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Key to an Effective Board Meeting

In my 20 years of community association management, I have either attended, organized, participated in, or spoken at over 2,000 board meetings. Calm, orderly, effective business meetings are the general rule; however, I have witnessed elderly gentlemen in fistfights. I have also witnessed two board meeting heart attaicks ("Call 911 immediately"); one, sadly, resuIting in death of the homeowner. Meetings which have lasted five or six hours have ended with no visible accomplishment, while one-hour meetings have accomplished a great deal.

Drawing from those experience, we attempt to lead our managers and board members through the key steps of setting up effective board meetings.

1. Preparation: Seventy percent of the success or failure of a meeting lies in its preparation. From the management side, we stress that an organized meeting agenda be established. The manager discusses the upcoming meeting with the board, or president of the association, and a determination is made of what items will appear on the agenda. The agenda has become the focal point for most meetings, as the Florida Condominium Act requires the board to strictly adhere to the posted agenda (with some exceptions). The agenda must also be posted conspicuously on the property 48 hours in advance of the meeting. Most homeowners associations are also required to post no tice of meetings 48 hours in advance and we suggest that the agenda be posted as well. This pro cedure ensures that all members are advised of the items to be discussed and provides a reasonable opportunity for communication between the board and its membership.

After the agenda is established, the manager prepares the meeting packet for the board. The packet contains the agenda, minutes of the previous meeting (if not already distributed), a written manager's report, current financial statement, bid specifications and pro posals, all organized for ease of review by the board. This package is distributed in advance of the meeting.

Board members then have the responsibility of preparing themselves for the meeting by reviewing the agenda, written reports, specifications, bids and other written material in advance of the meeting. It is also recommended that board members visit the specific homes, condominium units or area of common property that will be discussed at the meeting in order to familiarize themselves with the area to allow an informed decision to be made on the issue at the meeting. Questions or concerns which can be clarified in advance should be addressed to the manager.

2. leadership: The person chairing the meeting, usually the president of the association, fills the key leadership role in determining the success or failure of the board meeting. At the appointed hour, the chairperson calls the meeting to order, determines that a quorum is present, makes certain the secretary, manager, or other designee is taking minutes, and begins to address the agenda items.

Robert's Rules of Order are a great tool for controlling homeowner groups and like meetings; however, very few people know more than how to make a simple motion, second motion and vote. We encourage the board to keep the parliamentary procedures simple and to focus on the substance, not the form of the meeting.

A good chairperson follows the agenda and guides, rather than controls, the meeting. The chairperson should keep the meeting on track and limit needless or ancillary discussion.
One of the biggest errors thata board of directors can make is the "snap,' decision. A homeowner is recognized from the audience and outlines his or her problem. The board is usually eager to resolve problems so a decision, based upon one homeowner's input, is quickly made. Next month, the other homeowners affected by that decision will show up at the meeting requesting that the board reverse its first decision. If the decision is reversed, the board appears "wishy-washy". If the decision is upheld, the board appears unreasonable. Even the most innocent problem deserves a little time for the board, in conjunction with management, to investigate the circumstances before acting.

Most homeowners will approve of the board's deferment of a new problem to the next meeting in order to research the matter and give any opposition a chance to speak as well. This method can save the members of the board from embarrassment and ridicule.

3. Follow-Through: The final step to an effective board meeting is to ascertain if the parties involved have clear direction. Does management understand what direction the board has given? Do the committees understand the tasks ouflined for them, their authority and their limitations? Have reasonable time frames for completion and reporting been set? when will delegated issues be addressed again and in what form, written or verbal reports? Are the time frames for required legal notice to the association membership built into the schedule?

In summary, a successful board meeting takes preparation, leadership and follows through on the part of the manager, as well as the board members. These key elements will allow even the most inexperienced board of directors to function as professionals.

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