Learning from Last Year

Every year the staff of ThatCon ends the year with a pile of notes about what to change for next year.    And then the notes go in a file and we completely forget them.

Wait, not really. The formal meeting that we call “the debrief” is not that effective a way of  fixing the institutional anything.  Three or four hours of sitting in a room hearing reports one division at a time and getting little bullets of feedback in three minute increments with no discussion time is, in and of itself, not a good way to fix anything.  I suspect that far more real change gets accomplished in the informal small-group dinners that inevitably follow.

We keep doing it because it serves a purpose.  A couple of purposes.  First of all, by having a meeting, we have a due date when the written copies of all of those reports are due.  We have about a dozen standard questions about what went well, what went badly, and what needs to be changed for the future.  Sum total of those reports, posted to our staff web site, are a great resource for those that follow.

Second of all, many volunteer organizations have trouble with giving thanks and recognition, and we’re no exception.  It’s insufficient, but necessary, for those people who led the organization to get a chance to stand up and say, this is what I did.

Third, it’s kind of a closing ritual.

Still.  Three or four hour of sitting in room hearing three minute reports, Madame Conchair, how does that jibe with your New Year’s Resolution a month ago about no boring meetings?   It’s hard to do much with this format.

You can:

  • make it run on time
  • take good notes so that people who can’t be there or can’t stay for the whole thing have access
  • make the meeting available to remote participants and let people with laptops write down their comments in real time
  • have a little bit of humor and a little bit of audio-visual
  • have name tags so we stop pretending that we all know everyone, and making the new folks feel even more out of the loop.  I could write a whole little post about that alone.

We did all those things, and the best I can say for it is it wasn’t a horrible meeting.

The best thing we did was make a reservation down the block for a bunch of pool tables for afterwards.  The fun and conversation there  made up,  a little bit,  for our yearly exercise in trying to cram a summary of thousands of hours of work into an afternoon.

But wait!  I have an idea.  For an Experiment.  Of how to do this better, more productively, and a lot more fun next year.  I’ll save that for another post though.

 

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