Collaborative Decision Making

Association Boards and Managers must strive to meet the needs of the entire membership. Unfortunately, within this process, the Board and the Manager rarely please everyone. However, engaging in a proactive and collaborative decision making process can reduce or even eliminate conflicts within the association.  At the very least, the membership will understand and be a part of the process and this leads to a positive outcome for everyone involved.

A Three Step Process: (1) The Board must establish the objective or goal (2) The Board must explain it’s obligation to address the issue to the membership (3) Obtain input and/or approval from the membership

The Board must establish the objective or goal:  The Board establishing the objective may seem like the easy part of the task, but this step can be the most crucial.  Unclear or overly ambitious objectives can undermine the process. For example, a statement that the objective of the association is to repair all the mailboxes in the association.  What does this mean?  Paint? Replace certain mailboxes?  Or, if the objective is too ambitious and exceeds a Board’s mandate: For example, if the mailboxes need to be replaced and, instead of obtaining the same or equivalent mailboxes, the Board plans to obtain mailboxes that cost three times what the current mailboxes would cost to replace.

The Board must explain it’s role or obligation to address the issue to the membership: Depending upon the issue at hand, it may have to be addressed as mandated by the association’s governing documents.  For example, building a swimming pool, when there was no

swimming pool originally in the association, would call into question the Board’s mandate for such a project.  However, if the clubhouse roof needs to be replaced, the association’s governing documents always give the Board the authority to repair or maintain.

Obtain input and/or approval from the membership:  Developing a support base within the membership can be a slow and methodical process, but is necessary.  It goes without saying, that the Board should not expect everyone in the membership to support every decision and that is why it is crucial to develop a membership support base.  All too often the Board and concerned members assume that everyone in the membership will support an issue, especially when it is obviously a critical one.  For instance, a sink hole swallowed the front entrance of an association and a small group in the membership felt the front entrance should not be repaired and that everyone should just begin using the back entrance.   Another example is an association’s clubhouse and pool, because of erosion, was in danger of falling into the surrounding lake.  A group in that membership began making the argument they did not use the pool or clubhouse so why should they have to pay to fix the erosion problem.

Communication of the overall issue at hand is the first step to developing a support base.  Holding back or trying to put a spin on an issue can cause confusion and mistrust.  Be sure to explain the benefits or needs.  As for the example given above regarding the sinking clubhouse and pool, this item affects each individual member’s home value.  Most issues are not this extreme, but home values are at the heart of most association issues and this point can be stressed to great affect.  Explaining what happens if nothing is done will often not have the same effect as pointing out the benefits of having an issue resolved.

Preach to the center: All too often we focus on the small minority who feel a viable solution is letting a clubhouse sink into a lake.  This does not mean ignore or disrespect that group, but spending a great deal of energy convincing that group of the needs of the association may be better spent towards the majority in the membership.

Communicating the issue to build the support base is generally accomplished by mailings, meetings and door to door canvassing.

Mailings can take many forms, from letters with outright appeals to surveys to gauge if there is any support for an issue.  If the issue is controversial, a survey to test the waters is always best.  People in general, and this goes for any association membership, do not like to feel that an issue is being forced upon them.  A survey can help inform and can also defuse.  In the instances where an outright appeal letter must be sent, it needs to be constructed in such a way as to inform while also conveying the urgency of the matter.

Membership meetings take several forms.  While informal informational meetings are a great way to build support in a relaxed atmosphere, depending on the nature of the issue, formal meetings are best left to the latter stages of approval after support has gained momentum.

Door to door canvassing can be appropriate at any stage and is a great way to build support on a personal basis.  Members generally appreciate this approach and it is a great way to address concerns in a more relaxed manner.  Generally the only drawback with this approach is the time it requires to accomplish.  Many times this approach is taken after an initial mailing or meeting to solidify support.