Now and then I am called upon to attend strata meetings on behalf of lot owners, owners corporations or strata managers. Over the years, I have picked up a tip or two when it comes to the way in which an efficient strata meeting is run.
Noting that many strata managers are delegated the role of chairing their buildings’ meetings, the following 6 tips may come in handy:-
- Start on time
It seems obvious, but some buildings are better at it than others. Attendees for night meetings are usually coming from work and are eager to get home to their families and dinners. So are you. There is no reason for a meeting not to start on time, assuming you have turned up prepared and ready to roll. Make sure you do.
- Stick to the motion
This is a big one. I regularly see meetings travel off the rails because owners or their appointed proxies are either (a) speaking ad nauseam about an issue of personal importance to them and trying to sway the vote in their favour and/or (b) speaking about an issue entirely unrelated to the motion that is being put to the vote.
If you are chairing the meeting, it is your job to call the meeting to order and ensure motions are considered and resolved promptly. If it takes an hour to resolve one motion, it is because you have allowed that to happen. If you are not chairing the meeting but are attending as strata manager assisting, it would be appropriate to remind an inexperienced chairperson how to handle such a situation.
The most effective way I have seen this done is for a chairperson to announce at the beginning of a meeting that:
(a) the notice of meeting invited owners to raise all questions concerning items on the agenda with the strata manager/committee in writing prior to the meeting. As such, questions that have not previously been asked will not be addressed; and
(b) there is a 60 second time limit on those wishing to speak to motions (this may be extended subject to the number of people in attendance and/or the importance of the particular motion).
The chairperson should explain to the meeting why these procedural rules are being proposed: to ensure an efficient, enjoyable and effective meeting for everyone. The chairperson should also ask anyone who objects to the proposed procedure to say so. If there are no objections, or at least the majority supports the proposed procedure, it should be adopted and implemented during the course of the meeting.
When (inevitably) questions are raised and answers expected on the spot, you can refer directly back to that part of the notice of meting which invited questions, and regretfully inform the questioner that, because they did not raise their question earlier, unfortunately there is not time to answer it that evening. Of course, apply your discretion when implementing this strategy: if the question and answer are simple, there is no need to be obstructive for the sake of it. But it can be a great fall back for the manager caught unawares by a difficult question, or a question designed to ridicule or intimidate you.
As for the time limit, you will find that you have great support from the floor when you confidently announce that “time is up” and direct the speaker to sit down. You’re not the only one who is tired and hungry.
As always, prevention is better than cure, and the best way to ensure that discussion on a motion is short, sharp and efficient, is to ensure the wording of the motion is the same. Devote some time and thought to motion drafting (or encourage your committees to do so), to ensure that the content makes sense and that a “for” or “against” result delivers a clear determination. Some motions are drafted in such vague terms that they are impossible to either understand or resolve. There is no need for any chairperson to be placed in that position. If the motion has been requisitioned by a lot owner and, therefore, placed on the agenda in the exact form the lot owner has submitted it, say so. Invite that lot owner (if they are in attendance) to speak to the motion for 60 seconds and inform the meeting what their motion is designed to achieve. If they can’t do that successfully and the meeting does not understand the motion, it will fail. That’s not your problem. Remember – it’s not for you to take on the burdens of your owners.
- Have help on hand
The most efficient meetings I have attended are those run by a number of people. This may include yourself as strata manager, either chairing the meeting or assisting the chairperson who wants to give it a go; your assistant; and your company’s newest employee, who is learning the ropes but can assist by handing out, collecting and collating voting papers.
Many hands make light work, and it’s a great way for those less experienced to learn the ropes and develop their skills.
- Know your stuff
It might go without saying, but sadly I have attended far too many meetings where those chairing the meeting simply don’t have the know how to do it efficiently. Sitting on the board of an ASX listed company is a far cry from chairing a meeting which must be conducted in accordance with the unique and technical requirements of the Strata Schemes Management Act.
Make sure you are armed with a copy of the relevant legislation: the Strata Schemes Management Act and Regulations – even if only on your iPad or device. I always make sure I am: you never know when a curly question is coming and a reasonably thorough knowledge of the law will place you in good stead.
There are a few ‘must know’ items and if you aren’t on top of these, ask someone in your office who is to walk you through them before your next meeting:-
- the quorum rule
- what constitutes a valid proxy
- the effect of a lot owner being ‘unfinancial’
- what a ‘poll’ means
- how to calculate a special resolution
- how to read the building’s financial statements
- how the nomination and election of committee members works.
- Structure the meeting properly
Many strata managers are delegated the authority to settle the agenda for the meeting – or at least to draft it for the committee’s approval. When preparing an agenda (or ‘notice of meeting’), carefully consider the order of business. Perhaps some items should come before others: some people may only be attending the meeting for one item in particular. For example, if the committee has arranged for a lawyer to attend and address the meeting about a particular item, why should that wait until the end of a long meeting? The owners corporation shouldn’t be paying a lawyer to be there for 2 hours when the item could have been completed within 15 minutes.
It may also make for a more relaxed meeting all round if controversial items are dealt with first, lightening the atmosphere of the room once they are out of the way.
In my experience, the tendency seems to be for statutory motions (ie: those required by the legislation) to be dealt with first, with anything left over (which is usually the more controversial stuff that people want to get up on their soap boxes about) left until the end. It doesn’t have to be this way. If the meeting is being held at night with a start time of say, 6pm, people are going to be more alert, thoughtful, patient, and probably more reasonable earlier in the evening. By 8pm or 9pm, everyone is tired, hungry, hot (or cold) and has been stewing over their particular personal beef for two hours, ready to explode when their time comes. It doesn’t have to get to that.
- Confidently control the meeting
What happens when you’re chairing the meeting and someone stands up and says you’re wrong? Or challenges your position or decision? Always remember: “you are innocent until proven guilty”. Don’t take immediate offence to a challenge. An objection or a call for a point of order, is not necessarily a personal attack and you shouldn’t miss an opportunity to learn something new.
Ask the basis upon which the query or objection is grounded in law. For example, if someone suggests what you are doing is illegal or outside the power of a chairperson, owners corporation or committee, ask them why they take that position. Ask the person to give precise reasons. If they can’t, and having listened carefully, you are sure of your ground, then proceed. If you aren’t sure, the question may need to be referred for advice and, if that is the case, the motion can be withdrawn or deferred and put to the next meeting.
Confidence is key, and most strata managers I have seen chair meetings well are those who know their stuff and are confident in their positions. Undoubtedly, this comes with experience gained over time, but while you may not be in control of how quickly you gain your experience, you are certainly in control of your own education. Educate yourself. Read the relevant law. Ask questions. Watch those around you who are more senior and more experienced, and you will find your confidence builds with each meeting you attend.