“You teach me, I forget. You show me, I remember. You involve me, I understand.”
- Edward O. Wilson
Involving others in an organization is to welcome their ideas, perspectives, and voices. The student agency model strives to involve members and include all voices in order to create innovative solutions and dynamic learning environments.
This can be challenging. How do you facilitate agreement? What if members are disengaged?
Here are some tools that we use:
Start with Your Shared Purpose
Whether you’re a new group or a continuing group starting a new year, take time to answer the questions: What is our purpose as an organization? Why have we come together? If your primary purpose isn’t clear and agreed upon, it will be hard to work as a team or to accomplish any goals.
Write a Mission Statement.
A Mission Statement explains why your organization exists over time and how you are working toward your vision. To write or review a Mission Statement, begin by discussing questions about your purpose: Why does your organization exist? What does it do? What difference does it make? Draft your statement together and then work on it so it is clear and concise.
Develop Community Agreements
How will members work together effectively? Agree on roles and the processes you will use, write them down and review these regularly to avoid misunderstandings.
Write Governing Documents.
A constitution documents critical processes such as how your group makes decisions, how responsibilities will be distributed, and the specific duties of each position such as Chairperson, Treasurer, etc.
Make sure your decision making process is inclusive and fair. This will result in decisions that are more well informed and members will be more invested in carrying them out. For more on Decision-making see Activity Sheet 1.
Write Job Descriptions for key positions, describing their responsibilities and the skills or qualities needed. This will help members elect people according to their potential to fulfill the duties of the positions.
Develop Principles of Unity.
What principles guide your interactions? How will you ensure that diverse minds and personalities are able to work together cooperatively?
Develop a list of principles together and keep them visible at meetings. Principles might include not interrupting, interacting with honesty, mutual respect, carrying through on commitment, etc.
For an example of Principles of Unity, see Activity Sheet 2.
Build the Team
Hold Regular Meetings.
It’s critical for members to meet together regularly, face-to-face, and with enough time to get to know each other. When members understand each other, they can communicate easily and get tasks done smoothly.
Agree on a meeting schedule and on how long each meeting will last.
Create a culture of arriving and ending on time.
Stay in Touch.
A lot can happen between meetings. Staying in touch keeps projects on track: If members need help or have questions, they can get answers quickly and not wait for the next meeting.
Agree on how to communicate: group texts, emails, etc. Set expectations for how quickly members should respond to messages (e.g. 24 hours, 36 hour, etc.)
Check in with members before meetings so they know what will be discussed. This helps them develop their ideas and participate in discussions.
Students interested in joining your organization need to know upfront what it stands for and how it works so they can make an informed decision about joining. If they decide to join, an orientation process can deepen their understanding.
To build a strong foundation for your organization, plan a retreat for the beginning of each
Include enough time for members to relax, talk things through, and get to know each other.
Find a location that gets members away from distractions and out of their usual routines.
Create a retreat space that feels safe, comfortable, and supportive for everyone.
Distribute Key Documents.
Give your Mission Statement, community agreements, and foundational information to new members as soon as they show interest in joining. Discuss and answer their questions.
Include All Voices
In high functioning meetings, members share their opinions and ideas and the group creates new programs and solutions collectively. Because this doesn’t happen automatically, meetings need to be facilitated so all voices are heard and everyone’s time is respected.
What needs to be discussed or agreed on? For each meeting, list possible topics and how much discussion time each topic needs.
Decide if a topic requires a decision or if it’s just informational.
Post the agenda where everyone participating can see it and ask for additions..
Avoid having too much to talk about in one meeting. This will rush discussions and limit participation. Prioritize or postpone discussions that can wait.
Facilitators don’t dominate discussions with their own opinions. They ask questions, listen, and coordinate what is said so everyone is heard and the group stays on point.
Find members who are skilled in listening and engaging others to serve as facilitators.
Mentor others to develop these skills.
How do you get everyone to participate in meetings? If there’s a pattern of certain people dominating and others being silent, talk with the dominating people and ask them to help you encourage others to speak. Talk with the silent people and ask for their views on upcoming topics. Encourage them to share their views at the meeting.
Silence is a good thing. Don’t fill the silence too quickly. It gives people time to think and makes room for members who find it hard to break into constant discussion.
For more on Elements on Meetings see Activity Sheet 3.
Members with more experience or knowledge of the organization have a responsibility to pay attention to newer members and help them find ways to participate fully. A good mentor will:
Take an active interest in others and validate their efforts. Remind them that they make a difference. Recognize their contributions as a group.
Reach out and inquire.
Talk with other members one-on-one. Ask them what they think during meeting breaks or afterwards. Give them a call between meetings to see if what questions or suggestions they have.
Learn from everyone.
Everyone has an opinion, an idea, or a concern. Ask and listen with your full attention. Follow up and ask them to say more. Approach each person with the intention of learning from them.
Find out what other members are interested in and connect them with people, projects, tasks, and meetings that match their interests.
Be supportive and honest.
Support others in expressing their views. If they fall into destructive patterns (e.g. gossiping, being individualistic, dominating, etc.) talk with them honestly about the negative effect they are having. Inquire into what is going on for them personally and organizationally.
Case study: INVOLVE
A Sense of Greater Good
At UCSC, student organizations involved in media meet together as the Student Media Council. This includes groups with different interests and mediums, from the campus weekly newspaper to literary journals to live television productions.
For years, the Student Media Council met twice or three times annually and discussions consisted of organizations advocating for their own budgets. Although the organizations worked in the same facilities they were more competitive than collaborative. There was little interest or commitment to the Council.
When the Student Media Council became a part of SOMeCA, students were encouraged to think of the Council differently.
The student agency model was introduced by their advisor who suggested that Student Media was theirs to govern, but to do so would require time and attention. Each organization was asked to attend six meetings a year, more than doubling the time commitment. The idea of governing was interesting enough that the organizations agreed.
A committee of student representatives and their advisor prepared agendas. The Council set aside time for members to get to know each other and to discuss goals and issues. Through a series of meetings a Mission Statement was written to clarify the purpose of the Council.
Council members worked together on a few projects before designing their first strategic planning retreat. It was a one-day retreat that trained members on planning tools, such as developing an assessment of their environment and their own strengths and weaknesses. Over the next two years, the Council’s strategic planning sessions grew to overnight retreats with educational workshops and visioning exercises facilitated by alumni.
Today, the involvement and interest in governing and planning the future of Student Media is strong. The Council meets regularly and members show up for 2-3 hour discussions on a Friday afternoon, long after staff and peers have gone home for the day. Members work collaboratively on events and help each other with projects.