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Full Stomach Syndrome

We have a board that has trouble meeting.

Not a troubled meeting. Not troubles at meetings. But trouble getting together. Coordinating schedules. Sitting down and talking.

It’s not that we don’t like meeting. It’s just that we’re all very busy. “I can meet on Monday or Tuesday,” wrote one. “I can meet on alternate Wednesdays,” wrote another. “I’m available any night except Friday, Saturday, or Sunday – and not this Tuesday or Wednesday,” wrote a third (translation: “I’m available on Monday or Thursday”).

It wasn’t always like this. When I first joined the board, back in the Paleolithic Age, meetings were held at 8 P.M. and invariably went on for hours. We schmoozed, we joked, we did business, and before we knew it, it was 11 P.M., and although we didn’t seem to have a lot of agenda items, the meetings always took much longer than expected.

It is what I like to call the “Full Stomach Syndrome” (FSS). Unlike “Big Stomach Syndrome” (or BSS, which is what people who like to eat often encounter), FSS occurs after people have eaten a meal. They feel relaxed and comfortable, laid back, and ready to chat. Now, I thought, I could see the effects of FSS on our board. That, combined with my years of reporting on real estate topics for Habitat, gave me an insight into what was happening. Our collective FSS made us too relaxed to run an efficient meeting. I therefore suggested that we meet before dinner because we would all be hungry and get through the meetings much more quickly. It being after 11 when we talked about this, everyone was tired and agreed to the idea. Shorter meetings? What a concept!

So for our next gathering, we met at 6:30 P.M. Sure enough, hungry people make for a fast meeting. We whipped through that agenda like an express train to Dinner Town. We passed motions with a minimum of discussion, assigned tasks without debate, and were crisply efficient in our talk. Point, counterpoint, game over.

It couldn’t last, however. New boards bring new ideas. After five years, I was paroled, and a new president with a different approach was elected. He had never heard of FSS; he was more of an advocate for TANINBA (the “Talk All Night If Need Be Approach”). This, of course, meant meeting after dinner – and he complicated matters by serving dessert at the gatherings (leading, after a while, to BSS).

I eventually returned to the board, and although I urged my fellow directors to change the meeting time, they were reluctant to do so because the managing agent couldn’t meet earlier than 8 P.M. But this situation soon changed after we fired our agent for forgetting to pay our taxes (among other lapses). We took over the running of the building (after all, we only have 22 units – how hard can that be?) and, to get up to speed, met once a week at 7 in the morning before work. Yes, 7 A.M.

If you want to find a definition for efficiency, try meeting before work. That’s the no-nonsense experience to the max.

Alas, like all good things, this approach burned out before its time. Soon, board members were having babies, jobs were requiring earlier hours, and the early morning meetings became impractical. Eventually, meetings at any time became impractical, as the members could rarely find times that worked in common. As one director wrote, with clear exasperation: “The board needs to make a serious effort to meet and discuss our next steps. The fact that this board has such a difficult time meeting is frankly unacceptable.”

You might as well curse the darkness. I recently got the call every homeowner dreads receiving. “A pipe burst,” the super told me. “The basement is being flooded.” Even worse: the water shut-off for this particular piece of piping was in a commercial space that was sealed off by an electronically controlled gate. And because of the flood, there was no electricity. Even more worrisome, the super had noticed a frayed Con Ed gas connection. “I’ve got to get Con Ed out here,” he said ominously, “before the building blows up.”

E-mails were flying for a day or two. But getting the board to meet? It would be easier to get the four Beatles to reunite.

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