Friday, April 18, 2014

A Study in Organizational Behavior

A little break from the wedding action for some self observation… I was a young mother, I started participating in the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) at the elementary school.  I was excited about getting involved and making a difference in my children’s school experience.  I had a lot to give and felt like my school, work and church experiences prepared me for this.  After all, I was a student of organizational behavior!

After the first meeting, I was hopeful and optimistic.  I took it as a positive sign that traditions were challenged and people didn’t always have the same opinion.  Discussion and differing opinions are good!  They help us think beyond our own pre-conceived notions (if we actually listen and are open to differing opinions, that is). Change is good!  Just because we’ve done it one way doesn’t mean that it always has to be THAT way.  Of course, at some point, differing opinions just become contention, but that is a topic for another time.

Throughout the years of my PTO work, and then later serving in the high school football booster club (especially there!), I found that there is always at least one “guardian of the old ways”.  That person has usually been through the process a number of times, is probably on the last of 3 or 4 kids, an is the informally recognized keeper of organizational history and knowledge.  A tremendous resource, to be sure.

However, let’s be honest, the guardian is tired and a little grouchy by this time and just wants to come out the other side.  They usually scoff at any new idea. In fact, the scoffing usually begins even before the new idea is even fully out of the contributor’s mouth!    They know what needs to be done, and they have seen variations to theme over the years.  Through extensive longitudinal studies and comprehensive analysis, the guardian has reached the conclusion of THE RIGHT WAY TO DO THINGS.  Knowing what needs to be done and how is the majority of the organization’s work, so skipping to the end simplifies things considerably!  And who doesn’t crave a little simplification in their life?

In addition to the guardian, there is almost always a “mediator” to bridge the gap between the newbies and the guardian.  The scoffing is off-putting, but the level of knowledge and experience that the guardian brings is undeniable.  So, the newbies are a bit afraid of him/her.  The mediator has been around a while but is still accessible to newbies and guardians.  They have built a relationship with the guardian over time (serving with someone does that!) and a mutual level of respect has evolved. 

This is important because new ideas are always needed!  There is always a BETTER RIGHT WAY TO DO THINGS out there.  Stifling the newbies is bad!  It frustrates them.  Discourages their participation in the present and future.  The organization stagnates.  You run out of new people to perpetuate it. There has to be a balance between the experience of the old ways and the life-giving air that new ideas bring.

For years, I have been a mediator.

On Wednesday, I was at a meeting and some new strategies were being discussed for one of our major fundraisers.  The committee was very excited about their ideas.

My responses were (in random order):

  • Too expensive!  We’ll cut into our revenue!  Will it be worth it?
  • The players won’t respond.  The only thing that works is  _____.
  • We tried that.  It failed.
  • Too much effort!

Did I mention that my youngest son will be a senior this year?  Or, that I’ve been participating in this organization for 10 years, 8 as treasurer? No one I began with is still there. I might have to cop to being nearly done, tired, even a bit grouchy.

I have officially shifted roles.  I am the guardian.  I’m gonna have to think about that.