Written by Julie Adamen of HOA Manager Newsline
You are sitting in another stupefying meeting. The Board is way off the agenda, wandering far and wide amidst the weeds. You have tried, to no avail, to bring them back to the matters at hand, but they are cowboys out on their own trail ride, a "whompin' and a whompin', and all you can do is listen, take some notes and try not to scream. Then, it happens: Someone utters what may the stupidest idea you have ever heard in your life, one so devoid of business acumen and common sense that you cannot help yourself from stating the obvious in no uncertain terms: "NO, YOU CAN'T DO THAT, it won't work and here is why..."Wherein you proceed to list 5 or 6 facts refuting their notion and reinforcing your point.
There is no doubt the manager has the proficiency and knowledge that could alleviate, or at least mitigate, any of the multitude of Board and community ailments, problems or conflicts. The rub is that the wisdom of the manager's experience is being dismissed. The manager becomes frustrated and, in the scenario above, allowed that frustration to show in all its' gory glory.
This is not the first time frustration has bubbled up and unfortunate (and potentially damaging) words blurted out, and surely will not be the last. Frustration is understandable: There is a knowledge and experience gap between manager and Board, as managers are exposed to myriad problems and solutions, both good and bad. It's very difficult to sit in meeting after meeting and watch a Board wander around lost, and not be receptive to guidance. Here are few tips on keeping your frustration with unproductive meetings in check so you can Keep Calm and Manager On:
Meetings are 50% decisions and 50% politics. It's natural to expect things to get accomplished in Board meetings, because that's why those meetings are held, right? After all, it's what you're all about: Getting things done on behalf of the client based on those decisions. Well, uh, nope. Meetings are as much about politics as they are about function and politics is about power.
While motions may be approved on easy issues, such as the minutes or a consent calendar, on tougher issues, where there is ego, prestige or money involved (or any combination thereof), not so much. There will be a lot of posturing, bluster, stone-rubbing and incense-burning (perhaps a drum circle will form!), and decisions will not be forthcoming. This process is inherently inefficient and anathema to your good management skills; thus, frustrating. Remember, this is what Boards do, and your understanding that time-consuming politics is as much a part of the meeting as is action, will go a long way in keeping your expectations realistic and your frustration level in check.
Recognize when your frustration is building. Your heart rate is up; you're rolling your eyeballs, tapping your pen and having visions of mayhem. These are warning signs that your frustration is growing and showing; and you may be on the road to saying something you shouldn't. Distract yourself by changing your posture (sitting up or back), take the pen out of your hand, take a long, deep breath and consciously relax your jaw muscles. Do whatever it takes to get out of the danger zone. Excuse yourself from the meeting for a few minutes if you must, walk outside and breathe some fresh air to remember that you indeed are not stuck in The Matrix. *whew*
You can only do so much. As a manager, it is your job to bring issues, concerns, policy matters and any number of items to a Board's attention and provide guidance so they can (eventually) take meaningful action at a meeting. Much of the time this process works, but not always (see the previous paragraphs). The system of volunteer governance is idiosyncratic, and sometimes a Board will take a wrong turn, despite your best efforts. You must accept this fact, and realize that you can only do so much for them, then let go. You'll be much less frustrated if you own this truth, and less likely to find yourself pitted against your client as you try to force them in the direction you think they should go (which doesn't usually work out for you).
The silver lining. If meetings are frustratingly unproductive, chances are most members share your frustration and would welcome a different direction. You can guide your group to more knowledge and better decisions through a long-term strategy of communication that takes place between meetings through various methods, such as:
1. Well-composed memorandum that concisely outline the issue(s) the Board is avoiding, with suggested courses of action presented to the individual members;
2. Suggest the formation small, task-oriented sub-committees with one or two Board members and (maybe) residents who are receptive to your guidance;
3. Utilize outside experts who may be able to guide (shame?) the smaller, or even the larger, group to a more confident decision.
When more information is brought to the Board outside of a meeting, especially when it comes from their peers (the sub-committee) and/or through an expert (attorney, insurance agent, roof consultant, etc.) additionally supported by their manager with related documentation, the Board may develop beyond their fear of decision-making or petty political maneuvering. No doubt, this is more work for you, at least in the short-term, and you'll have to weigh the cost-benefit ratio to your company and your other clients; however, positive change can happen and you can have a hand in it.
Frustrating Board meetings (and staff meetings, for that matter) are a fact of life and nowhere more so than in the community management business. Don't let it get you down. Keep your calm and your wits about you by recognizing when your frustration level is building and mitigate it before you blurt out something you shouldn't, know that meeting are as much about politics (or more!) than action, and that there is more than one way to move a Board forward.