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"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity..." – Charles Dickens

I know of two condominium directors currently sitting on their respective Boards who are having very different experiences. Neither condominium community is fraught with turmoil – in fact, both appear to be fairly “normal” condominiums, conducting the typical business and addressing the usual types of issues in the standard course of their operation with the assistance of reputable property management.

While both directors volunteer their time to serve their respective communities, the commitment required of each could not be more different.

One director is required to attend to the occasional e-mail exchange between Board meetings. His regular commitment is limited to attending monthly Board meetings which typically last for not much longer than one hour. This director takes it upon himself to attend community social gatherings and to contribute to his condominium’s quarterly newsletter but, for the most part, he finds the volunteer commitment to be quite manageable to fit into a schedule that includes full time employment, parenthood and taking on other volunteer responsibilities.

The other director is required to invest significant time in carrying out much of the same duties. Long strings of e-mail are exchanged on a daily basis amongst directors and with property management. Monthly Board meetings typically last in excess of 4 hours! The overall expectation of the volunteer directors in the community appears to be much more intense. It would be impossible for this director to also squeeze into his schedule the additional extra-curricular activities and responsibilities of the other.

While the contrasting experiences of the two condominium directors serves to highlight the fact that every condominium community is different, the significant commitment required of the second director mentioned warrants some reflection as to what is reasonable to ask of volunteers. Particularly as business can only be conducted at duly constituted Board meetings, which take place monthly in this case, is it fair to expect daily exchanges?

In reflecting upon the contrasting director experiences, together with my own observations working with and on Boards over the years, it seems to me that the average director experience falls somewhere in the middle and that many condominium Boards could benefit from considering the following to ensure that they are being reasonable and functioning effectively:

1. How Long Is Too Long To Meet? All meetings have a natural expiration after which they fail to effectively accomplish anything. If your meeting is regularly exceeding its natural course, it may be worthwhile to consider why. Are participants attending unprepared? Are they perhaps hesitant to make decisions? If it is simply a matter of the number of items on the agenda being difficult to get through in a reasonable period of time, consider if meetings should take place more frequently, with smaller agendas. Or perhaps forming committees to focus on particular items, provide additional information to equip the Board to make informed decisions and offer recommendations to help. Overly long meetings can be draining and frustrating; they risk fostering Board level conflict that can lead to in-fighting or feelings of ill will between directors, which is not in the best interest of the overall community.

2. Is Everyone On the Same Page? Actor Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson rose to fame in the world of professional wrestling in the late 1990s with the catchphrase “Know Your Role and Shut Your Mouth”. This sentiment can apply to help some condominiums. While many communities have the luxury of one or more directors being available to assist with day-to-day operations, there is also a risk that they may get in the way of property management and others servicing the community.  Micromanaging or taking on duties beyond that of a director risks complicating rather than complementing the work of others.

The roles of the Board and property management are distinct. While “hands on Boards” may be very effective in some communities, in others they can be their own worst enemy – creating more issues than they help address.  It may be that directors do not truly understand how they fit into the operation of a condominium or that they are unsure how best to go about addressing particular concerns. Director education is a potential answer, as is preparing some form of organizational flow chart to help everyone understand where they fit in. Inefficiencies emerge when people who should be working together find themselves moving in different directions, relying on assumptions or misunderstandings surrounding what others are doing (or trying to do).

3. Are You Making the Most of Your Resources? Each condominium community has a different set of resources available to it. The professional backgrounds, values and mindsets of those who make up the pool of available directors, number of willing volunteers and political climate of the community all impact what a condominium corporation can reasonably expect to accomplish. Assessing the resources that you have and strategically putting them to use for the benefit of the community as a whole is a good way to set yourself up for success. If you have someone with time on their hands, consider ways that you can use that time to work in a manner that does not overstep boundaries and allows that person to make a valuable contribution to the community. If someone else has other commitments to juggle, consider what is reasonable to expect of them and check in to create an environment where they do not feel like they are always catching up but rather also making an effective contribution in the time that they are able to put in. Condominium by-laws often set out the minimal time commitment required of directors – and provisions for the removal of a director who fails to meet such (i.e. missing 3 meetings in a year). A director who participates, but is not as available as others, can still be an asset to the condominium.

Rarely are all members of the Board alike. In fact, the most successful Boards leverage their differences to consider various perspectives and make informed decisions that best serve the community as a whole. Celebrating differences and working together to align the efforts, expectations and goals of those serving the community can best ensure that you are set up to succeed.

By Marc Bhalla - May 2015
Hons. B.A., Q. Med. - Mediator and Senior Clerk

Ext:  811
Email:  mbhalla@elia.org 
Toll-Free:  1-866-446-0811  
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All of the information contained in this article is of a general nature for informational purposes only, and is not intended to represent the definitive opinion of the firm of Elia Associates on any particular matter. Although every effort is made to ensure that the information contained in this newsletter is accurate and up-to-date, the reader should not act upon it without obtaining appropriate professional advice and assistance.

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