Image borrowed from HERE
Recently I watched a colleague struggle significantly with a committee she was heading up. Once a group of 10 active and reliable members, her group dropped to 8, then 7, and now stands at 4. The work the committee was doing ground to a halt. My friend was responsible. The work piled up, and she ended up putting in (even more) long hours. She lamented to me that of the people who had stopped coming to her meetings, only one had actually given notice. I saw the same issue again this week when I showed up to a task force I sit on – only 3 people there. Our leader made light of the situation, but I could tell he was upset that people had just stopped showing up.
We’ve all done this at least once in Student Affairs, and, we have at least had it done to us once. If you ask me, the most unfortunate part of it all is that it is widely accepted that it will happen, and people step off of committees/work groups/task forces usually by just never coming again. Rather than sharing with the planner or the group the reasons for leaving, and trying to find a replacement on the team, people quietly slip away. Most of them do not even get themselves removed from email lists for fear of bringing attention to the fact that they were a part of the group, and now are not.
I get it – we are busy, busy, people. We over commit. We don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. We have a hard time saying no. We want to help. We join things that are not within our position descriptions, and then our jobs kick into overdrive. There are a lot of reasons that are not at all malicious. In fact, I would imagine that the vast majority are not meant to be harmful. The issue lies in the fact that this can happen over and over in a group, and then the person in charge is left holding the whole thing together with duct tape, chewing gum, and their bare hands.
So hey, does that mean that we have to be martyrs? No. What it means is that we can do just a few things to have both the boundaries we need, and be the support for our colleagues in their endeavors:
- Find out what you are agreeing to: ask some questions before you jump into the fray. What kind of time commitment do you think this will be? What will be expected of the members of this group? How do you see my skills/efforts fitting into the project? What is the timeline you are working with? Having just a bit of information can help you to determine if you are going to be able to commit or not.
- Commit: When you say yes – say yes. Put the meetings on your calendar out as far as you need to, show up to the meetings present and ready to go, be engaged from the start, and keep that going until the finish. I find it so sad when people seem surprised I make it to all the meetings, or do the work asked of me (not to paint myself the hero here – I have definitely done the opposite too). If you are well-informed about your commitment, and them make it, you should be able to do most of what is asked. Be that awesome person people can rely on (of course this will mean you will get more invites to evaluate, and possibly to say no to).
- Have boundaries on your commitment: If you do not think you can do everything asked, or can’t make most of the meetings, come up with a way to be involved where you can meet your commitment. Suggest you show up to a few meetings to consult, or meet separately with the leader to talk about things. Perhaps you can take on one piece of the project and do it on your own time, or read the meeting notes and weigh in. If you can fill a need and help out, do it.
- Say no: It is a really hard thing to do in a culture of “yes” and a group of people who are committed helpers. I know that this often flies in the face of what you hear and what you see either on your campus and in Student Affairs. We feel peer-pressured into being yes-only people. I believe that often “no” is better than a “yes” if you really can’t meet the commitment being asked.
- If you have to step down: Go out and find someone to take your place. Who do you know that could be a part of the group? Pitch it to them and see if you can make a switch. Doing this demonstrates your commitment to the group, keeps that much-needed spot on the team filled, and upholds your own boundaries and needs.
- If you can’t find a replacement, but still need to leave: Be up front with the leader of the group at minimum, the whole group at best. Don’t just stop going and hope that no one notices you are no longer there. People notice. You don’t want a reputation for being someone who does not meet commitments. On some campuses once you have a reputation – it’s not going away
I think there are also some proactive things group leaders can do as well:
- Help those you ask to be well-informed: If you know the commitment you are asking for, tell people. Give them not just an idea of the cool topic, important outcome, or necessary goal. People who join your group well-informed are more likely to stick with you.
- Ask what else people are up to: Sometimes it is good to get a sense of how committed someone is before you ask them to join your group. If they seem very busy, perhaps you should look for someone else. You could ask the person you thought of first whether or not they have recommendations as to who you can ask.
- Don’t always ask the same people: This can help with the over-commitment issue, but it is also awesome to meet new folks with new projects. I have met some amazing people on campus because a group leader brought together folks I would never have thought of.
- If you see someone is no longer in attendance: Check in with that person. Let them know you are aware they are no longer coming to meetings, and ask them what is going on for them. Most people do not leave groups out of spite, so seeking to understand is really helpful. This might also provide you with some feedback on how your work is going. People might have left because they felt things were not productive, or did not like the direction being taken. That can improve your work moving forward. The final positive about this approach is that it holds people accountable, helps you to understand what is going on, and may help keep the relationship you have with that person intact for future endeavors.
In the end, we will all be on both sides of this fence. We want to serve, create, help, and say yes! Increasing communication to start, and keeping it going as things move along is key to having successful and useful group attendance.