The “Dream Team” label is often used to describe a perfect combination of highly-skilled people drawn together for a particular purpose. The 1992 U.S. mens' Olympic basketball team is probably the most famous example, but 'dream teams' have included everything from legal defense attorneys to diplomatic missions.
Like Pippin, Jordan, & Co., boards and their management professionals also work as a unit, collaborating to carry out the administrative duties and make the decisions that keep their communities humming along from day to day. If this partnership works well, the synergy between a management pro and volunteer board also has the makings of a dream team, keeping the condo or HOA community solvent, efficient and valuable.
It can never be overstated but teamwork is the key to any sort of cohesive endeavor, whether it is basketball or condo management. “The manager and the board are definitely a team,” says Andrea M. Sorgani, owner and president of ALMA Property Management Services, Inc. based in Schaumburg. “The manager needs to build a relationship with the board that fosters trust,” she says. “The manager should have all of the information needed to assist the board to make decisions that are sound, timely and fiscally prudent.” one of the manager’s primary functions is to provide the board all the tools needed for the directors to make a decision—and then to implement that decision.
Legendary basketball coach John Wooden was known for getting the best out of his players, even when he was criticizing one of them. “A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment,” the Wizard of Westwood once said. Managing a residential community requires similar leadership and diplomacy. “Ideally, we want the residents to come home and not even think about what’s going on,” says Jackie Abraham, CMCA, AMS, the director of portfolio management at FirstService Residential Illinois, a leading property management company in Chicago. “We don’t want them to think about how things are working. We just want them to know the property is well maintained, property values are well maintained, and business is in good shape.”
When that behind-the-scenes magic isn't there however, the residents feel the tension, the building or association suffers, and the community deteriorates. In other words, they lose. Think back to the 1970s New York Yankees—another good example of a seemingly unbeatable team. That glory-days lineup consisted of such greats as Bobby Murcer, Lou Piniella, Bucky Dent, Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson and Hall of Fame manager Billy Martin. However, in that Bronx Zoo clubhouse—on and off the field—players bickered openly and the on-air clash between Jackson and Martin was about as memorable as their victories during that era.
The relationships between board and management is not always smooth, says one manager. You have to factor in people’s goals and objectives and their personalities, he says.
Know Your Role
Dream teams don't just spring into existence out of nowhere, obviously. They have to be assembled, cultivated, and trained to do what they do so well. The '92 Olympic basketballers knew who was blocking who. They knew who could shoot from the outside and who was stronger under the net. Before your own team can be successful, every player needs to know what their roles and responsibilities are.
Establishing those expectations and guidelines is imperative, says Marcia Caruso, president of Caruso Management Group, Inc., based in Naperville. “You need to establish expectations early. The first 90 days are critical to discussing expectations,” she says, because sometimes what the board thought they heard and said can be completely different from what management thought they heard and what was actually said.
Taking the pulse of that relationship on a regular basis is also key. Every month, Caruso’s firm examines the management report from each building and also sits down every quarter with each building’s board “to find out which expectations are being met and not met,” Caruso says.
She also suggests routine discussions with managers, board members and vendors so that they can get all the major players “on the same page. Together, we can tell the vendor what we’re happy about and not happy about.” Once the board sees that the manager understands what they want and can anticipate that response, “pretty soon the board starts to trust your judgment,” Caruso says. “When I hear the board say they trust us to take care of something, then that’s a good thing.”
By the same token, it's also crucial for managers to know when they themselves should call for an assist. “The manager should know when their knowledge/experience is exceeded and then know to which professional an issue should be given,” Sorgani says.
No 'I' in Team
The theme of collaboration and cooperative problem-solving comes up again and again when you ask management pros about what makes a successful condo or HOA administrative body. “It’s us and them—we’re in this together,” says Abraham. “There should be no personal agendas, and there should be a good manager who is responsive to the board’s needs and who can guide them. But communication is key.”
Imagine if the 2013 Super Bowl champs, the Seattle Seahawks, had called no huddles during the game. It would've been a fiasco, with players scrambling, running into each other, or just standing still with no idea what to do next.
Same goes for running a condo. “There has to be strong communication and a lot of trust from the board,” says one veteran manager. “I have to remind boards that I’ve been engaged to manage their asset, and there is nothing I would consciously do that would not contribute to its successful operation. I have no reason to be a bad contractor; at the end of the day, it’s my name on the line.”
Marc Rodriguez is director of management services at Associa, a national management company with offices in Chicago, and he says that on his driving dream team, “We’re more in the background. We make the wheels turn and the association steers the car.”
Caruso agrees. “If something goes wrong,” she says, “the board needs to discuss it with me. Senior management staff need to be monitoring everything. If you don’t, things can get away from you so quickly. You have to stay on top of it.”
And that means encouraging boards to make good use of their manager's expertise before—not after—a major decision is made. According to Sorgani, “Many times the manager is the only one who knows that a policy will fail—but if their opinion was never sought before the policy was implemented. The manager does not need to be involved in all aspects of formulating a policy, but their input is invaluable in focusing the board toward a successful outcome.”
“When there isn’t a good board/management relationship, it’s evident in the disrepair of the property,” says Abraham. “Nobody responds to problems, and things don't get fixed. Those are signs of trouble, and it’s not what you want to see. It’s important for a board to have regular meetings and talk to the community members, and managers should be in on those type of communications as well.”
The More You Know...
To help managers cope with various on-the-job situations, companies keep up on training. “We keep them up-to-date on all the new changes,” says Diana McKay, owner of Executive Property Management in Homewood. “There are seminars here they go to and I go to a few workshops and bring back information so they are apprised.”
And speaking of seminars, The Chicagoland Cooperator’s Condo, HOA & Co-op Expo will have a full roster of seminars on tap at the Navy Pier Convention Center on October 28th from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The trade show, the largest of its kind in the Chicagoland area, is dedicated to connecting condo, HOA, co-op managers, board members, building owners and residents with the professionals and service providers their communities need. Seminar presenters include Associa, The Building Group, Advantage Management, DRF Trusted Property Solutions and Association Evaluation. The Chicagoland Cooperator will also host several seminars. All presentations are free for all attendees, and conclude with a Q&A session at the end to allow audience members to get direct feedback from panelists. Admission is free.
Keeping up on management training is vitally important, as all Chicagoland property managers who oversee community associations larger than 10 units must be licensed, pass an examination, and complete training and continuing education. Licensing rules took effect October 1, 2011, and unlicensed management activity is a misdemeanor for the first offense and a felony for subsequent offenses.
If a management/board relationship has fallen so far off course that it simply can't be salvaged, it may be time to make a trade. “If there is a lack of trust, or a fractured board with competing agendas, they will continue to undermine what the board or management is trying to do,” says Lozell, “and it leads to a bad situation. You want to get it back on track, but if that doesn’t happen, there’s a termination clause in every management contract, and the managing agent can be removed. There are three legs on the stool—company, supervisor and manager—and one or more can be replaced.”
Sometimes it’s best just to bring in some new blood to resuscitate the team. How big a change is needed depends on the situation. “Sometimes associations don’t realize that they don’t need to change the management company, they just need to change the manager,” says McKay, “and when they ask that, there’s no ifs, ands or buts. We don’t try to fit a round peg into a square hole. If a board is not happy with the manager, we make the change.”
“We talk, and see if we can improve the situation,” says Abraham. “But sometimes you just have to reassess and reassign the account to another manager. We’re all human beings, and not everyone clicks. Some work with each other and some don’t. We have different personalities, and that plays a huge part in the success of a relationship. If everyone gets along and likes each other it helps.”
Granted, it’s not the Olympics we’re talking about, and while you’re not going for a gold medal or a world championship in community administration, creating your own property management dream team can lead to a whole new level of success. Cultivating realistic expectations, prioritizing education and keeping up a steady flow of communication are the ingredients for a functional, respectful, productive relationship. “If you do that on regular basis,” says Caruso, “you’ll find that 98 percent of time people are satisfied.”
Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Chicagoland Cooperator.