A well conducted meeting is like a symphony. Using a well thought out plan, the Chair cues, directs, and closes the meeting much like a conductor. Conducting successful meetings doesn't happen by chance. There is a combination of clear purpose coupled with ground rules. Here are some tips that can make your meetings like music to the ears.
Lay out the ground rules. Without ground rules, small issues become major time wasters and important matters do not receive the attention they deserve. Ground rules discourage an individual from monopolizing the meeting with personal concerns or issues previously discussed.
Ground rules should be fair, easily understood and encourage a courteous and intelligent exchange.
One of the best known guidelines is Robert's Rules of Order. The degree of detail and formality described by Robert's Rules can be reduced to some basics:
- One person may speak at a time.
- The Chair decides who that person will be.
- The speaker may speak only on the issue being considered.
- Those wishing to speak will be given an opportunity.
- Decisions require a motion, a second, and a vote.
- Once voted upon, no further discussion is permitted.
When everyone understands the ground rules, it is easier for the Chair to direct the discussion, to keep speakers on track, and to move the discussion toward an orderly decision. Remember that the board has been elected to make decisions, not merely to discuss issues.
Each meeting should have an agenda prepared by the Chair and distributed in advance to the board members. An agenda is the meeting map. Everyone knows where they are going and what the final destination will be. Without an agenda, any topic is fair game. While it is conceivable that every topic might be of interest, the ability to act on each is limited due to lack of preparation. An agenda is critical for staying on course.
Every agenda item that requires action needs a vote. The Chair asks for a motion. Once a motion is made, another person seconds the motion and discussion follows, until the board is ready to vote. The vote is then recorded in the meeting minutes either as failed, passed unanimously, or passed with dissenting or abstaining directors listed by name. (recording votes by name is particularly critical if the issue is controversial). If someone is disgruntled about the vote outcome, that's unfortunate. Votes do not have to be unanimous.
Set a time frame for the meeting as a whole, and for specific topics on the agenda. A time limit focuses everyone's attention and adds to the clarity of the discussion. It also helps the Chair in preventing an aimless discussion.
The purpose of the board meeting is to transact association business. Often this is not how it works. Some view it as an opportunity to discuss issues like the sales price of some unit. This information may be interesting to some, but it is immaterial to the association's business. These topics should be culled from discussion.
The Chair plays an important role as "The Gatekeeper." The job of the gatekeeper is to "guard" the discussion by enforcing the ground rules, maintaining order, and calling a particular topic inappropriate. The Chair prods the discussion along, or brings it to a close when all of the facts have been identified, and it's time to make a decision.
The Chair must also control dissenters using "bully tactics." Bully tactics succeed by discrediting information or interruption. If the Chair makes it clear that bully tactics will not be tolerated, the behavior usually diminishes.
Most meetings have a time when owners may speak, sometimes called an Open Forum. The Open Forum is an extremely important part of the meeting, even if participation is small. It will help diffuse rumors and gossip and demonstrate that the board wants to communicate and receive feedback. It's great for public relations. The Open Forum happens just prior to the board meeting, so owners may speak and leave if they have no interest in the business portion of the meeting. Each person speaking should be limited to, say, five minutes so that each will get to the point.
Speaking of public relations, never hold closed or secret board meetings. Owners have a right to be present at all business meetings (as visitors, not participants). To shut them out invites challenge. With this in mind, all business meetings should be announced to all owners in advance and held in visitor friendly locations. Holding a meeting in someone's living room where there is seating for board members only, is the same as telling members they are not welcome. Even if members don't generally attend, always leave that door open. It will make the board job much more pleasant.
Additional success tips include:
- Distribute minutes of the last meeting in advance, so that they can be reviewed prior to the meeting.
- Use a degree of formality in the meeting so the mood is "businesslike."
- Principles of courtesy apply: Only one person speaks at a time. No interrupting, ridicule, sarcasm, and innuendo.
- Adjourn the meeting on time.
- Follow up on action items before the next meeting.
Now, do you hear the orchestra starting to warm up? Hold on to that mental image. Conduct your meetings like a symphony, and harmonious music will spread through out your community.