Better, more effective meetings are in your future—if you follow these tips.
We've all been there. Stuck in a meeting where two or more people get into a heated discussion or worse, a flat-out shouting match. It's unpleasant, yes; but more importantly, it's unprofessional and downright disruptive. Many HOA boards have experienced this type of an eruption, often because board members have an emotional stake in the outcome of whatever's being discussed. Add in a few unsuspecting homeowners and the situation can get messy. But just like in the board room of a business, drama and altercations should not be tolerated. So after you've all recovered from the unruly event, it's not only time to move on, it's time to take some steps to ensure that it doesn't happen again. Here's how:
Make the Meeting Location Neutral
Where you host your board meetings can influence the tone of the meeting itself and the mood of the attendees. So it's best to choose a location that is not only big enough to accommodate everyone (a crowded room is not a good place for flaring tempers), but also one that is neutral and convenient. If your community doesn't have a clubhouse or a meeting room, look for one close by at a local hotel, library, a church, or another similar venue. Remember, hosting meetings in a board member's home is not a good idea—it's simply not conducive to setting a business-like ambiance.
Give appropriate notice
Whether you're hosting an official board meeting or a meeting about a particular event, it is key to make sure all board members are notified ahead of time. Closely follow your community's bylaws on how many days prior to the event you need to provide notice. And once the meeting has been announced, be sure to send a reminder email and a postcard, and post a sign on your community notice board.
Draft an agenda and provide it ahead of time
Meetings without an agenda can easily get out of hand, so always create one beforehand. Make your agenda as specific as possible and include speakers' names and how long they will be speaking. If you are going to provide a question and answer period, be very clear how much time will be dedicated to it. Do your best to give the agenda to all attendees prior to the meeting—that way everyone has ample time to review what will be discussed and there are no surprises on the big day.
Assign a meeting chairperson
A key facet of hosting a business-like meeting is assigning someone the task of chairing the meeting. This person should be able to speak well in front of others and be comfortable with answering questions, redirecting attendees who are speaking too long, and running the meeting objectively (without adding in his own emotions). If your board doesn't have anyone who can handle chair duties, consider asking one of your trusted advisors to take on this responsibility.
Create a professional presentation
The more professional the presentation, the less likely it is that board members or homeowners will feel that they can overreact. If you can, develop a PowerPoint presentation or handouts that outline the main objectives and any topics of discussion (especially those that may cause people to have an emotional reaction or an outburst). Doing this also decreases the odds that attendees who are upset will leave the meeting and successfully spread negative or false information to other homeowners.
Include a break
If the meeting is going to be longer than usual or you notice that one or more board members is beginning to get upset or react negatively, it's a good idea to take a break. Have some light refreshments (no alcohol) on hand. Coffee, donuts, juices, and similar fare also help create a sense of community and encourage friendly conversation.
Establish an end time
Meetings with no specified end often go on and on. So even when no one is behaving inappropriately, it's a good idea to determine an end time and include that in your prior notice. If you find that your meeting has gotten out of control, your chairperson should first try to get a handle on the disrupter's behavior. If that doesn't work , it's a good idea to close the meeting early.
Discuss professionalism ahead of time
It's a good idea to remind all board members before the meeting that unprofessional behavior is not acceptable and that they are expected to be respectful. Stressing to the board that you are a team and that anything other than a businesslike demeanor will inhibit everyone from handling their responsibilities (not to mention making them less credible in front of homeowners) can also help to ensure that emotions are managed and behavior is checked.
Board meetings are vital to governing your community, so fostering a positive and professional environment is truly critical to your success. If you need any guidance or would like to learn about legal representation for your HOA, get in touch with PeytonBolin today. We specialize in community association law and have extensive experience in best practices for HOA boards.