Good governance is the cornerstone of a healthy organization, whether that's a business, building, or in the case of a condo or co-op, both. But it's not easily measurable, and defining good governance isn't just about whether meetings happened and rules were enforced.
Think of governance like the management at a restaurant: when things are managed well, you are friendly with your server and may not even think about what's happening in the kitchen. But when things go wrong? You might get irritated with your server and start noticing the other backed up orders—or grease fire—in the kitchen. You'll probably be less willing to tip, or unlikely to return entirely. As a result, that restaurant suffers financially.
Just like bad service, when a building isn't governed well, it's much more obvious. It can set the scene for financial troubles as well as unpleasant tension between the board and the management company or other owners. One only need to look at the recent collapse of the condo in Florida to grasp the potential consequences of a poorly functioning board. Good governance is harder to spot because when things are managed well, you should be focused on enjoying your time in the building. This can make good governance harder to identify and define. But even if there is no one playbook, it shouldn't be a mystery.
Set a baseline
Owners and board members must first understand the responsibilities of a building board member. This forms the baseline of expectations for what board members are responsible for overseeing and managing. At minimum, this includes:
Make a communication plan
Regular communication from the building to owners and residents can not only increase the understanding of the status of the building and project progress or plans, it can help avoid feelings of concealment or surprise. With everything else board members must do to keep a building operating, communicating what's going on to the rest of the building can sometimes take a backseat. Our advice? Don't let it become an afterthought. Meeting minutes are a good start but often lack context or consistency in how they are shared. Commit to a plan for what you'll communicate to owners, the frequency, and how you'll share potential problems or flags.
Think beyond the next fiscal year
While a board seat is typically a 1-2 year commitment, a building will have a lifespan many years longer than that. With the amount of work it takes to manage a building day-to-day, it's easy to get caught on triage and on what you can accomplish during your term. But setting aside time for the board to focus on strategic planning can make the difference between a planned project and an urgent assessment. Carve out time for the board to convene on key long-term topics: health of key elements, future projects, new potential revenue streams. Not only will this provide the building with forward-looking maintenance plans and guide more realistic budgeting, it makes it harder to kick the can down the road on a problem.
It sounds simple, but most boards will tell you: pretty much everything is in paper or somewhere in their personal email inboxes. An important task can get buried in an email string, or a departing board member can take a lot of historical knowledge and documentation with them. Don't leave your building's important information and paper trail to chance. You might need it in the case of a future lawsuit, warranty claim, or project. Find good software to centralize your communications and documentation (have you heard of Super?) so that all of your assigned tasks, bylaws, house rules, contact lists, meeting minutes, voting records, etc. are easily available to you and future board members and owners.
Align on accountability
Building board members are volunteers that commit their personal time to governing their building, meaning they likely have day jobs and other things going on in their day-to-day life. Things can get lost in the shuffle or an action item can get pushed out from one month to the next. To keep everyone accountable, define board expectations on how the work is divided, assigned, prioritized, and completed. Set realistic timelines, and hold each other accountable to them.
Serving on a building board can be a thankless, tiring gig. But it can also be extremely rewarding—with a lasting legacy—that makes a huge impact on the health of a building. Getting in sync on expectations and taking time to think beyond the next meeting are ways boards can strive for better governance.
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