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4 Tips to Simplify Decision-Making

Dear Mary:

When it comes to making complex decisions, our condo board’s discussions tend to go around in circles. Sometimes I’m not sure exactly what we’re deciding, or on what basis — and I’m president! We have an agenda, and we follow it. But that doesn’t seem to do the trick. Any tips for making these kinds of discussions run more smoothly?

—In Circles in Clinton


Dear In Circles:


Sounds like your meeting process might be a little looser than needed. Too much structure may feel unnecessary or stifling. But too little can prevent you from getting all members to contribute and commit to solid decisions. And no one benefits from discussions that go around in circles.


Try these four tips for bringing a bit more structure to how you approach this process:


Identify exactly what you’re deciding. Some decisions are straightforward and easy to describe. We need to pick a new uniform for the staff: Here are three choices. But others have multiple aspects to them. These require you to be very clear about what the board needs to decide. The roof is leaking; clearly you need to do something. You’re probably not asking members whether they want to act. But what are you asking? Maybe the approach (patch or replace?) is up for discussion. You might need to decide on timing (now or after the boiler project?). On the other hand, you may have no choice but to levy an assessment if you decide to replace, because your reserves won’t cover the cost. So that decision is already made. Be as clear as possible about what you’re asking members to do.


Provide supporting information in advance. Board members probably don’t need a lot of data to pick a uniform. But other decisions require weighing and prioritizing a series of pros and cons. In those cases, you need to provide data. You need to do that early enough for everyone to absorb the details and form their questions. And you should allocate time with the board — either during your monthly meeting or at a separate session — to deal with those questions. If you don’t, you may end up with some members contacting you individually for information that all of them need. That’s extremely inefficient. Worse, some members may simply make decisions with little or no data, which can lead to bad outcomes.


Put it on the agenda. An agenda topic for a simple decision could be: Discuss/decide on new staff uniforms. For a more complex decision, as in the example with the roof leak, you’ll likely address “discuss/decide” agenda items during separate meetings. The decide agenda item should be very specific: Decide on a.) whether we should patch or replace the roof, and b.) how to time this with other projects.


Summarize the result to ensure shared understanding. Meeting minutes should be explicit on what the board has decided. If you followed the steps above, the written summary of the decisions shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who participated. But don’t count on that; write it out. We decided to replace the roof and to work on it immediately, ahead of the boiler project. Because we’re doing a replacement, we’ll need an assessment. And don’t hold off on sending out the minutes for review. If there’s disagreement about what you really did decide, you need to know that sooner rather than later.


Clarify exactly what board members need to decide. Give them relevant data and time to absorb it. Bring everyone together to discuss. You’ll spend less time going in circles and more time making quality decisions.

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