Friday, October 29, 2010

Appreciative Inquiry

Fourth in a series of post about the October 2010 UUA Board Meeting

The interviews described in the linkage work above were based on Appreciative Inquiry (AI), a powerful methodology that is based on some interesting assumptions:
  1. In every society, organization, or group, something works.
  2. What we focus on becomes our reality.
  3. Reality is created in the moment, and there are multiple realities.
  4. The act of asking questions of an organization or group influences the group in some way.
  5. People have more confidence and comfort to journey to the future (the unknown) when they carry forward parts of the past (the known).
  6. If we carry forward parts of the past, they should be what is best about the past.
  7. It is important to value differences.
  8. The language we use creates our reality.

From the Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry

Sue Annis Hammond, Thin Book Publishing Company, 2nd Edition, 1998

What if, instead of interviews with 65 congregations, we could create an environment where hundreds of our congregations were having deep conversations about what is important to them and how we can work together as a whole? What if a natural part of that process was then meeting with other congregations to uncover common themes about what has worked, and dreaming together about what could be?

This was the proposition brought to the board by President Peter Morales, Moderator Gini Courter, and Amanda Trosten-Bloom, a noted AI expert who also happens to be a member of Jefferson Unitarian Church. Originally conceived as a staff effort, the power to impact the Board's work as well was quickly realized by Peter and Gini, and brought to the Board. Here was a way to involve congregations directly in created our Shared Vision, also known in Policy Governance® parlance as "ends".

Congregations were heavily involved in the creation of the current set of ends -- through hundreds of their delegates to General Assemblies in 2007 and 2008 (also based on AI), and subsequent discussions with dozens of congregations and district boards in early 2009. Yet the finished product had almost no sense of ownership from our member congregations. The fact that not a single congregation mentioned their GA delegates as "representing the congregation" in the linkage interviews may have something to do with it.

This effort is just beginning, and involves collaboration with more than Board and Staff. It has the power to do so much more than come up with revised "ends" (though that could be a by-product). AI is not only about dreaming, but the transformation we go through to make that dream happen.

May it be so.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

What were they thinking?

Third in a series of posts about the October 2010 UUA Board meeting

Who would I talk to if I wanted to talk to a “member congregation”? What in that conversation could move both of us to the kind of connection and mutual appreciation that would ultimately result in “one strong body”? What differences do our congregations want us to make together, and are they similar to the goals that were established by the Board after two years of input from various UUs and groups across the country? And can anyone believe – really believe – that these goals are not merely aspirational – that together we really could make them happen?

These were some of the questions the UUA Board explored in 64 conversations with randomly selected congregations over the past 8 months. This intentional selection of a statistically valid sample congregations was a way of using a smaller number of personal, real time interviews to get a sense of the whole.

Some of the findings were surprising, some not – for example, I expected that elected and called leadership would primarily be “who speaks for the congregation” – but not that there would be such a hunger for real, two-way conversation. I expected healthy relationships would be built on things like trust and respect – but not necessarily that mutuality and common goals would be cited. And I did not expect that so many congregations would describe themselves as feeling alone.

And most interesting was the shift in possibility that many of us felt in the conversations. We started from a place where there was significant “us” and “them”, congregations feeling isolated with little recognition of any relationship with “the UUA” other than staff, to excitement about what it could be like to be part of a strong Association with common goals.

And most interesting was the shift in possibility that many of us felt in the conversations. We started from a place where there was significant “us” and “them”, congregations feeling isolated with little recognition of any relationship with “the UUA” other than staff, to excitement about what it could be like to be part of a strong Association with common goals. Together we sing "We Would be One", and recognize in our worship services the power of being part of something larger. Sometimes we blame "congregational polity" for the fact that we often are not working collaboratively with other congregations or within the Association, forgetting the part about covenanting together. And many of us no longer use the term "herding cats" with pride.

We can be one. It starts with recognizing that it is possible -- and for some brief moments in these interviews, we did.

I will post a link to the summary report as soon as it is posted on the UUA website, which includes the recommendations that came out of it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

An Internet Highway to General Assembly

Second in a series of post about the October UUA Board Meeting

Last June a small group of volunteers at General Assembly (GA) in Minneapolis created a novel way for 11 GA delegates to watch two plenary sessions, participate in the plenary conversation, and vote (tabulated but not counted). What made this "novel" is that the delegates were in the state of New York; Athens, GA; Brewster, MA; Key West, and Houston. Using existing technology, duck tape, and baling wire, the trial was universally praised by its participants, and proved that the idea just might work.

And why would we want to do it? There is clearly no way that an "off-site" GA will capture the richness of experiences that singing, worshiping, and discussing with several thousand Unitarian Universalists brings. Yet the UUA Board is keenly aware that delegates typically do not represent our diversity of membership -- it is difficult for many people with family and job responsibilities, financial limitations, and/or physical limitations to take that much time and money to attend. Add to that lingering concerns about safety in Phoenix 2012, as raised in the responsive resolution from the Youth Caucus.

The Off-site Planning Team (co-led by myself and Mark Steinwinter) submitted three motions to the Board on Sunday, which were all approved:
  1. Implement a complete technology and process solution for Off-site delegate participation in 2011. Votes will be published but not counted for decision-making until 2012. The solution will address: 1) allowing offsite delegates to watch, listen, and speak during plenary session, 2) allowing offsite delegates to watch, listen, and speak during mini-assemblies, 3) queuing of offsite delegates who wish to speak, and 4) secure credentialing, voting, and tabulation for offsite delegates
  2. Place the following (non-C) by-laws change to Section 4.5 on the GA 2011 agenda: “Subject to procedures and guidelines adopted by the Board of Trustees, delegates not physically present at General Assembly may be deemed present in person to participate in and vote at General Assembly by means of remote communication.”
  3. Authorize expenditures for GA 2011 for off-site delegate work up to $75,000. Pursuant to policy 3.2.7.c, these funds may be taken from the General Assembly reserve fund.
Additional team members include board members Lew Phinney, Eva Marx, and John Hawkins; Christopher Wulff, who came to us through the Continental UU Young Adults Network (CUUYAN), Rev. Randy Becker, one of the original delegates; Tim Brennan, Don LaPlante, and Lynda Shannon Bluestein as liaison to the General Assembly Planning Committee. We will likely add more people to specific parts of the project. Interestingly, though the Board needed to approve the project, taking it forward is really staff work under Policy Governance®, so the 4 board members are wearing volunteer hats. It is an interesting experiment, with high commitment from team members. We will limit Charlotte to 250 delegates, focusing on congregational sites. Look for more information through multiple channels, including a dedicated site on the UUA website, and the opportunity for your congregation to participate -- if you can't come to Charlotte!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Antidote to Exhaustion

First in a series of posts about the October 2010 UUA Board Meeting

The October UUA Board meeting was significantly different than the first full board meeting I attended in 2007, though just as many hours – 60 hours of board activities spread over 5 days. A full year into Policy Governance®, we still struggle with detail that may not entirely be board work - for example, we have over 20 board committees and 4 working groups, which are probably a bit more than John Carver had in mind. Still, we are focusing in much different topics than we were when I first joined the Board.

Topics from the Board meeting that will be explored in more detail over the next few months include the conversations held over the past 8 months with member congregations, regionalization of service delivery, plans for a Justice GA, potential by-laws changes, how the Board holds itself accountable, and some exciting approaches to further conversations with those we are accountable to.

What is emerging amid the liaison and committee reports and the hours spent within those groups, are some deep and important discussions that give me a glimpse of what it is like to focus on values and the future more than the past – and that make me hunger for more of it. Never have I been so keenly aware of the opportunity cost of “the way we do things around here” – the hours (within the board meetings and beyond) spent by board members (UUA and District) and so many other volunteers that keep us incredibly busy – and may or may not be moving us further towards what we are longing for as a faith.

On Wednesday night, board member (and the Reverend) Will Saunders quoted an exchange between poet David Whyte and Brother David, an Austrian monk who was a friend of his. Whyte had been working non-stop with a non-profit and finally hit a wall, bursting into a meeting to ask “Has anyone seen David? I need to speak with David.”

There was only one David in the organization – himself. After a moment of stunned silence, everyone in the room laughed – except Whyte. He had been serious – and was exhausted. Later he said to Brother David “Tell me about exhaustion.” His friend replied “the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest… the answer to exhaustion is whole-heartedness”.

I have mentioned before in these posts the strange combination of tired and alive that comes out of these meetings. One of the things that sustains this board is the underlying worship that goes with it. We started the Board meeting this past week with more than usual - and we all felt the impact. Share part of it with us by clicking here and on the video link on the right to see (the Reverend Doctor) Susan Ritchie's vespers that preceded Will's recounting of the story above.