New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021

HABITAT

BOARD OPERATIONS

HOW CO-OP/CONDO BOARDS OPERATE

Ask Mary: The Board-Manager Tie Is About More Than Chemistry

Mary Federico in Board Operations on October 8, 2021

New York City

Co-op and condo boards, property managers, trust.
Oct. 8, 2021

In the last eight years, our condo has been through three managing agents at two different property management companies. Things always start off OK, but at some point the relationship goes sour, and we part ways. We’re losing momentum and getting frustrated. What are some tips for creating and keeping a healthy partnership with our managing agent? – Fickle in Flushing

Dear Fickle:

Switching managing agents even once can be an exhausting experience for a board, and lack of continuity can be bad for the building. So it’s worth the effort to build a solid partnership with this important professional.

You don’t specify exactly how things have gone wrong, but there’s a vast body of knowledge on what makes these kinds of relationships run smoothly – or not. You may be surprised to know that a large percentage of interpersonal conflicts in work situations actually stem from disagreement or lack of clarity in three fundamental areas. Specifically: goals (what we want to do); roles (who does what); and procedures (how we do it). If you attend to those areas – and also do some basic trust-building – you’ll be well on your way to a productive partnership.

Shared goals. It starts here. Without agreement on goals, even conscientious boards and managing agents can end up working at cross-purposes. You’ll want to get the parties in sync on both overarching goals/priorities for your building and on specific goals for individual projects. Are you focused on facade repairs? Or do you want to get a head start on complying with the Climate Mobilization Act? Or get a delayed elevator project back on track? You might have non-project goals, such as improving relationships with residents. Whatever the case, you need to sort these out with the board first and then discuss with your managing agent.

Clear roles. Who will do what? Start with the big picture. How do you see the overall role of the managing agent? Is he helping you, or are you helping him? Is he your trusted adviser? The implementer of your detailed directives? Or something in between? On a tactical level, how are you dividing up ongoing responsibilities and project tasks? There’s no one right way, but there is a wrong way – and that’s to be unclear. Is no one managing the elevator project punch list? Are a board member and the managing agent both giving directions to the workers fixing that leak in the penthouse? Those are avoidable role problems.

Agreed-upon procedures. Even with shared goals and clear roles, you still need agreement on the how. Board members and managing agents with different backgrounds may have very different ideas on how to get work done. Again, there’s more than one effective way to manage the elevator project, deal with the plumbers, decide on bylaw changes or communicate with residents. Problems arise when your managing agent does it this way, and you would have preferred him or her to do it that way. If you have a specific how in mind – whatever it is – you need to clarify your expectations early and often.

Obviously, trust is a vital part of any ongoing partnership. That’s its own topic for a future advice column. But the message here is that having a productive working partnership with your managing agent is not primarily a matter of personality or chemistry. Instead, you can achieve it through attention to goals, roles and procedures. Effort spent on these three fundamental areas can have a bigger payoff than you might ever expect.

Mary Federico serves on the board of her 240-unit Upper West Side condominium. Through her consultancy, Organizational Behavior Strategies, she helps leaders use behavioral science to improve their organizations.

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