By Betsy Barbieux, CAM, CFCAM, CMCA / Published November 2022
It is common to have breakdowns in decision-making during our board meetings. Most board members only see a win-lose, right-wrong, one-dimensional option. But these breakdowns could provide opportunities to invent solutions. This skill is extremely valuable in decision-making.
Have you heard the story about the two little girls arguing over the orange? They finally decided to split the orange in two and share it. One child ate her half of the fruit and threw away the peel; the other kept the peel for a pie and threw away the fruit.
Each child could have had the “whole” of what they wanted, but they failed in the discussions to express what they really wanted. One wanted only the peel, while the other wanted only the fruit. If they had asked for help from an outsider (mom), she may have realized what the actual issue was and offered another option for them to consider.
People involved in strained decision-making rarely realize they need help. In a dispute, people usually believe they know the right answer—their point of view must prevail. Each board member likely believes his or her line of thought is reasonable and should be equally liked and adopted.
The following are major obstacles in decision making:
Brainstorming can help and is designed to produce as many ideas as possible to solve the problem or make the decision. The key ground rule is to postpone all criticism and evaluation of ideas. The group invents ideas without pausing to consider whether they are good or bad, realistic or unrealistic. Inhibitions and premature judgments (opinions) need to be removed for brainstorming to be meaningful. If those involved in the brainstorming are made to feel foolish for an idea they throw on the table, they won’t participate. Brainstorming should be like firecrackers going off—one idea after another. Unconventional ideas are okay. With all options on the table, board members can make a more informed decision, one that benefits the community and supports the mission statement. (Protect the property and its value, maintain the common elements/areas, and enforce the restrictions on the owners’ use rights).
It may be the decision involves parts of several options, not just one single idea or answer. Sometimes we get stuck with an “all-or-nothing” mentality like the two little girls arguing over the orange. If there had been more conversation and ideas presented, there could have been a win-win decision.
Thinking outside the “box” means to explore ideas that are creative and unusual and that are not limited or controlled by rules or tradition. It is a method of creative problem-solving that involves breaking out of the boundaries of the status quo. True, there are many Florida Statutes and Florida Administrative Code Rules and governing documents to consider, but that can come later.
Believing the problem is “theirs” is the same as saying, “My way, my idea is better than yours. If you were as smart as me, you’d see my way of thinking.” If anyone on the board or management team comes to a brainstorming session with this attitude, the session will be unproductive and not result in any new ideas being tossed onto the table.
With the real estate market slowing down; inflation remaining high; mortgage rates going up; and the amount of goods, materials, and supplies going down…boards and management teams will need to adapt to the inevitable assessment delinquencies and lien and mortgage foreclosures. Added to that are the requirements for milestone inspections, structural integrity reserve studies, and limitations on waiving/reducing reserves. In the Great Recession, our industry developed new thinking about collections and budgeting. During the pandemic, boards and management teams developed new ways to hold meetings and work remotely. We finally saw the need to “go paperless.”
So put your brainstorming hats on and get ready for what lies ahead. But before you do, consider these guidelines.
Define your purpose—Define what you would like to walk out of the meeting with.
Choose only a few participants—You can’t brainstorm with one or two, but 10 participants are probably too many. You need enough people to stimulate interaction but few enough so everyone can participate. This group can be made up of some board members, owners, and manager/staff members.
Change the environment—Hold your brainstorming sessions at a different place and different time than your usual meetings. Ditch the meeting formalities. All should be on a first-name basis.
Design an informal atmosphere—Be sure to minimize interruptions. Everyone should be committed to the sessions and should agree to not answer telephone calls or respond to emails during the sessions.
Choose a facilitator—Someone needs to keep the sessions on track, make sure everyone has a chance to speak, and enforce the rules for no criticism, judgments, or personal opinions or “yeah, buts.” Occasionally, an outside facilitator may be a better choice than one in the group. This facilitator can be more objective and doesn’t have any hidden personal agendas about your topic. As an outsider, this facilitator may even offer an observation or idea that no one in the group would ever present.
Appoint a recorder—A member of the group needs to volunteer to take notes. These are not minutes, just notes of ideas offered during the sessions. Poster paper is a great way for everyone to see the ideas without having to repeat them all the time.
Be sure to generate as many options as you can before you make the decision. You can formalize the decision by a vote at the next board meeting or staff meeting.
Betsy Barbieux, CAM, CFCAM, CMCA
Florida CAM Schools
Betsy Barbieux, CAM, CFCAM, CMCA, guides managers, board members, and service providers in handling daily operations of their communities while dealing with different communication styles, difficult personalities, and conflict. Effective communication and efficient management are her goals. Since 1999, Betsy has educated thousands of managers, directors, and service providers. She is your trainer for life! Betsy is the author of Boardmanship, a columnist in the Florida Community Association Journal, and a former member of the Regulatory Council for Community Association Managers. Subscribe to CAM MattersTM at www.youtube.com/c/cammatters. For more information, contact Betsy@FloridaCAMSchools.com, call (352) 326-8365, or visit www.FloridaCAMSchools.com.