Working with Difficult Board Members

Jason Roblin
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We’ve all been there. Sitting around the boardroom table, trying to hold back a yawn while the discussion all of a sudden turns from what you thought was an ordinary, ho-hum motion to a heated discussion.

There are many challenges that people are faced with when serving on a board of directors for a condominum development, profit or non-profit organization. One of which is dealing with different personalities and differing opinions.

We’re taught at a young age that it takes all kinds of people to make the world go around and that we need to look for each other’s strengths when we don’t see eye-to-eye on a particular topic. Regardless of whether you are two or fifty-two, you need to play nice in the sandbox.

It’s important to keep in mind that when you’re a member of board that the position you take should be in the best interest of the organization and that you must treat other members with respect.

The world however, isn’t always perfect and you may find yourself in need of some help in dealing with someone who is being difficult. If you have the opportunity to smooth the waters during the meeting, try the following:

  • Remind everyone at the meeting that all board members/directors are working towards the same goals. Every member is needed to play an active and positive role in helping the organization to move forward.
  • If there is a particular board member that is difficult to reason with, remind them that they were recruited for their specific attributes and they are a valuable asset to the board.
  • Approach each meeting with a specific, desired outcome. For example, if a board member is continually taking the meetings off topic and wasting time on items that are not on the agenda, the desired outcome would be to correct the behavior by keeping the discussions on topic. If a board member is bullying one or more members of the board, the desired result would be to have that board member be respectful to all members on the board.

Outside of the meeting, there are other ways to help improve the situation and make the meetings run more efficiently and amicably.

  • Set up a casual meeting or coffee date with the person that exhibits disruptive behaviour. While it can sometimes be difficult, attempt to provide constructive criticism with factual information as to why you believe the actions or comments of this particular board member are counterproductive to the board’s mandate. Specific examples relating to the time and place should be referenced if possible.
  • If constructive criticism is not an option, attempt to explain how the action or behaviour of the board member has become a distraction from the mission and goals of the organization.
  • Implement an evaluation process where each board member anonymously evaluates each other, as well as the chairperson. Provide feedback to the board members to help them improve their contributions to the board. Feel free to invite an unbiased outside party to help facilitate the evaluation and summary of the results.
  • There is usually more than meets the eye – seek to understand why a difficult board member is acting a certain way, especially if it is outside of their historical conduct.
  • Raise your concerns with the chairperson of the board and enlist their help to improve te flow of the meeting and relations among board members.