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Making the Most of Board Member Transitions
Minimizing Downtime Onboarding Newly Elected Board Members
By Salim Dharssi | Other articles by Salim Dharssi
Do you remember your first experience as a condominium Board Director? Mine is still fresh in mind. I was added into email chains mid thread and before my first Board meeting, I received a package of seemingly random documents with an agenda and previous draft minutes. It took me several meetings to get up to speed on the building's operations and ongoing maintenance work. It took several more to fully appreciate the larger projects that were in the works or on the horizon.
Several months passed before I was able to meaningfully contribute. I thought to myself, could this time have been better used?
Boards have a tremendous obligation – they are responsible for managing the affairs of their condominium corporation (Condominium Act, s. 27(1)). When Boards are not at full strength, they fail to make the most of their resources. When they are understaffed, Boards have fewer people to plan projects, deal with resident incidents, work on committees, and oversee their property manager and other staff.
Being shorthanded makes it harder for boards to meet objectives, including completing maintenance and improvement work on time and on budget.
Board composition turns over frequently. One or more seat on a condominium Board will turnover each year. It's not uncommon for entire boards to turn over completely every three years. Some Boards will have Directors volunteering and being elected to serve multiple terms. This continuity helps, but it doesn't eliminate the fact that other new Board members will come and go regularly over time.
If condo Boards can get newly elected or appointed Board members up to speed more quickly, they will benefit from being able to get more work done and at a higher quality level.
Here are three techniques that Boards and property managers can use to get newly elected or appointed up to speed quickly:
1. Document Your Project Plans
Large projects consume a good chunk of each Board member's time. Board members spend time planning projects including determining the objective of a project, its scope, the planned timeline for beginning and completing a project, key milestones that need to be completed and a budget for each stage. Some projects may be high priority, while others will be medium or low. Some projects will be in the planning stage for several weeks or months, while others will be in-progress, completed or inactive for future reconsideration.
Without a documented project plan, a newly elected Board member has no choice but to piece together the plan for and status of ongoing projects from multiple incomplete sources. These are mid-stream email threads, past meeting minutes and file attachments. Even with full access to these records, is it possible to piece together the entire plan?
Now consider that newly elected Board member's experience if they were able to review documented project plans. They would easily be able to see what stage each project was in, what was recently completed and what is on the horizon. The new Board member would find it easy to get up to speed by reviewing the details and status of each project.
Another benefit of documenting project plans is that a Board is then able to link documents that relate to each project, to its corresponding plan. These documents could be engineering reports, quotes, and invoices. When done correctly, the project plan not only turns into a one-stop shop for getting newly elected Board members up to speed on large projects, but is also a handy reference for all Board members and their property manager.
2. Provide Mentorship to New Board Members
Board member terms are staggered to make sure that in every Board there will be at least one or two directors who remain on the Board from the previous year. Moreover, some Boards will have directors with many years of previous Board experience – whether from the for-profit or other notfor- profit organizations. Other Boards may have directors who have served for multiple terms (i.e., 6+ years).
These more experienced board members are invaluable resources because not only will they have a wealth of knowledge about their building's operations and history, but they have a lot of Board governance experience. This experience equips these board members to run their Boards efficiently and effectively.
To get newly elected or appointed Board members up to speed more quickly, the existing Board members with more experience can mentor the newly elected or appointed Board members. The mentorship doesn't have to be too time consuming and only needs to continue for the first 3-6 months of the new board member's term. Mentorship can be as simple as scheduling weekly or biweekly chats over coffee or Zoom.
Mentorship will give the newly elected Board member a chance to ask questions and learn from the more experienced Board member, so that they can contribute more quickly than if they didn't have time with their mentors.
3. Establish Committees for Smoother Transitions
Boards can't manage their condominiums alone. They are part-time volunteers who have lives outside of their board duties. Depending on their condominium's size and its amenities, boards will hire a variety of on-site staff including cleaners, superintendents, front desk concierges, security guards, and property managers.
Condominium Boards may also form committees that are comprised of other owners and residents. Committees give Boards extra sets of hands for projects or other work that requires substantial planning or attention to detail. Common committees include finance committees, design committees, and special project committees.
Usually at least one director from the Board will join each Committee, usually as the Chair. This keeps a line of communication open between the Committees and the Board to ensure the Committee work is consistent with the Board's needs and that work results flow back to the board.
Committees are an excellent source of knowledge for newly elected Board members. Newly elected or appointed Board members can meet with Committee members to get caught up on the Committees' activities. Non-Board Committee members have less overall responsibility for their condominium as compared to Committee members who are on their Board. So, the non-Board Committee members likely have more time to spend with new Board members. After being elected to the Board, new Board members can also join each of their condo Committees' next regular meeting to learn about their mandate and work activity.
By forming committees, condominium Boards can get new directors up to speed more quickly by giving them more sources of information.
Condominium Boards that document their project plans, provide mentorship and form committees will minimize downtime when they are onboarding newly elected Board members. Boards that get their new members up to speed more quickly will see higher overall productivity. This directly benefits owners and residents living in their community because improved productivity improves the chance that maintenance and improvement work will get done on time and on budget.