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Getting Along, Getting it Done How Boards Can Build Consensus

Sometimes, just getting two people to agree on what to have for dinner or what movie to see on a Saturday night can seem like an overwhelming task. Now imagine trying to get five, seven or nine people to make million-dollar decisions that can affect hundreds, even thousands, of people. That’s the challenge that faces co-op and condominium boards each and every day.

There’s an art to building consensus among disparate members of a community. After all, the people elected to the board may come from a different backgrounds and different circumstances. They may have conflicting views on money or vendors or even what color the lobby or the clubhouse should be painted. Add to that the fact that some board members come to the table eager to make changes or perhaps pursue their own agendas, and the potential for disagreements becomes significant.

Working Toward Consensus

It takes hard work to create an environment conducive to open discussion and collegial debate, but with the right attitude and a willingness to listen, compromise and thinking about the big picture, board meetings can hum along smoothly.

“If one is trying to build consensus, the biggest challenge is that it takes time,” says Peter Glassman, executive director of Mediation Matters in Albany, New York. “For some people, that can be frustrating and become what appears to be gridlock.” Most successful boards require the right mix of personalities. “You need people with patience, an openness to having different views and a mutual understanding,” Glassman says. “First, seek to understand, and then to be understood.”

That understanding should include discussions of governance as well, says Myriam Laberge, MA, an International Association of Facilitators (IAF) certified professional facilitator with Vancouver’s Masterful Facilitation Institute. “As part of a board’s training, a couple of hours should be set aside to talk about what effective governance would look like,” she says. Boards should ask themselves, “If we were a highly successful board, what would we look like? What might support us in achieving what we want, and what might prevent us?” The discussion should not be driven by any one person. It should be a dialogue, she says. “Dialogues are conversations that help people learn together.”

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