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Navigating Board Relationships – Steering the “Communication Ship” – Not Always in Calm Waters

06/01/2020 3:52 PM | CAI Rocky Mountain Chapter (Administrator)

By Michelle Peck, CMCA, AMS, PCAM, TMMC Property Management

Do you ever find that Board members are trying to steer their own “ship,” without regard to their co-captains (other Board members), their passengers (homeowners), or their compass (HOA Management)?  When you work with a Board, given the differing backgrounds, experiences, and personalities, you will experience times when Boards disagree, push personal agendas, make uniformed decisions, or feel as though they can’t even speak up at all.   Our job as Community Management professionals is to help navigate and guide Boards to help ensure they are working in the best interests of their Community.  Below are some of the misdirected courses that Board members may try to take with you, with homeowners, or with each other; and some suggestions on keeping the HOA boat from turning south or even sinking.

Board members do not see eye-to-eye

Take this as a positive, not a negative.  Remind yourself as a manager, and remind the Board, that this is part of being on a successful Board of Directors.  The Board is elected to be a representative sample of the community.  This is a collaboration of varying backgrounds and opinions.  Remind the Board that opposing opinions are completely expected, and what creates heathy discussion; and it is that healthy discussion that helps Boards come to a well thought out, deliberated decision for the association (not always unanimous – and that is perfectly ok).  In fact – congratulate the Board when these healthy discussions occur, and when they do not vote unanimously.  Remind them that this is what it is all about and thank them all for the valuable input!

Board members cannot agree on a decision

This is very similar to the not seeing eye-to-eye above.  There is great value in not having the same opinion on every decision that the Board must make.  However, there are some instances where the topic may need additional resources in order for the Board to make a decision in the best interest of their association.  This may be additional information provided by the community manager, guidance from a contractor, or it may require a legal opinion or direction from the association’s attorney.  As a Community Management professional, it is our job to be the advisor, and when you see that the disagreement could potentially be dissipated by additional resources, make the suggestion. It is ok to table agenda items to get more information for your Boards to have the data they need to come to a point where they are ready to make a motion on the topic. 

One Board member monopolizes the conversation and does not allow the rest of the Board to share their view.

Sometimes it can be difficult to interact with people who have strong, boisterous, loud personalities; people who tend to always control the conversation.  If you find that there are one or two Board members that monopolize Board meetings or communications for the association, take some steps to try to break that cycle.  For example, when in a Board meeting as the Community Manager, wait for a pause and then try to interject/redirect the conversation to the Board members that are being left out – “Tom, what do you think about installing a new playground?” or “I’m curious to hear what Tom thinks about this.”  These sorts of phrases can bring other Board members into the discussion in a way that feels constructive and helps dialogue get started.  Over time, the additional contribution to the conversation (because of your interjecting phrase) will become more natural and may not need interference. 

Board tries to act outside of the authority granted to them in the governing documents; or does not understand their role.

Help Board members learn to be the best Board member for their Community by providing Board member education.  Providing Board member education allows Boards to understand what is expected of them in their role and how to best accomplish those expectations.  It is beneficial for Community Management professionals to hold Board member education on an annual basis or more frequently if there are changes to the members of the Board.  Having Board member education will help set the framework for a successful relationship between the Community Manger and the Board.  It will also allow the Community Manager a time to address any items that are not working and review best practices.

During the Board member education orientation/review there are several things that the Community Manager should review to ensure that the Board understands their responsibility.  The Community Manager should review the roles and responsibilities of the Board as well as the authority granted to the Board in the Governing Documents and remind Boards that they do not have the authority to take action outside of that which is granted in the governing documents.   This is also an opportune time to review the role of the Community Manager and the process in which the Board communicates and directs the Community Manager and the expectations of the Community Manager.  During the review it is important to help Board’s understand that the Community Manager is to act as a resource to the Board and provide valuable insight and experience to help the Board make decisions that are in the best interests of their community. 

If a Board member/members choose to take action outside of the authority granted to them, even after you have advised them against this, ensure that you have written documentation stating as such.  (i.e. recap the email discussion to the Board with a conclusion that management has advised that this action seems outside of their authority and that you have advised them to consult with the association’s legal counsel.)  This will help protect you as the Community Management professional in case of future repercussions.

Board members “over-communicate” during the regular cycle of business (between meetings)

Most Board members do not have firsthand knowledge of the daily workload of their Community Manager.  Board members are volunteers and do not get paid to work in the community; therefore, they often delegate action items and wish lists to their paid Community Manager.   Boards can sometimes have unrealistic expectations of their Community Manager and feel that their Community Manager should “do it all” for them.  It is your responsibility as their Community Manager to help them understand your role as their Community Manager and help to set realistic expectations.  This can be done on an “ad-hoc/as-needed basis” or can be a part of the Board member education/orientation.  

When providing information to the Board, be sure to provide the “why.”  Board members want to know why things are the way they are so they can make the best decision for their community.   The Community Manager is to provide their expertise to the Board to help Board’s make the best decisions for their community.  Oftentimes when a Community Manager fails to provide context it can create a lack of understanding and cause a loss of trust (and MORE phone calls and emails between meetings).  For example, be able to provide the detailed information and background on why you are recommending the Board consider a certain action.  Boards will value and trust you when you communicate with them and provide context to the decisions they are making.  Be PROACTIVE in anticipating questions that the Board members may have and include the answers within the original communication/documentation; this will drastically increase the trust and decrease the need for follow up emails.

With all of these scenarios and any others that you navigate though, the communication compass is critical.  Effective communication is vital when guiding your Boards through any water; especially when the waters get rough or muddy.  Communication is key to building trust and fostering a good working relationship amongst Board members and between the Community Manager and your Board.

If you find that you are having difficulties with the Board or a single Board member, it is best to sit down and discuss what is causing the difficulty. Just as we explain to homeowners who contact the management company to complain about their neighbor’s barking dog, perhaps they do not know there is a problem.  Also, find out from the Board what they are experiencing and ask for their input on working through the issue.   

Ultimately, a well-run community is not one that is free from rough waters, but rather one whose Board and Community Manager communicate and strive to work together in the best interests of the community.    

Michelle Peck is one of the owners of TMMC Property Management based in Castle Rock.  Michelle and her husband Dave have owned and operated TMMC Property Management for over 21 years.  

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