One meeting that changed everything

photo of a big top with blackboards around in the shape of letters spelling COMMUNICATE

Image credit: Simon Huggins, shared through Creative Commons on Flickr

At Dudley CVS a common and constant challenge is that of effective internal communication. It’s a perennial topic of discussion at our staff away days. Over the years we’ve tried noticeboards in the hallway, staff meetings, various ideas involving email, a brief flirtation with Yammer, team leader meetings and more. We’ve never really got it to work.

Which is what made this morning so blindingly brilliant. Thanks to some sensible colleagues we’ve started 2015 with dates in for quarterly staff meetings with required attendance, and monthly staff meetings in intervening months which are optional. I wasn’t particularly supportive of this, I have found staff meetings in the past to be less than inspiring, and personally I much prefer deeper one-to-one conversations with people to find out what they are up to and thinking about.

Flipchart with heading 'Agenda' and list 1. Exec update, 2. Interviews, 3. AOBI think we were all a bit surprised when we saw the agenda for this morning’s staff meeting (right). So after an update from our Chief Officer, Andy, on what our Board is focused on, we moved on to ‘interviews’. Andy asked someone to set a timer for 5 minutes on their phone, then he started choosing staff members at random to ask questions of, until everyone had been subjected to this!

Terry Gee from our Integrated Plus team was picked on first, he was asked by Andy:

  • What achievement in the last 2 months are you most proud of?
  • What is the biggest challenge you face in the next few months?
  • What was your nickname at school?
  • What is the biggest bit of work you are getting your teeth in to next?
  • What do you want to be written on your Dudley CVS epitaph?

These are great (and fun) questions, which clearly I noted down so I could begin to prepare my own responses. But as Andy moved on the the second round of questioning he changed the questions! Then Terry, who by now could relax, started to scribble questions down and slid them across the table to Andy. I loved this natural and welcome disruptive behaviour and we were also all enjoying hearing about each other’s work in a different way.

Then it got even better. Andy asked Nicki whose work she knew least about. She looked at me. He asked her what she was going to do about it. So now Nicki and I are meeting next week for coffee (in a cafe, of course) to catch up on our respective projects and work. Given we haven’t managed to arrange something as simple as this for 5 years I really welcomed the nudge.

Then it was my turn to be interviewed. I think Andy really has a sense of what his staff need at any given time, so amongst other things I was asked to identify a colleague who could be a listening ear to support me around some challenges I am struggling with. This was just brilliant. I looked around the room at these familiar faces in a completely new way, with a different pair of eyes. Suddenly they had shifted from being people who are busy and do great work that’s not much to do with me, to a hugely rich pool of skilled, experienced and supportive friends and mentors who might give a bit of time to listen to what I find difficult. And though I was asked to choose one colleague on the spot, I have already approached a second and got a time to meet next week. I hope that I will continue this, as there are so many different perspectives and ways of thinking and doing among our staff that could really help me to have insights in to my work, I would be daft not to ask for a bit of time from everyone. And yet I don’t think I’ve ever really asked before.

Lots of pairings were made through the meeting, and we even had the most constructive conversation I think we’ve ever had about creating useful and effective staff meetings, so now we have clear topics for the next two optional staff meetings. This makes them feel much more appealing and likely to be attended. Might we have nailed it?

We’d love to know:

  • What internal communication strategies or activities work well for your group or organisation?

And invite you to reflect on the following:

  • If you could have coffee (or tea) with one of your colleagues who you don’t know so well, who would it be and what’s stopping you?
  • Who in your organisation could be a great listening ear and source of support when you are facing challenges? What would prompt you to ask them for half an hour of their time?

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