Modus Operandi

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Have you ever sent an e-mail to team members only to listen to crickets chirp for weeks before you get a response from certain members?  Have you resolved that instead you would make phone calls to that same team only to find that you catch the one with whom e-mail didn’t work, but end up getting unreturned voicemail from others?  Welcome to the latest challenges in managing a modern day committee!  In our fast paced culture, there are so many modes of connecting that it can actually complicate reaching a person.

Let me give you a snapshot of one of the teams I have lead recently that is a good snapshot of what this challenge looks like.  Nancy is an empty-nester who still works full-time.  The way I am most likely to get a response from her is via e-mail.  Jennifer is hearing impaired, so she likes e-mail too, but her work address is better than e-mailing her home address…  except on Fridays, when she has off.  Carly is on Facebook quite a bit, so it’s best to contact her there if you need an immediate answer.  Then there’s Debra who is not on Facebook and rarely on the computer during working hours.  She will get back to you most promptly if you fire off a text to her.  You can see how interesting this makes working with these individuals as a group.  But it is possible.

These tips may seem like a no-brainer, but here is what I have learned about connecting with a collection of individuals who are eager to serve in an era of multifaceted communication:

  1. First, explain what the expectations are.  When will meetings be held?  What are the deadlines?  Let the members know if they are each expected to pick up a piece of the responsibility and get it dealt with or if they are just there in an advisory capacity.  Lay down the boundary that you need responses in (blank) amount of time.  This way, everyone has their radar on to what they should be looking for.
  2. Next, find out from each what their “modus operandi” or best method of operating is.  Are they a text person? A Facebook person?  An e-mail person?  Establish a system where you will attempt to reach them in a timely manner in their preferred mode of communication.  That may mean that you do some cutting & pasting from e-mail to Facebook or that you create a phone chain where one commits to contacting the next person on the list.  Whatever system you set in place, do so with the understanding that you expect a prompt response (24 hours or less) unless there are extenuating circumstances.
  3. Keep clean records of what each person has committed to, even if it means printing pages out and keeping them in a common folder.  Operating in such a multilateral way can easily confuse any project you are working on together, so there must be one central way of keeping track of what each of your team members is working on.  That can even mean keeping detailed notes in a spiral notebook.  One of my Board members is especially gifted at keeping organized and even taught some of our volunteers the virtues of keeping binders that hold every piece of communication or relevant pieces of a project.
  4. If the flow of communication isn’t working, be honest, go back and work it through with your team.  Working with the special needs population, we have to make adaptations for unexpected bumps in the road.  Additionally, I always like to provide a graceful way for team members to bow out, yet still save face, if their involvement isn’t working out.  Regardless of what it ends up looking like, it is better to manage your committee with truth than to end up having a big dysfunctional mess in the end.

One thing I want to also point out is that as much as determining this modus operandi for our teams can be beneficial, it can be critical for our participants as well.  Nothing is more upsetting than to hold a respite event or to be leading a child in Sunday School only to discover you can’t reach a parent in an emergency or sticky situation.  You will benefit yourself as well as the participants when you approach activities this way.

Overall, being sensitive to a person’s preferred way of communicating builds trusting community.  Much like the kinesthetic, auditory or visual learner, all adults have a best way to connect.  When we make the effort to be attuned to those preferences, we tell the team member that they matter, are valued and comprise an important part of our work.  In return, they will work with more passion for a group that values them.

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