  • What action will be taken?
  • Which person or group will carry out the action?
  • By when will the action be completed?

If a small group or committee is formed, I strongly recommend that one person be designated “team leader” with ultimate responsibility for the committee’s actions.

Focus on Results

Limit process and instead focus on results. Some board members will be “process people”: they love discussing options, getting bids, debating what to do, etc. As board president, always attempt to move the board to making decisions. For example:

  • Discuss the many options, and then reach an agreement on two main options. Later, reach an agreement on the final solution.
  • Put out bids one time only. Resist the temptation to put out request for bid, change some element, put out another request for bid, decide to do something else, put out another request for bid, etc..
  • Most board members will approve of these suggestions because they’ll appreciate the quicker, more focused meetings. It may take several meetings, but over time you will reduce the meeting length time and get more done.

Controlled Homeowner Input

Receiving feedback and suggestions from homeowners is an important part of a board of directors’ role. While valuable, however, homeowner comments can go too far, wasting time, energy and goodwill. The following plan of action will keep homeowners’ comments focused and productive:

Allow the homeowner to state his or her problem or complaint. If the owner is upset, let them vent—but just a little. Empathize with them. Empathize means “to understand” and shows the board is concerned about the problem. Examples of empathic remarks are, "We all share those same feelings,” or "This is obviously something that must be remedied as quickly as possible.”

As quickly as possible or prudent, shift the discussion off the problem and onto the solution. Ask what action the homeowner suggests should be taken. Many times this will be impossible or extremely difficult. Tell the homeowner this and suggest what the board might be able to do. Then, if appropriate, discuss among the board and state exactly what action the board will take and by when.  Often information will have to be collected by a board member or some professional expert. In these instances, invite the homeowner to the following meeting to discuss what has been found out.

[Editor’s Note: Current law now prohibits boards from discussing business that was not placed on the agenda with the meeting notice. Please refer to Civil Code Section 4930. We recommend that boards listen and empathize, but respectfully inform the owner that, if a board discussion is necessary, it will need to wait until the next meeting. However, if appropriate, do not wait to assign ownership or tasks related to the problem.] 

Thank the homeowner, and then move on nicely but forcefully. Transitions include:

  • "Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We will do (a) and (b). Now, are there other homeowners’ comments?"
  • "We appreciate your interest in this matter. We all understand how important properly maintained lawns are, and we will pass along your concerns to the gardeners. Now, are there any other landscape issues from homeowners?"

Fun and Enjoyable

A final suggestion I’d like to make is this—try to have a little fun to reduce tension and promote camaraderie among board members. Crack a joke, bring a cartoon to share, or encourage funny comments that don’t belittle anyone. Humor reduces tensions and creates an open, honest atmosphere that will lead to more effective debate and more effective meetings.

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Comments

My 11-member board reads and tries to implement such suggestions but with a membership of 6,323 units [that really is six thousand three hundred and twenty-three], the results are unsatisfactory to say the least.  Two minute per member "forum" with a total of 30 minutes for all comments.  Have never read anything over a 20-year period how associations with thousands of members can best to accommodate or engage them.  No wonder less than 45% vote on anything.

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