Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Refreshing our vision

I have started some short-term support for a local organisation which has been through a bit of turbulence with its board of trustees.  Others have got involved in the disputes and it seems as if it were quite unpleasant for some time.  The remaining board members seem a bit shell-shocked and tentative.  Do they really know what they are doing?  How can they stop this sort of thing happening again?  Haven't they got better things to do with their evenings and weekends?

I like my first meeting to end on an upbeat note and with actions.  I am fairly confident about thinking on my feet and seeing a way forward after an hour talking through the issues.  I have been doing this sort of thing for quite a long time.  In this instance I am an outsider and it was easy to see that this was a well-run organisation which just needed a refresh.  A bit like hitting the refresh button on your internet browser.  Rather than looking at the webpage from when you last looked at it, you are looking at the webpage as it is now.  This board needs to see their organisation as they are now not how they were when the battle was raging.

Rather than focus on the problems I asked them what they did best - what really worked well?  Their shoulders relaxed and they smiled - how good it was to be talking about what they did well rather than focus problems.  They organise a series of events over the year and seem to do this very well.  One which they are particularly proud of has a real community focus.  They were beginning to think that to make it work better they might need to commercialise it.  I suggested if the good thing was the community element then they should work on making this element bigger and better.  Capitalise on what works well and do more of that.

It is so easy to be mired in the past, in unhealthy situations and in identifying problems. The focus on problems can depress us and sap our energy.  We do not need to ignore problem areas but we do need to move forward doing things that come easy to us, that bring us joy and that use the talents that we have rather than those that we don't.  Small voluntary and community organisations such as local faith communities cannot be all things to all people.  By focusing our energies on our current resources - people, things and money - we can create something that works well enough.  If we feel that we are being successful then we are spurred on to do even more.

Monday, August 15, 2011

How do you counter absence?

I am currently volunteering at the new community centre down the road.  I am helping with events.  However I sit on the Development Group as I am chair of the Events Team and then get involved in governance although this is not my role.  They are setting up the governance arrangements and I have been slightly concerned with the lack of clarity.  So I have spoken to the governance lead and written a paper.  This was seemingly ignored as the original proposal was sent out again saying that it needed agreeing at the next meeting.  So I sent the paper to all group members - to help the debate.  In my view they needed to be aware of all the options that have been discussed.  

My problem is that I think I am 'working' with someone who sees this as a some kind of battle between people rather than as a process to get the right structure and process in place - irrespective of who first said what and how.  I know it's a personality thing and I recognise how this person may have problems with my approach (or perhaps me!).  I am not sure that this person recognises this or that I might have problems with their approach.  Perhaps they think it's OK to ignore people as a means of expediting what they want to happen.

It is very difficult to counter absence - an absence of response, an absence round the table (the person has said that they won't be at tonight's meeting) or an absence of respect.  The problem can then be that the person present becomes the one under the spotlight.  I remember, when doing my social work training, that the community work lecturer who was very boring, told us that the attendance at his lectures was not good enough and that there would be consequences - we did point out to him that he was talking to those who were there who weren't the problem.  He faced the same dilemma - how do you counter absence?  

Sins of omission are so much harder to identify than sins of commission.  And yet omission can be just as harmful and hurtful.  I struggle every time I am in a situation like this.  My reaction tends to be to try to be as honest and as open as I can without any emotional language or blaming.  In some circumstances that can be difficult, for example if you describe a situation where you have constantly tried to contact someone and they haven't responded it seems fairly clear where the breakdown of communications is.  However we do not know if someone is not connecting with us what the problems may be.  So I aim for openness and honesty and a focus on the goal.  What am I trying to achieve - in this instance it's using my skills to make our community centre work more effectively.  

I often have anxious times about such things - I know that if people are more emotional about 'business' than I am that they will react more emotionally to any communication.  Hence I try to focus on what needs to be said in plain language and hope that someone somewhere will appreciate that I am trying to do the right thing.  

Such experiences lead us to recognise that whenever we work with people we enter a minefield of personalities and approaches, ours included. Someone else's absence has to be countered by our own presence albeit a more considered presence.  If we focus on the task in hand and our own behaviour then we can feel that at the very least we have done ourselves justice.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Finding free solutions for communicating

I was working with a voluntary organisation last night - they have been talking about developing a piece of land for many years and I work for a mentoring scheme to help chief officers and boards helping them to move forward.  This is a small community group with very big aspirations - the two main people involved have high levels of skill and motivation and are eager to learn.  I am not sure that they would agree that I have been mentoring them - bullying may be a more accurate description.  

Essentially my line has been - something has to happen, the talking has to stop and local people need to see a change.  And whilst I am being paid by the hour I don't want to drag this on and on - then I would become part of the problem.  I don't just talk I also do - so I have drafted a business plan - populated some of it with information that they have given me but left the rest blank.  And last night I was offering advice about websites, domain names and e-newsletters.  Whilst I was there they paid to have a domain name for a year - so much better to come away from a meeting knowing that something has been achieved.

They have already set up a website using WordPress and can now have their own domain name linked to this.  They can also have some email addresses specifically for their work for the organisation, which means that they can set up a PayPal account and when they do a press release very soon they can advertise that they can accept donations via PayPal.  This can all be linked to their Facebook page and they are thinking about creating an e-newsletter using MailChimp.

The person taking all the e-communications forward is 61, just a little older than me.  So we cannot say - this sort of stuff is for young people.  We do have to engage with the electronic age if we want to take our message out into the world.  It can be time-intensive to set these things up and to manage them but most of what I do with regard to website and e-communications is free or very low cost.

Of course we have to remember that may people in our communities are not connected to the internet and don't not have a computer, neither do they want one.  So decide how you will connect with these people both providing them with information but also finding ways to get their views expressed and how they can contribute articles or comments on your communications.  Communication is intended to be two-way.

It is a challenge but it is a real pleasure when people tell you how much they appreciate receiving a communication in whatever format.