Sunday, February 17, 2008


(This article appeared, probably sometime in the early 1990s, in the Journal of the National Association of Temple Administrators.)

For over three decades, I have been involved – immersed might be a better word – in voluntary organizations, both on a staff level and as a lay leader. But coming rather late into the synagogue milieu, I find myself suffering a kind of culture shock in the face of three phenomena which appear to be taken for granted in congregational life but that have been largely eradicated in the other eleemosynary, civic, and trade associations I’m familiar with.

I refer specifically to three roles of the synagogue trustee (or director or officer) – the trustee as consumer, the trustee as professional, and the trustee as despot. Moreover, despite our seeming obsession with questions of leadership training, board effectiveness, and layman-rabbi-administrator relationships, I have encountered little if any discussion on these phenomena, and the questions they raise.

I have no answers to the problems I present – but hope there may be some value in posing the question.

The Trustee as Client

In the triad of Jewish values expressed in Torah-Avodah-Gemilut Hasadim, it often seems that the contemporary Jewish community is most attuned to the last. In the spirit of voluntarism, we have created the Jewish community’s exemplary network of federations, hospitals, old people’s homes, and social welfare agencies.

Paradoxically, these expressions of our commitment to voluntarism, joined with our commitment to excellence, have created a professional class of outstanding social workers and administrators. These in turn have instilled in their well-intentioned voluntary boards the concept of separation of powers – the difference between governance on the one hand, management and/or administration on the other.

In Jewish hospitals or old people’s homes, community centers and social welfare agencies, the pattern is consistent: the Board, selected largely for its financial (i.e., philanthropic) capabilities, sets policy and approves a budget, consistent with the monies it can raise – and the professionals are responsible for the delivery of service. The trustees function as Lord or Lady Bountiful…they are the fortunate, the affluent, the healthy, arranging care for the under-privileged, the poor, the old, the troubled, the ill. With the sometime exception of the hospital – even the rich get sick – the trustee need never see himself as a potential client. His policy decisions are abstractions, made from a real but impersonal commitment to the needs of the institution and the community. In fact, since it will often be more convenient to hold meetings downtown at lunchtime, trustees may not even step into the institution from one year to the next. The paid staff is there to see that the program is fulfilled.

Volunteers doing “hands-on” work do so under the strict guidance of the paid staff. And the “hands-on” work is limited to useful but non-critical functions – wheeling the library cart, staffing the gift shop, friendly visiting. Although the trustees have the theoretical authority to hire and fire the chief executive officer…they nonetheless know who’s boss. In the institutional sandwich, the layman provides the bread (pun intended)…the trustee as the top slice, and the volunteer as the bottom slice. The meat in the middle of the sandwich is the professional.

And by and large, the system works. The well-meaning but probably not very well-informed Board goes through line-by-line budget review, adds or eliminates services at the advice of the professional, brings a disinterested (but not uninterested) view of institutional and community needs, and generally acts responsibly by abrogating all day-to-day responsibility.

What happens when the balebatim begin to serve on the Temple Board? The principles of governance vs. management that they have learned so effectively at the “J”r the “home” or the federation are forgotten. First of all, in the synagogue, in order even to become a candidate for trusteeship, one must first be a consumer. So the trustee has a built-in conflict of interest, between what’s best for the congregation and what’s most important for him personally. (Unreserved seats for the High Holy Days? I’ve had this seat for 35 years! More money for the religious school? My kids are grown up.)

It gets as absurd as the trustee who voted against offering a 20-minute musical warm-up class prior to the start of Shabbat services, so interested congregants could learn the melodies and participate more. It wasn’t that he didn’t already know the melodies – he did – but that he didn’t want to have to rush through dinner. And since he wasn’t interested, he could not concede that the program might have merit.

Or how about the overturn of the long-standing policy that the Temple library should not be a mixed-use facility? Everybody agreed that a library should be a library, until an adult education class decided it would be nice to meet there instead of in the classroom across the hall, for easier access to reference books. Since a very important trustee was in the class, the hard-built wall came tumbling down.

The resolution of these issues is not the point. The point is that personal convenience is an instigator if not a determinant of policy. It can only happen when the trustee is also the consumer.

The Trustee as Professional

In the Jewish social service network, the laborer is worthy of his hire, and volunteers – regardless of credentials – are rarely welcome to do professional work. Here again the synagogue setting differs.

True, we have learned to pay the teachers of our children. (To teach adults, volunteers are adequate.) And today we are less insistent than we used to be about professionalism in the choir loft. In this era of congregational participation in worship, we welcome the volunteer choir; we’ll compromise on musical quality to save money (but not, of course, on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur). On the hospital board, a trustee may be selected because he brings a certain professional perspective to matters of evaluation. On the synagogue board level, we recruit trustees whose particular professional skills can be put to use. (Imagine the strain on the temple’s budget if we had to pay our auditors or lawyers.)

But problems arise when we call upon laymen to perform gratis in the area of their own professional competence.

But when you’re getting professional services free – how do you deal with the situation where they’re inadequate? Would the congregation tolerate an inadequate voice in a volunteer cantorial soloist? (we’re the clients – we have to hear him.) How do you cope when your volunteer lawyer has to let your matter languish because a paying client has come along? And if the policy is not to pay, we either lose continuity, or some good guy lets us take unmerciful advantage. And we may embarrass other professionals who may not be in a position to volunteer but feel the finger pointing. Moreover, as a public relations professional, I listen carefully when my wife reminds me that I mustn’t criticize the Temple Bulletin, unless I’m prepared to take over as its editor.

What would happen if we decided to “get professional” and purchase our services? We’d hire the best lawyer or the best accountant in town, or at least in the congregation. He’d treat us as a “cash customer” rather than as a good-guy accommodation. And very likely, he’d be a mensch, and then or later, would turn around and give the money back!

So I pose these questions: Is it right to ask a trustee to perform professional services gratis? Is it effective? Does it really serve the best interests of the congregation?

The Trustee as Despot

The nature of synagogue governance is heavily impacted by the diffusion of authority among board, rabbi, and administrator – a fascinating topic in itself, but not the province of this paper. Nor is it my purpose to examine the Golden Rule – he who has the gold makes the rule. The moral authority that attaches to the individual who underwrites the deficit is hardly unique to the synagogue.

Rather my third concern is with one particular kind of despot – one who isn’t the Boss – not the president, not the rabbi, but the assertive nudnik who deals in trivia. He’s the self-appointed enforcer, often of rules he makes up as he goes along. Those in the know don’t take him very seriously, with his obsession for counting out paper clips. He gets away with his despotism because everybody realizes that there are more important battles than fighting with Mr. Nudnik. Unfortunately, nobody keeps count of the good people he drives off the Board, or even out of the synagogue. There’s a Gresham’s Law of Trusteeship, wherein the bad trustees drive out the good. But in Reform temples, still governed by the Halacha as codified by Emily Post, good manners decree that Mr. Nudnik be tolerated. Thus policy is determined by erosion; the Mr. Nudniks stick around; their potential opposition is gunned down or worn away.

In reviewing these three aspects of trusteeship, we are looking at a number of inherent conflicts – the self-interest of the individual vs. the best interests of the congregation; the self-interest of the congregation putting unfair pressures on certain individuals; and the danger inherent in not stamping out petty nuisances.

But as I said at the outset, I’ve been in the volunteer business for thirty years, getting frustrated, aggravated, annoyed, angry, and coming back for more. Maybe it’s the conflicts that make it so much -- fun?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Presidential-Rabbinic Relationships

(A few years after I completed my term as president of Temple Sholom in Chicago, I was invited to discuss presidential-rabbinic relationships at a meeting of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now URJ) Chicago Federation, co-presenting with Rabbi Marc Belgrad of Beth Am Congregation, Buffalo Grove IL. My remarks were later published in the Journal of the National Association of Temple Administrators, circa 1994, and are transcribed below. I don’t know that I would make any substantive changes if I were writing this article today, but I can assure you that the language would be less sexist and more gender-sensitive.)

It’s the custom in our congregation for services to begin on Erev Rosh HaShanah with a few words of welcome from the president to the congregation. When it came my turn to deliver these words of welcome, I speculated aloud that the origin of the minhag lay in the ego trip or desire for koved of one of my long-ago predecessors.

However, I continued in my speculation, it seems appropriate within the framework of Reform Judaism to re-invest old customs with new meanings, so I articulated the symbolism of the president as the first in a parade of lay members who would be briefly on the bimah during the High Holy Days, in religious services that still would be largely dominated by the clergy.

It seems appropriate, I said, that we begin with the laity, because it is with laymen that congregations begin…and we then call a rabbi to lead us. In doing so, it is the responsibility of lay leadership to define the kind of rabbinic leadership we want. How fortunate we are at Temple Sholom, I went on, to have achieved our desire for scholars, for teachers, and for visionaries in our rabbinic and cantorial leadership, and how fortunate our rabbis and cantor are to have a congregation which encourages and fosters those qualities.

In recycling those remarks from three Rosh HaShanahs ago, I sense that, in those few words, I first gave this speech. In large measure, that is my Torah on rabbinic-presidential relationships. All the rest you hear from me today is merely commentary.

In commenting about the relationship between the congregational president and the rabbi, it’s difficult to isolate the discussion to the two individuals. As I speak today, recognize that in many instances the roles blur between the president and the board, and between the board and the congregation. Similarly, and particularly important in as large a synagogue as Temple Sholom, my remarks apply specifically to the senior rabbi, more generically to the entire Temple staff, and extend onward to the Temple as an institution.

My ideas about the relationship between lay leadership and professional leadership have been forged over three and one half decades. I have sat on both sides of the fence, since in business I have served as public relations counsel to innumerable voluntary associations, and communally I have been an officer and trustee of various fundraising, social service, and educational institutions.

One of my influential teachers in the business of institutional governance was Dr. David Weinstein, when he was president of Spertus College. Early in my tenure on that board, he called the trustees to a retreat, to share his vision for the future. In his opening remarks, Dr. Weinstein quoted from another college president, who had written that any meeting of the Board of Trustees should have only two agenda items, the first one a constant, the second one contingent. The constant item for college trustees is, “Shall we fire the president today?” If the vote is Yes, then as item 2, the Board forms a search committee and adjourns. If the vote is No, the Board spends the rest of the meeting deliberating on how to help the president enact his program for the institution.

Obviously we do not begin each meeting of our Temple boards deliberating on whether or not to replace the rabbi. Contract considerations, CCAR Guidelines, and above all our sense of derekh eretz, civilized behavior, are all preventatives. Certainly our history and expectation at Temple Sholom is that any senior rabbi we bring to our congregation will be in our pulpit as our teacher and spiritual leader until he chooses to retire. In the interim, however, we have the opportunity to let him “shep nakhas”, from his calling or to make his life a misery.

And I do believe that the choice between the two rests largely on the attitude and skills of the president. Not that his presidential choice is necessarily a conscious one. During the years I have been active at Temple Sholom, we have never had a president who didn’t want the best for the congregation and for the rabbi – but nonetheless, it has been my perception that not all were successful in creating a climate of hineh ma tov uma naim shevet akhim gam yakhad, behold how good and pleasant it is for president and rabbi to dwell together in unity.

Tension between the president and the rabbi begins when wither has a need to demonstrate to the other who’s boss. The Boss issue is different in the synagogue than in the college setting, the hospital setting, the trade association setting, the corporate setting or the other milieus in which I’ve been involved. The rabbi is the undisputed authority in his realm; the Board of Directors has primary authority in its realm. And the president, whether he wants to admit it or not, has absolutely no authority except that which his Board allows him to have and exert.
And thus, perhaps the crux of my commentary is not to discuss the relationship between the president and the rabbi, so much as it is to define the role of the president.

A maxim I have learned from my teachers in voluntary associations is to remember that presidents come and go; staff is forever. Typically the president has two or three years in which to make a difference. That difference may involve speeding things up or slowing things down, accelerating the process of change or stabilizing a volatile situation.

The president must be the forger of consensus…consensus on the Board and consensus between the Board and the rabbi. Whether the issue is refurbishing the social hall or changing confirmation from 10th grade to 12th, the president has to bring about a meeting of the minds of the lay leadership and between them and the rabbi. This not only requires that the president understands where the rabbi is coming from; equally it requires that president know where the Board is, and where it is likely to be willing to be taken.

Actually, harmony is easy in a stable situation. Conflicts arise in congregations over only two issues: instituting change and balancing the budget. The rabbi may or may not be central to issues of balancing the budget; he will always be central to issues of instituting change.

I learned about instituting change from another of my great teachers in the operation of voluntary agencies, Ben Grossman, zikhrono levrakha, for many years the executive director of Drexel Home, taught me how best to bring about a potentially controversial or divisive major policy change. It was his practice to discuss his new idea individually and informally with his directors, until he found out from where the strongest opposition was likely to come. Essentially, the issue was brought before the board, not when the primary opponent had been neutralized, but when he had been converted, so that was the one who would introduce the resolution…which then would usually pass unanimously.

I do not suggest that unanimity is a prerequisite for the relationship between the president and the rabbi. If two people always agree, the saying goes, one of them is superfluous. But the president and the rabbi should share the same vision of the congregation and its program, and should commit themselves to a partnership in fulfilling that vision. Disagreements between the two of them should take place behind closed doors. Each has to recognize which issues are worth fighting about and for, and are not; when to compromise, when to put an issue aside. Both must be able to exert leadership, which is to say that they can convince others to share their vision of where the congregation should be, and that this should represent an advance over where the congregation already is. Achieving change will often require the president to explain the congregation to the rabbi, just as it will entail the president explaining the program and hence the rabbi to the congregation.

If the president is seen by the board as Charlie McCarthy to the rabbi’s Edgar Bergen, he will be less than fully effective; but if the rabbi and the president are seen as always being in opposition to one another, the congregation will be less than effective. The president has to be perceived as a strong articulator to the rabbi of the Board’s and the congregation’s strongly held beliefs…and a strong proponent to the Board for implementing the rabbi’s program.

My wide acquaintanceship with rabbis has supported me in kibud rav, respect for rabbis, so I start with the supposition that the rabbi is a mensch. While that’s in his or her job description, it’s not necessarily in the job description of the President. May I suggest that we put it there…that it be a prerequisite for both positions? As presidents, we are role models for our boards….and our menschlikhkeit will hopefully rub off and set a tone of harmony in the congregation.

In my opening remarks, I referenced the ego trip inherent in the president’s prominence at our Rosh HaShanah services. My own need for koved did not and does not require me to be visible. I don’t need to be publicly praised or appreciated…which is not to say I don’t enjoy it. I do need to be able to look back at what was done on my watch, and feel that it made a difference.

If I was an enabler – enabling the congregation to move forward, to implement change – it was because of a shared vision of what’s really important and a partnering relationship in making it happen. The goal is not for the president to win…or for the rabbi to win…but for the congregation to win. Then and only then can we truly say hineh ma tov uma naim shevet akhim gam yakhad.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Role Models

A favorite exercise I use when facilitating Board workshops asks participants to rank five responsibilities of temple board members:
1. Policy development
2. Financial management
3. Resource development
4. Personnel management
5. Serving as a role model
Typically I frame this exercise with one group evaluating how the priorities play out in their congregation (the real world) while the other group discusses how it ought to be. We then analyze the differences between the two rankings and how to get from the real world to the ideal.

The concept of serving as a role model frequently takes board members by surprise, but as they think about it, they tend to recognize that it belongs high on the list. They see as role model responsibilities attending services, supporting congregational events, and providing financial support.

Side note: I remember a temple board meeting where a committee brought in a proposed statement of expectations of temple board members being considered for re-election, one of which was Attend services regularly. The rabbi objected strenuously to this, on the grounds that too many board members were attending regularly, every Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. At his behest, this was changed to Attend services frequently. Unfortunately, there was no effort to quantify frequently, nor any discussion of how this would be monitored and enforced.

In the media reports on the recent Biennial of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, there was some discussion of a proposal that synagogue leaders should be shomer shabbat (Sabbath observant) and should maintain Kosher homes. That this should be discussed suggests that it isn't currently happening, confirming my definition of Conservative Judaism as the movement where the rabbi is expected to be kosher and shomer shabbat.

I am a firm believer that a temple board member needs to be a role model, and I see role modeling as extending beyond the three examples given above (attend services, support events, provide financial support). Living ethically as well as Jewishly also belongs on the list. Recognizing that kol yisrael arevim zeh lazeh -- all Israel are responsible for one another -- belongs on the list, extended to a responsibility for all humankind.

As Reform Jews, we have the autonomy to be selective in our individual choices of observance, but the responsibility to recognize that our synagogues have to maintain a standard that may be more stringent than we apply in our personal lives. Boards, and nominating committees, need to be sensitive to the idea that institutions are perceived through the behaviour of their leadership. Each leader needs to be sensitive to the idea that people both within and outside the congregation are watching what the leadership stands for.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Pirkei Hinneni

Halachot for Ritual Committees

As prepared for the URJ Biennial, Houston, 2005

1. The Ritual Committee (sometimes called the Worship Committee) has two main jobs:
• Interpret the congregation to the clergy
• Interpret the clergy to the congregation
2. Where should the boundaries of authority be drawn?
• What happens on the bima stays on the bima (liturgy, sermon topics, criteria for bima honors, etc are clergy domain)
• What happens in the sanctuary stays in the sanctuary (service times, ushering, dress codes, etc. are weighted to committee expertise)
• Partnership, compromise and consensus avert the severe decree (keep it about vision, not about turf, and you won’t have to worry about the issues that fall between the cracks)
3. Why the clergy need a Ritual Committee
• As a sounding board to test ideas
• Make sure the vision is a shared vision
• Provide cover
• Provide feedback
• Advocacy to the board and congregation
4. Why the congregation needs a Ritual Committee
• Provide ideas
• Filter clergy ideas
• Report on response to innovation
• Shlichim (messengers) to the clergy
5. Pirkei Hinneni
• Committees come and go; clergy is forever
• The rabbi may not always be right, but s/he’s always the rabbi
• If the senior rabbi doesn’t staff the ritual committee, its work will be in vain
• Smart rabbis listen. But they don’t always say Yes.
• Never vote; forge consensus
• Conflicts arise in congregations over 2 issues: balancing the budget and instituting change. Clergy may be involved in the former but are central to the latter
• When two people always agree, one is superfluous.
• Clergy and ritual committee must work as partners, not as adversaries
• The “turf” of the Ritual Committee often overlaps with that of other committees: Life Cycle, Religious School, etc. Work with them for a broader consensus.
• The role of the committee is NOT to be the referee between the rabbi and cantor
• Vox populi vox dei –the voice of the people is the voice of God. Clergy must be sensitive to where the congregation is willing to be taken.
• The most important question: Is it Jewish? The clergy are most likely to know the answer

Mikol melamdei hiskalti. I have learned from all I have studied with. My thanks to Rabbis Peter Knobel, Steven Stark Lowenstein, and Aaron M. Petuchowski for their assistance. My ideas have been especially forged through the lasting influence of Ben Grossman z”l (Drexel Home); David Weinstein z”l (Spertus College), Arnold Glass, Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, Rabbi Donald B. Rossoff and most notably Rabbi Frederick C. Schwartz, Temple Sholom

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Minyan without a Binyan

This morning's New York Times carries an excellent article on the trend for young Jews (20-somethings and 30-somethings) to gather for Shabbat worship in non-synagogue settings.

The article suggests that the phenomenon constitutes some kind of threat to established congregations. Whether or not that's actually the case, congregations need to know what's going on here, and why, and what it means for them today, and what it may mean for them tomorrow.

I happen not to think that these minyanim represent a threat. They do represent something of a failure, but at the same time, they signify that the generation that has been lost to the synagogue has not been lost to Judaism. These are the people who will join (or organize) full-fledged congregations when their life circumstances change and they need more from their Jeiwsh connection than a place to worship.

So what are these kids finding, and what are they avoiding? The Times points out that these Shabbat services are lay-led, and wherever they may be held, they're not in synagogue buildings. The Times does not tell us what siddurim are being used (or even if a "published" siddur is being used), but does tell us that the traditional liturgy (by traditional, neither I nor they mean Orthodox) is being used, and that it is mostly sung. The Times also does not tell us how these worship-gatherings are being financed, but it's almost certainly not through "dues," and it also appears that the only significant expense is likely to be rent -- no salaries, which represent two-thirds of the budget in the conventional synagogue.

So -- these daveners are finding community, autonomy, spirituality, a fusion of variety and continuity. They're avoiding rabbis, boards, sermons, responsive readings, dues and pledges, and long-term institutional commitments. Their arguments are probably more about style than about content -- they do care which Ma Tovu they sing, but not whether Rachel comes before or after Leah. By the nature of what they are doing, they don't have to worry about formal affiliation with a movement, much less which one. (That's likely to be the big argument when they move to a new suburb, and start worrying about religious school for the kids -- which will eventually grow from a school into the full-fledged congregation they are now trying to avoid.)

Various commentators on the "lost generation" have suggested that the aversion to "organized religion" and avoidance of the synagogue relates to bad childhood experiences at Sunday school or Hebrew school. I think it has more to do with the dynamic of growing up -- breaking away from the parental mold, finding one's one identity, and eventually maturing into a realization that the parental mold contributed some good things to that identity.

This does not mean that the institutional synagogue should be let off the hook. We are almost all guilty of trying to be all things to all people, whether because eyn breira, there is no choice when we're the only game in town, or because we're under-resourced for implementing a synaplex model, or because we're ultimately religious-school centered and don't market effectively to our other niches.

For those without Hebrew, binyan as used in the heading for this post means a building. What the minyanim described in the Times lack is the Edifice complex, and that lack relates to the Oedipus complex and the push to "kill" our fathers. Fortunately, that push is balanced by loving our mothers, which eventually brings us back to what our fathers built.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Care and Feeding of Volunteers

Chicago URJ had a really good program last night on the subject of recruiting and retaining volunteers (with a clear recognition that a retained volunteer is a retained member too). Key takeaways included the reminder that you can't say thank you too often, that people want to help but typically don't want to serve on committees, that you have to be sensitive to mismatches between the volunteer and the assignment, and that you can't allow anybody to "own" a job.

That reminded me of a situation in a congregation I knew intimately, where the same guy served as treasurer for twenty years; and when he was finally asked to step aside, took so much umbrage that he left the congregation. (Side note: During the period between the time he left and the time he joined another congregation, he suggested to the URJ regional director that the Union should take the lead in creating a congregation for the unaffiliated!)

Although the excellent presenters all made clear that volunteers need to feel needed (as well as appreciated and thanked), and need to be slotted in their individual comfort zones, I didn't feel they gave enough attention to the various types of needs folks bring to their volunteer work. Let's look at some scenarios:

1. The networker gets involved to make business contacts. (For some reason, getting involved to make social contacts is kosher, to make business contacts is traif.) For some networkers, if they don't connect with potential clients quick enough, they'll drop away. For many, however, the talmudic maxim comes to pass: Im lo lishma, ba lishma. (Even if not begun for a holy purpose, the holiness emerges.) Or, as my rebbe used to phrase it, Never scorn the inferior motivation; always remember that Judaism is concerned not with what we think but with what we do.

2. The do-gooder gets involved to do good. The danger is that the good may be a diversion from the main purpose of the synagogue into a project that duplicates what other types of organizations can do, and are doing, better. Beware the boy scout who helps the little old lady cross the street when she didn't want to cross the street. One congregation I know was bull-dozed into "signing" its services for the hearing-impaired, even though there was another congregation a few miles away with special outreach to that community. Two months of well-publicized signing resulted in only one person being served: the young woman who was paid to do the signing. Even had she been signing as a volunteer, it was not a productive use of her skills, nor in the absence of a served community, was it effective in creating awareness in the congregation of a special need. We live in a world of infinite needs and limited resources; and we shouldn't let a volunteer's passion distract us from the congregation's mission.

3. The professional who wants to serve the community may or may not want to serve it professionally. If a CPA wants to serve on the finance committee, kol hakavod, honor him for contributing in his area of expertise. But what if he gets enough numbers gratification as work, and comes to the temple to talk Torah? I make my living doing PR, and when I take on a volunteer role, I want it to be something different from what I do all day. Part of this is that the laborer is worthy of his hire -- and this is what I get paid for; and the corollary is that my volunteer work is my recreation (such recreation!) and I need havdalah, separation, along with the chance to stretch and do something new. Make sure you're giving your volunteers what they want rather than trying to fit them into what you need.

4. The task-oriented doesn't want to serve on the board, doesn't want to be on a committee, doesn't want to make an open-ended commitment. When you try to recruit Mrs. Hard-to-get, you have to tell her why she and only she is the ideal person for this job, what will be expected from her, what kind of help from others she can expect, and when she will be done. Sometimes it is incumbent on you to complete the task, but when you have, you are free to desist from continued bondage.

Bottom line: Different strokes for different folks. Vive la difference, and don't forget the strokes.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Whys and Wise of Workshops

Although the impetus for holding a board workshop varies from congregation to congregation, the issues that boards or their leadership want to discuss tend to be the same -- membership recruitment and involvement; leadership responsibilities and leadership burn-out; teamwork, or building esprit de corps (essentially different names for the same malaise). Often, I find, the president is the instigator, with a desire to motivate or energize the board, frequently in preparation for a major fundraising effort.

As a facilitator, I consider it my responsibility to address the concerns expressed by my planning resources (typically the president, the leadership development chair, the rabbi, and the executive director, and if I have been called in by the URJ, the regional director), augmented by the inputs gleaned from the board questionnaires that are supplied by the Union for Reform Judaism when the workshop is organized with the support of its Department of Synagogue Management.

Having said that, I have my own agenda: reminding the board members that their purpose as a group is to do sacred work, and that the work must be based on Jewish values, as derived from Jewish texts. That is the dimension that the skilled corporate facilitator cannot supply. (The other limitation of the corporate facilitator is the frequent failure to recognize that the dynamic of the voluntary board is different from that of the corporate team, and that the hierarchy may have influence but no power or control over board colleagues.)

Again, regardless why the board or its leadership convened the workshop, certain outcomes tend to be constant:
1. Board members get to know one another better
2. Gnawing problems are surfaced, and even if not resolved, are placed in healthier perspective
3. Areas of consensus are developed, so the board can move forward as a cohesive body, even if disagreements and tensions remain unresolved
4. Board members get a better sense of their own roles and potential roles -- when the why was I chosen question is answered (typically indirectly), the individual is better equipped to take control of his or her own effectiveness

The well-conducted workshop ends with some consensus of next steps to move in the direction agreed to through the discussion. The external facilitator typically does not know whether the seeds that have been planted will take root or bear fruit or whether any of the three measures of success have been achieved: the instant gratification when participants feel the day was well spent, the insight and motivation that individual participants will have gained, and the distant gratification if and when the institutional goals set forth have been accomplished.