Passionate Agile Governance for HOAs

A year ago, I agreed to join the Board of our 16 member homeowner’s association that had been devilishly plagued by rancour for years over a member who was reluctant to comply with the 30 year old community covenants. They could afford a lawyer and tripled the size of their house and did a lot more I won’t mention. The then Board nearly depleted its funds hiring its own lawyer, angering its members who weren’t fully aware of this spending until last year’s meeting.

I wasn’t President straight away. But over the course of the year, the Board changed as people dropped off due to bitter emails about that as well as other matters. With the last resignation – this time the President, I knew this was an opportunity for me to bring something new and fresh. No one else wanted to be President.

So in February of this year, I became President. We still had the arduous task of getting the membership to approve the new covenants – and we had to negotiate and wordsmith the documents. We kept a nice balance between strict definitions (only on critical things like house size) and leaving many things open for reasonable discussion and decision by the architectural board. The last positive vote needed came in earlier this week. Thrilling! Next up was our community meeting which happened yesterday.

Earlier in the week, I drew a mind map to compare software development and governance to community development and governance. There was a lot in common. First you build something (houses or software). You envision what to build. You develop constraints, processes and governance. You approve or deny changes. You maintain documentation of some sort, usually not very well. Stakeholders overbuild, are not sure what their needs are and are not aligned with the structure, vision, or culture in place (or with each other). Both software and communities get really buggy (failures in code, cracks in street, homes needing repair, repainting, refactoring). People suffer.

Once I accepted all these similarities, I started to imagine I could bring much to this annual homeowner’s meeting, to maybe even start the healing process. Here is what I did and it worked.

Welcome: I told a very emotional story from years ago in the neighborhood. I expressed my hopes for healing and showed my vulnerability within the story.

Check-in : I let everyone say a few words about how they were feeling.

Facilitation: I ditched the dysfunctional Robert’s Rules protocol that past meetings used which had caused friction. Not everyone had had a voice. Many had felt it was unsafe to speak and stayed quiet. Others had raised voices and interrupted each other with frequency.

Expectations: I created meeting rules (active listening, cell phones away, no interrupting) and an agenda with Kanban post its. I moved topics throughout the meeting. The ‘discussing’ column allowed one Topic In Progress (TIP). Latecomers could see what had been covered and what was left in a glance at the wall. I wrote action items next to the Completed topics, if there were any.

Timebox: I kept the meeting on target. We’ve had 2.5 or 3 hour meetings in past years. We finished in 1.5 hours.

Venue: I changed the venue to just give us a new perspective: We used to hold them at a home, and there was drinking and food and banter. I did it at the local library. It worked just fine. Some complained, but most loved it. I wanted people to FEEL something different. Sometimes you have to change space to do that.

Closing: I let people choose from three options: Appreciations, 3 words to describe the meeting, or Pass.

I have never had so many appreciations. It felt so good. I think it was really more about the Opening, the Check In, and the Closing than anything else. The prior President who has been on many HOA boards and led many such meetings said: I’ve never been in any HOA meeting like that. It was so effective! Well done!

This isn’t a paid position, but even if it were, the only meaningful kind of payment you EVER get for connecting people is an inner satisfaction.

It is what I’m good at and I do enjoy it. And the community needed it. And received it. It was a win-win evening.


Explore posts in the same categories: Effective Meetings, Listening, Organizational Change, Teams

2 Comments on “Passionate Agile Governance for HOAs”

  1. I really enjoyed this post. Thanks for sharing. I’ve been thinking about how Agile practices can be used outside of IT within my company’s broader consulting practices. This is a great example that I plan to share.


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