The First Steps to Learn to be a Condo Board Member

New Board members are are a key to fighting apathy.  They come in full of energy, ready to change the Association for the better.  They know what they’re getting into, but how do you get to work?  This article is the first in a series targeted at helping Owners learn to be a Condo Board Member.  

Figure Out What the Association is Really Doing

You don't need to be Sherlock to figure things out, but you do need to be patient.
Sherlock Homes level skills aren’t needed to figure things out, but you do need to be patient.

You likely joined your Condo Association Board to make a big impact and do good things for your community.  You may even have some ideas of what you want to focus on – maybe it’s improving amenities or launching new Committees.  The first tip for new Condo Association Board members is to learn what the Association’s current priorities are.

This may be fairly obvious if the Association is transparent and good at communicating with Owners.  But the reality is that much of the real sausage making isn’t always going on in open session.  For example, your Board might be dealing with a legal battle with a neighbor.  There might be some critical funding discrepancies due to historic underfunding of reserves.  The Board could be trying to figure out how to move forward with a Special Assessment or Major Project and isn’t ready to make the plan public.  

These are just examples.  Much of being on a Board is dealing with the “must-do” tasks.  You need to get a strong grip on what these activities are.  Get copies of every report the Association has commissioned on whatever topics are hot priorities.  Talk to other Board members, Management, even vendors.  Make sure you are getting the information you need.  You cannot learn to be a Condo Board member if you can’t get the right information to do the job.  

Figure Out Who You Can Trust

Guess what.  In this case, you're Jon Snow.
Guess what. In this case, you’re Jon Snow.

Ideally, you’ll be joining a healthy Board full of helpful people.  The reality is you probably have different types of Board members on your Board.  Some are going to be more helpful than others.  Some may even outright lie to you.  You need to find out who’s trying to help you and who’s trying to hurt you.  Getting a handle on the personalities is probably the most important thing in order to learn to be a Condo Board Member.  

The same goes for Management.  You may already have a relationship with Management, but the dynamic changes once you’re on the Board.  As you transition from being an Owner to a Board member, now you’re the boss.  You can still be friendly, but you also need to be able to hold them accountable.  Make sure Management is helping you get up to speed.  If they are withholding information or being dodgy, file that mental note away.

Finally, if your Association has active committees, learn the personalities there.  At a minimum get to know the chairs of the Committees.  If you have the time, try to stop by an actual meeting and meet the Committee members too.  These are your most involved Owners – make sure they know you appreciate them.  

Learn How the Association Does Business

Take a few months to get an idea of what the flow of business is.  Does Management provide actionable information or does the Board have to requisition everything?  Which personalities dominate?  Are the Committees contributing value or are they dead weight?  How does the Board reach consensus?  Do Board members have active grudges against each other?

Remember the saying: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”  A great way to learn to be a Condo Board member is to simply spend some time observing.  You’ll likely be courted by all sides as a new member, but don’t rush to judgment or taking sides.  Get a good grasp of the players and issues before you rush in.  

Don’t Fire Before You Aim

Something's not quite right here...
Something’s not quite right here…

One of the worst things a new Board member can do is come in guns blazing, thinking they know everything.  You only get one chance to make a first impression, so make sure that impression is of someone who is thoughtful and deliberate, not one who talks before knowing the facts.  It’s ok to be patient and take time.  You probably have a two- or three-year term, so taking a few months to learn to be a Condo Board Member is well worth the investment.  


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