Friday, December 20, 2013

Why campaign meetings aren't just about decisions and doing, but cake too!

First law of meetings: a good meeting gets stuff done. 

Second law of meetings: a great  meeting gets stuff done but also includes cake.

In my old Friends of the Earth group there was a great woman called Margaret. Among the many things she did was ensure that all our meetings were welcoming affairs with tea and biscuits. Sometimes even cake.

Margaret may not have spearheaded any campaigns and her role might have been invisible to most. But her contribution was crucial to the cohesion of the group and to the quality of experience people had at our meetings.

Cut to the (management) science bit

Let's bring in a bit of chin-stroking. John Adair sets out a pretty simple model for a well-functioning team with three interdependent areas - the needs of the task, the team and the individuals which make it up.

TM John Adair - see his website here.

Pretty much any volunteer group with an eye on its long-term sustainability would want to make sure its meetings were delivering on all counts - getting tasks done and taking decisions, making sure people are working together well as a team and trying to meet the needs of the individuals (familiar and fresh faces) that have turned up that evening. 

However, I propose the following collective mea culpa on behalf of campaigners: our groups and our meetings are sometimes overly task-focused. We're very busy putting the metaphorical smack-down on bad things happening. Dare I say we tend to the overly Puritan in approach, if we don't watch ourselves?

And while just looking at action can be very motivating in the short-term, if we want to be successful in the longer term attention must be paid to the rest of the equation. 

People won't come to meetings if they're not having fun or getting some kind of validation from attending. We can't assume we're instinctively providing an inspiring evening for people. We can't assume we're getting it right through benign neglect.

And that's why I think we need to talk about quality of experience. 

And cake. 

It's not all about the cake, but I do think the presence of bakery items at a meeting is a good indication of whether a group is thinking about whether people are having a good time there. Custom and human behavior wouldn't place so much importance on hospitality, on breaking bread and the informal conversation that goes with a cup of tea, if it wasn't such an effective method of bringing people together and lightening the atmosphere, however serious the occasion.*

Hospitality and welcome brings quality of experience front and centre for groups alongside the need to do. It gives people like Margaret who might not be your key campaigners the chance to exercise a significant role in your group. It could be the glue that holds you all together and helps you grow.

There are lots of other things a group can do to ensure that a meeting doesn't just trudge, but swings, which perhaps I'll write about in the future. But cake is a good finger-in-the-wind indication that you're on the right track.

And if your group doesn't offer cake (or the equivalent) at your meetings yet, why not try make this small resolution next year and see how it works for you?

With thanks to Tom Wright for inspiration.

*I remember hearing Victoria Harvey, another Friends of the Earth activist once say that meetings with council officers went better with chocolate cake as well. So this approach works externally too.

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