Recycling the Same Old Issues?
I am a recycling Neanderthal; I get confused about what goes where, do tops stay on, what kind of plastic is or isn’t recyclable, especially if there are bins or labels I may be unfamiliar with. Truth be told if I am in a hurry and can’t quickly decide (or don’t have my reading glasses) I give it my best guess and in they go. Reflecting on my sorting conundrum I realized this is exactly like the process nonprofit boards and staff go though.
The distribution of board/staff responsibilities is very comparable to the recycling process. Both are intended to conserve our natural resources and each requires a unique and consistent understanding to be effective. Those unfamiliar with and/or unwilling to learn the recycling process will waste valuable resources and pollute the process. Those who misunderstand the specific roles and responsibilities of a non-profit association will also waste resources and pollute productivity.
In a nonprofit environment there are separations of responsibilities in the same way there are specific containers for which items are recycled and where. The metaphor also applies not just to what goes in which bin but who is responsible for collecting the items (completing the projects) in each category. In my experience there are people who will confess to a limited understanding of the nuances of the recycling process, but in my 15 years in the nonprofit business I have never had any board member who did not believe they fully understood their responsibilities as a nonprofit board member – yet few could actually explain what those responsibilities were. The difference is that people know there are rules about recycling; they don’t know there are very specific rules about being an effective board member.
Using the recycling bin metaphor depersonalizes the process of helping both board members and staff understand their roles in the process. The most effective way to create new understanding is to approach the challenges in an unfamiliar and nonthreatening way. Telling pushes information that is quickly forgotten, while exploring new ideas together encourages the mutual discovery of new ideas.
In the process of discovery the brain creates new connections to old ideas. The more connections we create the greater recollection we will have. This is why you can be shown 2,560 photographs for just ten seconds each and three days later your recognition accuracy would likely be over 90%. The mind is most retentive when we use imagery whether that is a visual depiction, engaging story or enlightening metaphor.
Share the sorting metaphor with both your staff and board. To be a Zero Waste board authorities and responsibilities would each have their own “bin” as defined by board policy.
How true is each of these statements for you?
The system breaks down when team members:
1. Do not understand what goes where
2. Are not responsible for meeting the “pickup” schedule
3. Spend unnecessary resources inspecting each other’s bins
4. Decide on new sorting policies based on personal preferences
5. Insist on inspecting each deposit before it is placed in the bin
6. Believe that sorting is someone else’s responsibility
7. Do not communicate to other stakeholders all the details of the sorting process and schedule
8. Classify “mis-sorting” issues as personal problems not process opportunities
9. Are not forthcoming in accepting their own sorting inefficiencies
10. Do not quickly address mis-sorting issues
11. Accept mis-sorting as uncorrectable
12. Undervalue those who understand and follow the process
13. Attack those who attempt to improve the system
14. Develop their own private sorting system expecting others to concede
15. Do not continually seek to improve the sorting process
16. Do not take the time to agree on representative metrics of successful sorting performance
17. Fail to adequately measure and share performance of all stakeholders
18. Undervalue the importance of encouraging exemplary performance.
The more connections we create the greater our ability to recall
Use the material above to set the stage and then ask groups of three to discuss each of the questions below.
Prime the pump by using a nonthreatening (preferably humorous) example from outside your industry to demonstrate one of the questions. Or better yet use a personal example of your own misunderstanding of board staff-roles and what you have done to correct it. Or even better yet hire an outside professional to guide you through the process. A qualified expert will have the ability to address sensitive issues without the burden of participants believing there is some ulterior agenda. Additionally an outside expert has the ability to confront challenging issues while preserving sensitive ongoing relationships.
Option: It is also very beneficial to conduct a survey in advance of your board retreat to validate the disparities in understanding of a specific board process. i.e. In our own board we asked how they expected to be communicated to and received a three-way split of incompatible processes. When confronted with these results, board members recognized that staff would spend all of their time communicating what had been done leaving no time to get things done.
Use this link for a quick checklist of Carvers Rules of Governance