Mastering Management Maximizing Cooperation and Partnership

Mastering Management

“Individual commitment to a group effort; that's what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”

Legendary Green Bay Packers football coach Vince Lombardi left condo boards and managers off his short list, but his wisdom about commitment and teamwork could certainly apply to boards and management companies.

According to experts, the most successful board/manager relationships cultivate when both parties have mutual trust and respect, with courteous communication among all individuals involved.

This process starts with a contract that identifies which individuals are responsible for each specific task throughout the building. For instance, the property manager must provide the board with information they need to make decisions; then the board must utilize this information and accomplish the appropriate staffing and financial goals for the building.

In any dependable relationship, the ingredients for success include establishing expectations, open communication, and honesty. “The best boards are the ones that trust the expertise of their chosen property manager,” says Christopher R. Berg, president of Independent Association Managers Inc., in Naperville.

“An ideal board/management partnership would be where both parties understand each other’s roles,” says Christine Evans, CMCA, PCAM, of Associa, and the past president and CEO of Vanguard Community Management in Schaumburg. “The board members, as a group, are decision makers, but they should rely on the manager for advice, guidance, and gathering facts. One of the big problems with boards, as well as managers, is that the board thinks they can just tell the manager what to do and the manager does it….but that can be fraught with issues.”

Meeting Expectations

A manager’s responsibility is to work as a team with the board. This means the board expects the manager to be accessible to members, talk to them about building concerns, and handle any and all concerns or emergencies.

“Because the management works under the direction of the board, and at the same time provides guidance, sometimes the fact that the board members are also homeowners can be a problem,” cautions Berg. “For the managers, it’s a professional situation; for the board, it’s a personal one. All too often, it is the personal emotions and challenges that get in the way of the professional management of the association.”

Remember, however, that there is no ‘I’ in team. No one is working alone. In every building, there are board members of different ages and personalities, like the fictitious Mr. G., a kind 61-year-old man who has been a resident and member of the association for 20 years. He knows the neighborhood, and has witnessed many board changes. He has held several positions, and is currently serving as treasurer. Always easy to reach, working with him is a pleasure. In another building, however, there is Mr. K., a hard-driving businessman, who is always late for meetings and maintains a gruff, somewhat unfriendly demeanor.

In yet another building, Mrs. Curry is a single, stay-at-home mom with three young children. She believes genuinely in the board’s cause, taking minutes at the meetings in addition to helping with organization and paperwork. Though, her speckled personality flashes between hot and cold, which proves challenging given that the board meetings often run long—over several hours—and are sometimes even tedious in nature. Working with her is problematic, not because she’s obstinate and argumentative, but due to the lack of time on her end, as she is typically in a rush to get back to her unit and continue responsibilities with her children.

Managing buildings or associations that are home to residents from varied backgrounds, language groups, and cultural perspectives means working with board members that can sometimes pose distinct challenges, too. A manager in an urban area might find him or herself speaking with a Japanese couple who just opened a restaurant in the condo building's commercial storefront, or board members in a predominately Hispanic community where Spanish is the language of choice.

“Right at the start, there should be a ‘getting acquainted’ meeting,” suggests Evans.

“Everybody’s time is at a premium, but it’s worth the time investment to get together with a board, sit down and talk about expectations. The manager could take that as an opportunity to tell them how they work and what the board can expect communication wise, and set the parameters for the relationship. If you liken it to dating, there’s a lot of similarity. You can be coaxed into the relationship, and then as it gets deeper and things start happening, you find out you’re really not a good match. If you set all of those parameters right at the get-go, and the board understands what the timelines and parameters that the manager usually works in, it all goes a lot smoother.”

Regardless of who is on the board, their personalities, or their languages, a manager must report to people who will analyze and comment on work and performance, make decisions, and prioritize certain tasks.

Though, relationships need not be one-sided. Board members have to work with management, too. The board needs to understand that answers may not come at 11:30 p.m. when the manager has settled down with the family after a long day. Calling at that time to ask a question isn’t respectful or productive; if the board needs to contact the manager off-hours, it should be by email…phone calls are for emergencies only.

Communication is Key

In every successful relationship, communication is vital. To work effectively, board members must be willing to communicate with each other, and with the manager. Often, good communication starts with listening, which aids understanding. Also, it helps if the board is able to stay focused, and present clear instructions for the manager.

“Communication is of utmost importance,” says Berg. “Since managers work for the board, and not the other way around, it is ultimately important that the board and the manager be in communication because, while the board makes the decisions, the managers are usually the ones acting them out. So without a trusting relationship and good communication, the process cannot succeed.”

“Communication is probably the most important thing, no matter what the subject is, and it’s extremely important so that management really does flourish and is successful,” says Evans. “If there isn’t good communication, there are going to be issues about who did what, who said what, and who was supposed to do what. I see so much time wasted on that sort of thing, and it’s not necessary if things are done correctly.”

“We are, as managers, the conduit between the board and the members of the association,” adds Dale Nusbaum, vice president of Hillcrest Property Management in Lombard. “It’s important that everyone is on the same page.”

In addition to communication, board members and property managers both recommend that board members increase their working knowledge of the building, which includes bylaws and documents, as well as city, state, and federal rules and laws.

Relationship Rifts

Boards and managers, like friends and spouses, sometimes bicker. Managers are not happy when members contact them about non-essentials during evening hours, or constantly harass them with minor concerns. Additionally, board officers can change each year, making it difficult for managers to adjust to a variety of styles and personalities. Some managers have to deal with board members who sit on the board in order to push their own agenda, and those who break the rules.

As always, there are various ways for boards and managers to get back on track if things have not been going smoothly. “If things aren’t going well, the board president and the property manager should have a one-on-one meeting,” says Berg. “That way, you can address issues without further damaging relationships. If the board is without communication with each other, then the president should have all of the input from the rest of the board members to have a beneficial discussion with management.”

“If things are not going smoothly, then call a meeting focused on that,” adds Evans. “People with issues will show up thinking ‘this is my time to address how this manager has not done well for me.’ You have to air the differences and get them on the table, address them, and deal with them.”

This setting naturally fosters better communication between board members and managers.

Whether trying to win the Super Bowl, to have a happy marriage, or to run a successful building, team work is vital to success. Have a plan of action of action, communicate well, and fix problems before they become unmanageable…then celebrate success.     

Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Chicagoland Cooperator. Staff writer Christy Smith-Sloman contributed to this article.

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