Meetings are a necessary component of homeowner association operations. The seating arrangement at HOA meetings is critical to a productive outcome. Foreign diplomats are particularly careful in choosing the shape of the table and who sits next to who since the slightest faux pas can have disastrous results. In King Arthur's day, meetings were held at a Round Table so that all could freely participate without the King dictating the debate or worse. (Swords, lances and maces were checked at the door).
There are lessons to be learned from this age-old experience that can be applied to homeowner associations. HOAs have both Board and Homeowner Meetings and both formats demand very different seating considerations.
Board meetings are designed to transact regular business for the care and welfare of often millions of dollars of community assets. As such, they should be held at places and times conducive to business. Meetings held in someone's home prove challenging.
At Home Board Meetings. Always remember that owners are entitled to attend Board meetings (as an audience, not participants in the discussion or voting). There should be adequate seating for a reasonable number of them. If meetings are held in tiny quarters with room only for the Board, guests are effectively shut out and the impression is that they aren't welcome. Seek the most spacious home available to accommodate both Board and guests.
Avoid using living rooms except for guest seating. It's very difficult to juggle papers or take notes while sitting in a Lazy Boy. Meetings should be held at a table large enough to spread out agendas, reports and other papers without having to continually shuffle the stack. If using a kitchen table, remove everything except meeting items. Turn off home and cell phones during the meeting since the ringing always disrupts the discussion and pulls someone away from the business at hand.
If there is a table head, the board president should sit there and direct the meeting. The head of the table is the historical place of authority and there is no reason to buck tradition. The secretary taking minutes should sit at the opposite end of the table so all directors can be more easily seen and heard. Guests should not sit at the meeting table since this is an invitation to actively participate in the business.
Avoid the temptation to have the Board face the guests as a "panel". This seating format also invites participation from the guests and makes it difficult for the Board to talk amongst itself.
Formal Board Meetings. Ideally, the Board should meet at a location that is designed for meetings. Basics include a large conference table, good lighting, bathrooms, temperature control and room for guests. If none exists in your association, seek out meeting rooms in area community centers, libraries and churches. They may be closer and cheaper than you think. There are a number of advantages to moving "out of the kitchen" into a formal meeting place. The distraction potential is enormously reduced: no phones, food, TV, kids, dogs and neighbors. The business meeting takes on a true "business" nature. Folks are less likely to linger in this environment or get into protracted discussions. As with home meetings, seating should be adequate for both Board and guests.
Annual HOA Meetings. These meetings should be carefully choreographed. Always hold them in a formal meeting facility large enough to accommodate all owners. Owners normally sit gallery style with the Board at a head table unless your group is small enough to fit around an Arthurian Round Table. Ideally, the head table should be "half moon" or "U" shape so all directors can see each other as well as the audience. Avoid having the Board sit panel style unless the meeting is intended to be a question and answer session with directors on the "firing line". Make sure to have a proper sound system if the room requires it.
Meeting seating is critical when it comes to getting things accomplished efficiently. Set your sites for successful meetings and, don't forget to check your swords at the door.
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