Archive for February, 2012|Monthly archive page

Metaphor of the Day

Being conchair of ThatCon is like being head magician of an amazing machine.  Of which I do not know all the incantations to use all its miraculous capabilities  and besides it has a mind of its own.  And talks back.

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.


Worst. Idea. Ever.

Three sentence email is the idea that all emails should be no more than three sentences long.

Email takes too long to respond to,  so pledge that all emails will be answered in three sentence or less.  Well if you take that pledge,   I hope you are not using these emails to form or reinforce a relationship,  convey a complex concept,  or convince someone of a new idea.

Actually, if you are taking that pledge, I hope you’re not emailing me.

Staffing up

I skipped writing about the debrief from the last convention, and there’s a lot to say about that.  Right now I’m deep into the process of staffing next year’s con — talking to lots of people on staff, asking them to take various jobs on my convention, and juggling the org chart like a bowl of fruit at  a  clown convention.

I’ve liked the process to building a tower out of blocks.  Living blocks with their own agenda who regularly decide they don’t want to be where they are any more and wander around switching places.

We’re having trouble finding staff in many areas of the con, and somewhat paradoxically, my response to this is to break a lot of jobs into smaller pieces.   Smaller, more manageable pieces seem to increase the pool of people willing to tackle them and even more,  increases the pool of people I’m willing to trust with them.

The downside is that I’m growing the number of conchair direct reports to a number that I definitely can’t handle on my own.  I’m planning to ask my as-yet-unappointed assistant conchairs  to take groups of divisions and provide oversight to them.   This is adding a whole additional level of  challenge as  I figure out what groups logically belong together, what groups only belong together because of the personal talents of the staff members, and what people just can’t work together,  sending me back to the drawing table again.