Chemistry among people is hard to master, and it is all about how you build and cultivate the relationships around you. Most of what you do throughout your day involves relationships, and how you manage them. Associations are no different, and even more so if you are a member of the Board of Directors. The chemistry amongst the Board members can significantly impact how the association functions, whether good or bad. The tricky part of being on a board, and the relationships that are involved, is that all of the board members are neighbors, but they must work together in order to run a business.
There are some basic propositions that every board member should keep in mind to make sure that your relationship with your fellow board members is optimal, for the benefit of your own sanity and the good of the community. Keeping the following few basic rules in mind, all of which we learned a long time ago and should follow in our “regular lives”, will allow the relationships between the Board members to develop in positive way, and the chemistry between the Board members to be productive.
1. Respect Each Other, Plain and Simple. (As you read through this article, you will quickly realize that this is the big one.) All association boards are comprised of at least 3 people, if not 5 or 7, or more. Board members are elected by the owners to represent their interests and act on their behalf. There is no rule that all board members must have the same opinion or perspective. In fact, the point of a multi-person board is to foster differing perspectives and opinions. Owners are given the opportunity to elect all of the Board members so that their differing opinions can be represented. A board works best if it has differing opinions from its members to fully discuss the issues that are before it, and to make an informed decision. This is not to say that some issues won’t evoke a unanimous opinion or perspective The point is that you have multiple board members with their own opinions for those issues that may require a discussion. Each issue is different, and each association must address different issues.
A problem that many associations face, and where many association boards break down and lose their chemistry, is what happens when there are dissenting opinions and perspectives on a certain decision. These are often issues that are not only a hot topic for the board, but for the association membership as a whole. Board members need to remember that you must respect the opinion of your fellow board members, and you should also expect them to respect your opinion. There is nothing more off-putting or group-dynamic destructive than not respecting someone else’s opinion. In the end, the board acts by a majority vote, and that vote governs not only the board’s action, but the action that will be taken on behalf of the association. Those board members who are in the minority must still respect the decision of the board, and carry out the decision made. Owners respond most positively to board members that are functioning respectfully of each other. The relationship between the board and the owners will most likely mirror the strong chemistry between the board members and the fact that the board members are respectful of each other.
Finally, the board must also respect the association’s membership, and the membership must respect the board. As those who sit in on association meetings frequently (continued) can attest, this often is lost. The relationship between the board and the membership is critical to a well-functioning association. A board that has lost sight of its owners’ concerns and issues will soon lose its base. A membership that has lost sight of its board’s obligations, duties, and hard work can derail good leadership.
2. Listen to Each Other. This goes along with respecting each other, as you can’t really have one without the other. Don’t interrupt, let everyone speak if they wish, and hear what each person has to contribute. Too often we are so quick to get our point across that we don’t really listen to what the other person is saying. You can still have a heated debate, but debates are even more productive and more satisfying if you understand and appreciate what the other side is saying. You may even find that they have a valid argument. Your responses will be more effective and appropriate if you have really heard the other person’s point of view. Compromise is also a common outcome from listening to each side of the debate, which can foster positive chemistry for the board.
3. Follow Directions. The chemistry of the board relies solely on the actions of each of its members. When you are a member of the board, you have a fiduciary duty to the board and the rest of your owners. This means that you are obligated to act in the best interests of everyone, not just yourself. Further, as mentioned above, every board member is bound to act at the direction of a majority vote of the board. Individual board members who act outside of the direction of the board, whether unintentionally or intentionally, can not only negatively impact the chemistry of the board as a whole, but can also expose the association and the individual board member to liability. A “rogue” board member can stress the relationship of the board members and derail the business of the association. Board members need to be able to rely on one another to carry out the decisions of the board in order to function properly and efficiently.
4. Tell the Truth, No Matter How Much it Hurts. This one may seem self-evident, but unfortunately, this issue arises from time to time. As with any relationship, board members must be able to trust each other. In some associations, board members are handling million dollar or more budgets, and property values into the multi-millions. For almost all owners, their home is their single largest asset and the one they want to most fiercely protect. So, board members must be able to trust each other, and the owners must be able to trust the board as a whole. Whether it is an unpopular opinion, or information that is vital to a particular decision, board members must be confident and able to tell it all to their fellow board members. Board members need to keep in mind that they are running a business, and withholding information or undermining the work of the board by not contributing information can negatively affect how the board and the association operate.
5. Remember to Always Try to Have Fun. Although the above is all very serious, but I believe one of the most important things that a board can do to improve chemistry is to try to have fun while handling the hard business of the association. Enjoy your fellow board members, find something that you can appreciate about them and that you may have in common with them. Remember to stop and laugh at all of the crazy things that you come across in the business of running your association. We could write a best-selling book if each of us took the craziest story from our association and wrote it down. If you are positive in your approach as an individual board member, and your board has a positive approach toward your members, you will find that the tough decisions become a little bit easier.
Many people say that being on a board is a time-consuming, difficult and thankless second job. Yet the vast majority of owners who serve on their boards take that job seriously to make sure that the property and their members have the best community that is possible. If board members can foster positive chemistry on the board, it will make that second job enjoyable and productive. More importantly, it will make your community more marketable and a nicer place to live. Be sure your board can pass Chemistry 101!
Originally published in the Fall 2012 issue of Common Interest magazine.
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