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.

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