I had an interesting experience today.  I attended a local “Community Conversation” meeting as a web/database technical liaison/expert .  The groups attending were, for the most part non-profit organizations, also known as “Community Benefit Organizations.” This was their third meeting (my first) and it was really interesting just to observe the dynamics of such a diverse group of 40 or so. Honestly, the job of trying to coordinate such an undertaking makes herding cats appear not only tenable, but maybe even FUN in comparison 😀

Anyways, from what I could gather, A LOT of folks attended the first meeting, probably in excess of a 100.  The second meeting there were fewer, and at this third meeting there were 40’ish.  Anyways, time will always thresh the wheat from the chaff, so I’d expect significant attrition from such a group is probably a given. 

Some other  observations were that I could easily recognise two different “personality styles” emerging from the group.  One stlye was the more visionary, high-level, let’s have a forum, umbrella group style.   And another group that was chomping at the bit to get going, let’s get things done, let’s accomplish something style.  What I actually wrote in my notes was:

“Diverse expectations & agendas under a single umbrella, how can each of these varied goals gain focus and aim for a unified target?  Basically a case where some people really like doing and accomplishing, where others like networking and discussing ideas.  Idea people vs. results people, how do you get them to work together?”

I did notice a few “problems” as well, besides attrition.  I can tell that the achievers are really wanting to get something done – NOW – and have some results to show.  Indicating a few people have splintered off and accomplished some goals of their own, without any real group buy in or coordination. While I applaud them for their exuberance, I’d also caution such actions as they have a way of fragmenting the group or becoming political hot-potatoes if the group decides the quick result really didn’t measure up to or meet expectations down the road.

For example, on my lunch time walk I was thinking about this problem and the illustration I came up with was… say at the first meeting it was decided that the group really needed a horse & cart to move things about the county.  Well the quick achievers immediately set out to design and build a cart on their own ‘cuz the idea people were taking too long to come up with anything at all (in their estimation, anyway).  So a month or so later at the next meeting, the achievers proudly bring their cart to display to the rest of the group:

“Look what we accomplished!”

“Oh, well that’s very well made, and the workmanship is amazing… but… ”

“But what?!”

“Well, the idea people put their feelers out and guess what?  Budweiser liked our group so well that they’ve decided to donate a full team of Clydesdayles to us! With the stipulation (all grants seem to have stipulations) that anytime we move something with the horse team, we need to use the whole 8-horse team and display their logo.  So…. we don’t really need a cart anymore. What we need is a big delivery style wagon that will accommodate an 8-horse team of Clydesdales. So… I’m sorry you wasted your time building that really nice cart, maybe we can use it for something else…”

The meeting then moved into a stage where it was clear that the focus groups were not going to meet in order to hammer out some high-level agenda items, like creating Vision & Mission statements – which are sorely needed by such large groups of people to keep focus on what their overall goals are.  And since I was primarily there to assist a focus group, I left at that point.  I was still “on the clock” at work and had a lot of other things there that needed my attention. 

In retrospect, I wished the meetings were more conducive for those of us with “regular” working hours,  (today’s meeting was from 9AM-Noon), because now I’ve seen what the group wants to accomplish and I think I could help them. But I can’t assist them very much if all of their meetings are during “regular business hours.”  The group has piqued my interest and I may find other ways to become personally involved without increasing my workload at the office – only time will tell.

I hope I didn’t bore you to death.  And if you have the time, get involved with your local community, it’s fun & meaningful!  Enjoy!

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