For this week’s assignment, I decided to incorporate some of the research that I’m doing for RUPA in terms of our organizational structure. One of the groups that I had in mind as a hero of organization was Dance Marathon, so I went through Carey Loch and made it possible for me to attend a meeting of their Board of Directors. Boy, was it informative.
I arrived at the Board meeting a few minutes early and was the third person in the room. This lead two of the member to believe I was in the wrong place and after a hilarious conversation we finally became oriented and I knew that I was in the correct location. As everyone arrived, I wanted to say a few words before the meeting started so I introduced myself to the group including their advisor, Dean Arnholt. I explained that I was there mostly to observe because of the legends I had heard of in terms of their structure and that they should ignore me for most of the meeting until the end when I asked for a few minutes of being able to ask them some questions. They all agreed, I was sworn to secrecy of content, and the meeting began. They had printed an agenda for me but I noticed that I was the only person with an agenda printed. This, I learned, was because they all had their laptops/iPads/technology out and were all being interactive on the agenda via Google Drive. This was huge for me. Something so simple, but that was something I had never really thought about. The minutes of the meeting were typed directly onto the agenda by the secretary of the week (which switches hands each meeting – another great idea) and each person was able to add as needed. They also each interrupted the minutes to add assignments for themselves relating to that section of the minutes. So, that was how the agenda changed my perspective on how to change a meeting but that was just the start.
There is no President or Executive Director of DM. There is no person assigned to run each meeting or check up on the other Directors. Each meeting is run by a different person on the board. I know- take a moment to digest that.
Better? Awesome. Let’s continue. I’m sure you’re thinking “But Adam, how can that possibly work?!?” It’s quite simple actually. It’s called the Dance Marathon Credo. Now, take this with a grain of salt because a service/philanthropy based credo is much easier to develop because everyone has the same “why” and the “why” is clear. I bet you can guess what the DM “why” is. That’s right. FTK. For the Kids. Three words that instantly motivate, cultivate, and “run” a very successful and together organization. FTK is the Executive Director of DM, the driving force, the reprimand, and the reward. The credo extends from that point to make it so that no person needs to check up on Directors, they all do it For the Kids and, generally, never need to be checked beyond that. They all believe in this mission so much that it’s not even that they don’t want to let each other down when accomplishing tasks, they don’t want to let their credo down. Just consider how insane and awesome that is.
Once I got over my awe, I continued observing. The more I listened, the less I actually understood. I asked Carey what was going on and the reason it felt like they were all speaking in code was because they had all discussed at least some part of everything they were saying through their Directors’ Facebook group. This struck me as hugely efficient. They probably covered enough ground for 2.5 of my Executive Board meetings in the time one of my meetings is. This was because no one needed to ask questions for clarifications- they were all already on the same page. A meeting was still necessary to report out, ask for feedback, and strategize, but no one ever had to ask “Now…when was this and where?” It was fantastically efficient and gave a completely different feel to their meeting- something that I crave desperately.
Another very interesting aspect of the DM leadership is the decision making process. Decision making is huge in leadership because it affects how leaders view each other, how followers view the leaders, and how effective the decisions are. In the Board of Directors the only way decisions are made is through consensus. There is no voting. There is no lobbying for interests. If someone in the group can identify a valid reason that the decision will negatively reflect their credo, they don’t do it- at least not with discussion leading to a consensus. It’s all or nothing because they believe that it is ineffective to do anything that not everyone on their Board agrees with. This is huge, guys. Consensus is the most difficult and time consuming type of decision making that there is, but for DM, it took less time then voting does in RUPA. This goes back to two things: their credo and how the prepare for meeting. Anything requiring a consensus decision is made into a proposal and is sent out a week prior to the meeting. All members review it and are already ready to answer the question before it’s asked. They also aren’t asking based on their opinion. One consensus decision that was presented was the tshirt design, which turned out to be tabled for another meeting, but was not something people were saying things like “I don’t like the color” or ” I don’t want to wear that.” Instead, things like “Will people be representing our message in this way?” and “Is that FTK enough?” This complete removal of self from decision making is something I’ve never seen and something I strongly commended them for. By the way, one of the designs they were considering is on their FTK Day poster:
There is much more that I learned from attending this meeting, but these were the biggest organizational structure aspects that I gathered. I was amazed. RUPA is in a very good place and we’re having such a great year. But imagine a programming board with the drive that DM has. You can’t because we would be hand building an auditorium to house a $500,000 artist with money that we raised free of charge for students. RUPA is not a service organization- but that doesn’t mean that we can’t get closer to what DM has. Utilizing small parts of what makes their organization great will get us their step by step, and developing a personal credo for RUPA would have an even larger credo. DM gave me a lot to think about. They are great leaders with an amazing sense of “why” which provides for an efficient, affective, and passionate organization. I’m really glad I attended their meeting and I hope to come back to them next semester to show them how what I saw in them has shaped RUPA for the better.