ARTICLES, INSIGHTS & IDEAS
by Eli Mina
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COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT PAYS OFF
By Eli Mina, M.Sc.

There are far too many examples of failures in group decision making, and it is refreshing to hear a success story. This is a positive story about a religious congregation with a problem to solve: Its prayer hall was too small to accommodate its growing membership. The choice was difficult: do nothing and tolerate increasingly crammed quarters; or rent a larger hall, meaning increased membership fees; or "bite the bullet" and purchase the congregation's own building, requiring a special levy to fund an outright purchase.

Beyond the decision itself, the Board of Directors was concerned about HOW it was made. It wanted to ensure the members were on side and fully included in defining the problem and choosing the right solution. Upon reflection, the Board decided to initiate a full consultation program. The process was thereby turned from what could have been a divisive money-focused exercise into a community building effort.

The Board proceeded by dividing the membership list (of about 100 families) into ten groups. Each of the ten Board members was then assigned a set of about ten families to consult. Each Director then contacted the assigned families to discuss the future of the congregation and the options for addressing the premises issue. The consultation took the form of a "tea and refreshments" in members' homes or, if the family preferred, a discussion by phone. Some families asked to have joint discussions with other families, so they would get to know others and learn from what they thought. All families were included in this dialogue.

After two months of consultation, the feedback from the members was compiled and analyzed. The Board's conclusion was that the congregation was ready to have its own building and was prepared to support a special levy to achieve this goal. A special meeting was then convened, and the Board proposed the purchase and a special levy to fund it. After some debate, the motion passed, although not unanimously. Some families were against an outright purchase and voted against the motion.

Notwithstanding the opposition by some, not even one family left the congregation, and all families (including those who voted against the motion) readily paid their portions of the special levy. The reason why dissenters did not "vote with their feet" and leave was simple: They were treated as valued partners in decision making and were genuinely listened to. No one would even contemplate leaving a community which treated them with such respect.

The lesson? The quality of the decisions that your group makes are important, but equally important (and sometimes even more so) is the process by which these decisions are reached. Looking beyond financial considerations, the above congregation had a much stronger "currency" than dollars and cents. That currency was the strong sense of collaboration, cohesion and community spirit. It functioned as one large team. As has been said: TEAM is an abbreviation for "Together Everyone Achieves More."

Good luck.



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Information about Eli Mina:

Eli Mina, M.Sc., PRP, is a Vancouver (Canada) based management consultant, executive coach, and Registered Parliamentarian. In business since 1984, Eli consults his clients on board effectiveness, chairing contentious meetings, preventing and dealing with disputes and dysfunctions, demystifying the rules of order, and minute taking standards. Eli's clients come from municipal government, school boards, regulatory bodies, credit unions, colleges and universities, native communities, businesses, and the non-profit sector.

Eli is the author of the newly published "101 Boardroom Problems and How to Solve Them." He is also the author of several other books and publications on meetings, shared decision-making and minute taking (see Eli Mina's Books at www.elimina.com ). Eli can be reached at 604-730-0377 or via e-mail at eli@elimina.com.


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