I’ve been waiting to use that title for awhile now, and I think it’s the most appropriate it’s ever been, so what the heck. I realize I wrote a novel, so if you don’t want to read it all, just skip over my musings, and on to my suggestions (at the bottom).
Apologies. Don’t ever apologize for asking questions or holding ideas when it’s a discussion about something like this, in these types of forums…even if they are ideas that you don’t hold anymore. There are definitely times for apologies, for example: poking someone in the eye, making personal attacks, or apologizing for an idea that you once held that was completely ludicrous and hurtful. Saying the number 15 didn’t hurt anyone, one person saying it was not counter-productive to the conversation, it was said by many people (and generally things said by many people are worth being addressed). If anything, it made a lot of people think about the numbers they had in their head: Why did they pick that number? Why do they agree/disagree with you? Do we have the structures in place to support this amount of people? Asking questions usually will make people see your logic, or force them to solidify their own.
Integration. In this extended blogversation, everyone’s definition of “integration” has been different. Regardless of your definition of integration, I think it is unfair to say, “Who are we to tell newbies that they aren’t integrated?” That is dismissive of the fact that multiple newbies voiced concerns about not feeling integrated to their coaches, raised their hands and personally attested to it in the Goals session, and furthermore even raised their hand when asked during the numbers session, “How many of you don’t feel integrated right now?” Which I feel is an entirely inappropriate question to begin with, seeing as if they don’t feel integrated, they probably don’t feel very comfortable to be called out like that, and would probably prefer to not be put on the spot. Yet still, some were bold enough to raise their hand in that intense situation. So, if newbies are telling us that they aren’t integrated, who are we to tell them that they are? I think the most productive thing to do would be to acknowledge their concern, and then personally see to creating ways that will allow them to be integrated.
Someone said, “We can only open the door, they have to walk through it.” I fully agree with this statement. Due to a lack of communication, expectation, inspiration, whatever it was, (Things that I will address in my suggestions section) I don’t feel that all newbies saw doors last semester, but rather some saw little mouse holes into this big world of AIESEC; little mouse holes that didn’t allow them to fit anything past one elbow in, unless they took the initiative of tearing down the entire wall.
Community. Another issue this blogversation raises: How are we defining community? This is one thing I think is important that we all get on the same page about, especially since we are a local community. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around what a community of 500 people looks like…on both a small scale or a large scale, it seems to me that people agree upon one of the defining aspects of a community: sharing similar sentiments, values, and the same mission. I agree with this, and I also think that it supports one of the most interesting perspectives I have heard on community in a long time, which was something to the effect of: “Community cannot be place-based, it cannot just be socially identified groups (unless they’ve taken the step to actively join together), it has to include an aspect of personal connection. People often falsely use phrases like the ‘Gay Community’ or the ‘Community of Color.’” That phrasing suggests that just because someone walks by another person with the same skin color on the street, they share the same view point; or just because you walk by anyone from within your city limits, that you are definitely both on the same page. Some might argue that a Community of Color and that a Gay Community do exist. I think that these statements often come from outsiders, identifying what looks like a community to them from the outside, while not being a part of it. I think true community and mission needs to be defined from the inside, and in this regard it is an extremely false assumption to say that all Madisonians share the same, or even similar, missions…or people of color, or gay people, or people with disabilities, or immigrants, etc.
This in turn supports that personal connections must also be a part of the community, and to some degree, inter-dependence. Which can definitely play out in a larger arena-but that also requires a lot of trust. It requires a lot of trust because you won’t be able to know every single person; the trust that your interviewers picked the right people, that all members are holding each other accountable, that every single person has been engaged and talked to by at least one person so they can’t just fall through the cracks or free float, trust because since you don’t know every single person, the Unabomber very well could be sitting among you—the trust that if the Unabomber was sitting among you, everyone is accountable enough to tell him to get the hell out. I realize my Unabomber reference was very extreme and ridiculous, yell at me for it in my comments.
In addition, I am glad that I have gotten to experience a successful national conference (Colombia’s PM-NATS in July 2007). Because of the experience I had there, when people talk about these 500 person LCs having a feeling similar to a national or international conference, I do have a glimmer of hope. I initially thought that what I felt at PM-NATS was “Community,” when re-assessed I think a more accurate word for it would actually be “Atmosphere.” It wasn’t a community in that it wasn’t long-term, it lasted a week, and never again would this same group of people be in the same space together again. The group was not interdependent, and no work was collectively done by the hundreds of people in attendance. It also was all run and facilitated (fabulously), but by a small percentage of the total in attendance…it was by no means “flat,” something that AIESEC Madison has been striving for in the past couple years. I think it’s possible that we could still accomplish our mission with the correct atmosphere. I also think that creating a sense of community is different than creating an atmosphere, because of the reasons that I stated in the two previous paragraphs.
Regardless of whether we subtract ten members, or add one million, there are definitely structures and systems that need to be improved, or entirely redesigned.
Actions I think we should take as we move forward:
-As always with @: More action, more follow through, more reliability, more accountability—FROM ALL MEMBERS
-Leadership Accountability System in place and functioning, an aspect of which needs to include more thorough preparation which can be done through professional development opportunities for younger members (well, any members who want to attend), and transitioning VPs. It is absolutely crucial that we have people in leadership positions with knowledge of public speaking, running effective meetings, facilitating conversations, etc. It is much different to have to command a room of 110 people at a GMM vs. maybe the 13-14 you might have thought would be on a functional team, before the abolishment of the local sales team.
-Functional team meetings need to be…functional. One suggestion for improvement is the redesign of the communication system that is used across the LC
-We need to recognize people who are doing great things
-Using the feedback we solicit! We survey people, but the surveys end up sitting in peoples’ suitcases in Bangkok. My first question is: How did the end up in Bangkok, and my second is: Why do we ask the question if we plan on doing nothing with the answer?
-How we manage our LC activities. If we are going to start doing more events, we need to avoid planning two @ events on the same night, like we did last semester.
-Knowledge management to increase the effectiveness of transitions. New IT systems in place, gathering things like past surveys, past financial records, past LC principles into one centrally located place.
-Delegation of work: 90% of the work done in @ Madison, is done by a much smaller percentage
-Trust of innovation. Flattening the organization does not mean turning it into an inefficient bureaucracy.
-The voting process has to be changed…clearly after the last weekend; consensus voting is not an option when you are dealing with 81 people. It’s naïve to believe that everyone is getting their voice heard in that setting, it has turned out to be much more alienating. We’ll need to redesign a forum for people to have their voices heard on important issues, while realizing that issues might have to get voted on.
-LTMs need to be more meaningful, doing legitimate work, and being held at least twice a semester, with people who are committed to being in those conversations.
-Coach groups and GMMs should find a way to have their content support each other.
-GMMs need to get planned far in advance, and have multiple contributors. It takes much more work to engage 100 members for an entire hour. This would be a time to get our newbies involved on presenting, having our trainees give a presentation on their countries or their AIESEC experiences, allowing the marketing team to design the “internal marketing” GMM for the semester.
-Trainee integration!! We had a going away dinner for a fellow AIESECer from NYC, who was here for a week! We just couldn’t quite pull it together for a fellow AIESECer from Romania (our trainee), who was here for a year! That’s kind of ridiculous. We have one trainee right now, if every single person in our LC called her once we would already be doing way better.
-Making our region’s RoKS more interactive and engaging.
-Holding national staff accountable for the things that they should be working on. One example that they should be working on: improving the database where people search for traineeships to make it easier for AIESECers to go abroad, not more difficult. Example 2: Improving national conferences. If I go to summer conference, I want to leave feeling challenged and inspired!
My closing bit of advice:
Empowerment as a form of leadership:
The word “empowerment” kept popping up quite a bit in conversation over the weekend. It seemed to me that it was casually thrown around and that people weren’t acknowledging that this is one of the most effective leadership styles that has been used throughout history, and it’s been used a lot!
We need to make sure we’re not just handing out orders and spoon feeding information from the top to the bottom, but rather finding ways to make people believe that they’re capable of achieving their goals, of coming up with the information and the solutions on their own, and giving them the tools to do that.
And my final bit of inspiration.
“Feet are smarter than an engine, and dreams are stronger than thighs, and questions are the only answers we need to know that we are alive.”