Are Your Monthly Updates Stale?

In many Forums, questions aren’t allowed during or after monthly updates so that the Forum can stay within time limits.  But what if a member has a question or wants clarification on something?

Adding Q&A to the monthly updates can be an enriching addition to the Forum meeting.  It enables people to delve a bit more into areas of interest and concern.  Like all aspects of the Forum, a deliberate approach to the structure and process should be discussed and determined.  Without it, the Forum can veer off track and waste valuable time.

There are two different methods of implementing Q&A into monthly updates.  One is that the Forum allots one minute for Q&A at the end of each person’s update.  The time keeper needs to time the update itself and the Q&A – two separate times.  The other method is to have people jot down their questions throughout the updates, then have an open Q&A at the end of all the updates.  Again, the open Q&A is timed – probably something like five or ten minutes.  The exact timing will depend on the size of your Forum and how tight the agenda is that day.

A couple of questions usually come up here, so let me address them preemptively.

  • Is there any structure to asking the questions?

You don’t really have time to go around the table in one minute, so the people with the most compelling questions tend to speak right up.  The moderator should control the Q&A.  Someone needs to be sure that one person isn’t asking all the questions and dominating the conversation.  Remind everyone that this is for Q&A, not feedback.  Comments and advice should NOT be included.  Be aware that it can be a let down to the person giving their update if NOBODY asks them a question at the end.  They might feel like nobody was listening, or nobody cared about their update.  The Moderator should make a point of listening intently and jotting down a few questions to ask, in case of a lackluster Q&A.

  • Should we follow Gestalt Language Protocol (no direct advice) during the Q&A?

The answer is that some Forums do and some Forums don’t.  It’s a decision the Forum should make together.  Have a discussion about it and take a vote.  You’ve already assigned the process observer, so it’s easy for them to police the questions.  Always keep in mind that we’re trying to create a “safe zone” in Forum and if someone is making judgmental comments or giving advice, it can be counter-productive to the entire process.

Note that it will take one or two meetings for the Forum to get into a rhythm of asking questions during the monthly updates.  You might want to try one method for a couple of meetings, and then have a discussion with the Forum about the process.  Do they like it?  Is it adding value?  Is everyone comfortable with the structure?  Then, make adjustments and try again.  Eventually, you’ll find a comfortable rhythm for your Forum.

Should We Socialize with the Spouses?

As the holiday season approaches, so does the time for holiday parties, dinners, and get-togethers.  The question always arises – is it a good idea to have social events that include spouses?  Will the spouses be comfortable?  Will it be difficult for the Forum members?  What’s the precedent?

Most Forums face this conundrum at some point.  Let’s look at the pros and cons, followed by a few examples.

PROS:

  • The Forum members become an important part of your life.  It’s nice to meet each other’s family and friends in order to have a better understanding of each other.
  • The spouses enjoy meeting the people who have become an important part of your life.
  • The spouses typically feel more comfortable attending chapter and international events because they know more people.
  • It’s fun!  Forum meetings are so structured that it’s nice to kick back and relax together with families.

CONS

  • Some Forum members are apprehensive that they might “slip” and say something to a spouse that is confidential.
  • Some spouses might be uncomfortable meeting the Forum, since they may assume that the Forum knows confidential things about their relationship.
  • A nosy or snoopy spouse might attempt to pry information out of a Form member.
  • Some Forum members worry that they won’t remember what is confidential and what isn’t.

Here are a few examples on both sides of this issue.  Several years ago, I worked with a Forum that NEVER socialized outside the Forum meeting – with or without spouses.  They were a very strong Forum of 11 members, together for 12 years.  Nobody had missed a meeting in almost three years and they all attended their retreat diligently every year.  They made a conscious decision not to mix Forum with person life, and they all agreed to keep it that way.  Their Forum meeting was a safe haven – like stepping onto an island where they felt they could be completely open and authentic.

In another example, a female Forum member was unhappy in her marriage, embarrassed about her husband’s drinking problem and she absolutely refused to engage in social activities that included spouses.  The Forum respected and supported her feelings, so they didn’t hold planned events with spouses.  However, individual members were free to gather informally in smaller groups with their spouses.

On the flip side, many Forums plan a holiday dinner with spouses.  It’s an annual event, formally planned.  It may include a gift exchange, dancing, and an after-hours party.  One Forum has regular dinners with their spouses throughout the year and a picnic with the kids in the summer.  In another Forum, the spouses join the Forum members at the end of their annual Forum retreat for a few extra days of vacation.  This Forum says the spouses are much more supportive of exotic retreat locations because they are able to participate in the experience!

Note that if your Forum decides to include spouses in social events, it’s wise to remind everyone in advance to be extremely alert and cautious about what they say.  Discuss confidentiality in detail in advance and review the current status on what is confidential.  Let each Forum member express any special concerns they may have.  A heightened awareness can help prevent an inadvertent confidentiality breach.

The vast majority of Forums do have periodic social activities that include spouses.  But as with all aspect of Forum, every group must find their own way.  Discuss it as a group and decide what is best for everyone.  In case of disagreement, refer back to the Forum mission statement and determine how to best fulfill the purpose of the Forum.

Location, Location, Location!

Where do you hold your Forum meetings?  The meeting location is an important part of the overall experience of your Forum meeting, so it’s worth some thought.

Three most common venues

  • Rotate offices – many Forums rotate from one member’s office to another each month.  An advantage to this method is that everyone gets to see each other’s businesses, which provides perspective and is informative. The rule on this venue is that the member must be able to provide a suitable meeting space where doors can be closed and confidentiality can be maintained.  The hosting member should be sure their office staff knows not to interrupt the meeting for any reason.  Also, it is recommended that the hosting member does NOT give a presentation when they are hosting the meeting.  This is due to the psychological aspect of presenting in your own backyard – there is more of a risk that something might be overheard and the member may not be as open.
  • Central location – Some Forums select a central location that becomes the location for every meeting.  This option can be handy when the Forum members are geographically disbursed over a wide area and a central location works better for everyone.  It also works well when a particularly desirable meeting space is available to the Forum.  The location could be a member’s office, a hotel meeting room, a private room at a restaurant, or a professional meeting space.  Again, the facility must be able to provide a room where doors can be closed and confidentiality can be maintained.  Staff should be made aware that they should not open the door or interrupt the meeting for any reason when the doors are closed.
  • Rotate homes – Some Forums allow the hosting member to host at their home instead of their office.  This option provides a different view of the hosting member and it’s generally a more casual and more relaxed setting.  The main rule here is that nobody can be at home.  In regions of the world where there are shared family homes, this is not a feasible option.  Keep in mind that you may need to bring in a flip chart or A/V equipment, depending on the needs of the presenter and the activities that are planned for the meeting.

Alternative ideas

Want to mix it up?  Consider some of these alternative locations for a forum meeting. It’s kind of like a field trip, which can be both refreshing and informative!

  •  A large, recognized local business – arrange for a behind-the-scenes tour, have lunch with the CEO, and then conduct the Forum meeting in one of their conference rooms.
  • Sailboat – located near a lake or the water? Bring your boat shoes and sunscreen and enjoy a meeting on a sailboat or motorboat.
  • Museum, sports arena, concert hall or theater – arrange a private tour, then hold the Forum meeting in one of their meeting rooms.
  • Hospital – bring in a physician to talk about stress management, arrange for a couple of stress tests, then hold the meeting in one of the hospital meeting rooms.
  • Sponsor’s office – many sponsors are happy to provide meeting space in order to get the exposure.
  • Soup kitchen – Feel like mixing volunteer work and Forum?  The Forum could meet at a local soup kitchen, feed the homeless, and then meet at a nearby facility.
  • Children’s hospital – bring gifts to the kids, tour the facility, and meet in a hospital meeting room.

These types of alternative can provide a refreshing change of pace once or twice a year. Get creative!  One Forum went to the county jail, got a tour from the prison warden, and held their Forum meeting in an interrogation room.  Although your Forum may not want to go to jail, with a little creative brainstorming the possibilities are endless!

Keep in mind…

Regardless of the location you choose, be thoughtful about the meeting room itself.  Glass walls are NOT recommended as they can be distracting and diminish openness.  Be sure the room is large enough for people to sit comfortably.  Also, be sure the walls are soundproof so that outsiders can’t hear your conversation… and you don’t have to listen to theirs!  Finally, provide plenty of water for hydration throughout the meeting, and optionally provide soda and light snacks for breaks.

As with all aspects of Forum, it’s ultimately up to your Forum to decide how you want to handle the meeting location.  Discuss the options and consider mixing it up.  Give it a shot – and see how a change of location could spice up your Forum meetings!

Do You Have a Celebrity in Your Forum?

In Forum, as in life, special consideration must sometimes be given to certain individuals, for one reason or another.  Doctors, attorneys and celebrities are the most common recipients of such special consideration.  For example, an attorney may be required by a judge to appear in court at the same time as the Forum meeting.  A physician may be required to attend to a critically ill patient on a moment’s notice.  And a celebrity may be on an extended tour that causes them to miss multiple meetings.  Each situation must be reviewed individually, but let’s start with a basic challenge that can emanate from these types of situations.

A Forum is intended to be a group of peers.  While diversity in the Forum is encouraged, members that require special handling can cause problems within the Forum.  These problems should be discussed openly with the entire Forum.  If special handling is not discussed, the health of the Forum is at risk.  If the rules are ignored for one member, it becomes difficult if not impossible to uphold the rules for other members.  Commitment is required of all members, regardless of profession, rank, or status, and it is important for each member, celebrity or not, to realize and accept this condition.

To deal with a celebrity member situation, plan to have a discussion with the entire Forum at an upcoming meeting.  This discussion should be led by the Moderator and the celebrity member should be notified of the discussion in advance, to prevent him or her from feeling blindsided by the discussion.  The ultimate goal is to identify the type of special handling required and if or how it can be integrated into the Forum in a fair and equitable manner.

Note that unique situations for celebrity members don’t always spell disaster.  Many Forums have worked around special member requirements and kept the Forum whole and healthy.  In fact, these situations can ultimately serve to be a benefit to the Forum.  But this can only happen when there is open, authentic communication about the subject.

One possible solution for a celebrity member is to make them an “honorary” member.  This means they don’t attend regular Forum meetings, but they can join the Forum’s social activities and attend an occasional meal before or after the regular meeting.  Perhaps the celebrity can attend a special meeting once a year where he or she gives a Presentation, and the rest of the Forum can gain knowledge from this “honorary” member.

As with all Forums, the members of the group must determine the purpose of the Forum and what brings value to the group.  Write a mission statement to clarify the purpose and ensure that decisions about membership (like celebrity members) enable the Forum to uphold the mission statement.

4 Steps for an Emergency Forum Meeting

Emergencies happen.  Problems arise.  Life doesn’t stick to a schedule, which is why you may need to call an emergency Forum meeting.  You can call your Forum 24/7 to help you with the tough stuff.  So, how do you do it?

  1. Contact the Moderator.  Let the Moderator know when and where you would like the meeting to be held.  You do NOT have to identify the specific situation.  It’s enough that your Forum members know you need help.
  2. Moderator notifies Forum.  The Moderator contacts the other Forum members and notifies them of the emergency meeting, the location and the time.
  3. Meeting is held.  The meeting itself typically consists of an opening confidentiality reminder and a presentation on your issue.
  4. Meeting is adjourned.  After the full presentation process is complete, the meeting ends.   The presenter should provide a status update at the next Forum meeting.

What constitutes an issue that is important enough to call an emergency meeting?  This varies from person to person and Forum to Forum.  There are some Forums that have been together for years and have never had an emergency meeting, while other Forums have them several times a year.  There are some people who have never called an emergency meeting and others who have called multiple emergency meetings during difficult times.  In short, if you are feeling uncomfortable about the severity of your issue, contact your Moderator and talk it through with them.  He or she can guide you as to whether the issue is appropriate for an emergency meeting.

Note that emergency meetings are not considered mandatory for attendance.  This is because we can’t possibly plan for them – they just happen.  For example, if someone is out of town on the date when you’ve requested the emergency meeting, it won’t be recorded as an absence.

Unfortunately, things happen that are out of our control.  Thankfully, your Forum is there to help you when the unexpected happens.  It’s another great benefit of being in a Forum!

 

Five Ways to Integrate “The New Guy” into Your Forum

So the time has come to add a new member to your Forum.  Understandably, you’re wondering how the new person will fit in with the rest of the Forum, and you may be concerned about how to integrate him or her into the group.  You want him or her to feel welcome and comfortable, yet you want the intimacy and closeness that your Forum has developed over the years to remain intact throughout the process and beyond.

Know that the dynamics of the Forum will change when a new member joins – at least for a while.  But there are several practices you can use to help smooth the transition.  Here are five ideas:

  1. This new member should, if possible, attend Forum Training.  This basically equips them with the basic skills, knowledge and expectations that will help them to better integrate into your Forum.  The more knowledge a member has when they enter the Forum, the more quickly they will get up to speed and align with the group!
  2. Appoint one person from your forum to meet with this new member before his or her first Forum meeting.  It’s the old “buddy system.”  Go over your forum norms/constitution and your upcoming meeting schedule.  Reiterate any rules around solicitation, business deals, fines and absences.  Answer any questions they may have, and encourage them to feel comfortable asking you about anything they are unsure of.  This contact enables the new member to have a personal relationship with at least one person in the forum, which in turn helps the new member’s first Forum meeting to be as smooth as possible for everyone.
  3. At the new member’s first meeting, include a time for every member to share a 5 to 10 minute overview of their business and personal life.  This can be an extended monthly update, or you could add a special section to the meeting agenda.
  4. Remind current members not to make inside jokes or other exclusionary remarks in front of the new member. (It doesn’t help the new member feel welcome!)  Also, remind members not to make any negative comments about prior Forum members, regardless of the circumstances of their departure.
  5. In the weeks and months ahead, encourage all existing members to meet with the new member outside the Forum meeting.  This should be a face-to-face, one-on-one meeting.  Perhaps they could meet for coffee or lunch, play golf, or visit each other’s offices.  Remember, the goal is to make this new member feel comfortable, so instead of feeling like “the new guy” he/she feels like one of the gang.

If the new member is married, consider sending a small gift to the spouse – perhaps flowers for a woman, or a Starbucks gift card for a man.  Include a small welcome note and let them know that the Forum looks forward to meeting them too.

After a few meetings, be sure the new member’s “buddy” checks in with them to see how they’re doing.  Sometimes answering a simple question can remove a mystery or a concern for the new member.  Also, remember to focus on the positives of adding a new member.  New members can bring in new perspectives and new areas of expertise, which often breathes new life and more energy into the Forum.

Oh No! I’ve been Elected Moderator!

As a Forum member, sooner or later you’re probably going to be elected Moderator.  It’s par for the course.  And, understandably, you may be a bit nervous about the role.  I don’t think I’m up to the task, you’ll think.  How will I find time in my busy schedule to be a good leader?

First, let’s look at the positives.  Being the Moderator is a powerful leadership opportunity.  In most cases, you’ll have the opportunity to attend Moderator training.  You’ll learn to facilitate meetings more efficiently, to mediate and manage conflict – in short, you’ll learn how to improve your communication skills.  And if you stumble upon a problem?  Don’t think of it as a problem – see it as an opportunity to learn and grow and improve upon your leadership skills.

Another tip is to elect the Moderator-elect right now.  Then have them assist you with various tasks.  Share the load!  There’s no reason why it all has to fall on your shoulders.

Talk with the Forum about your concerns.  Remember, that’s what Forum is all about – authenticity and support!  Explain your concerns about the time requirements.  Ask people what their expectations are from you as their Moderator.  Make a specific list of all the responsibilities you have as the Moderator and ask people if they’re willing to share the load and take on a role or a specific task for the year.

Worst case scenario, you can just say No.  Explain that you’ve thought it through and you simply cannot take on the role right now.  Keep in mind, however, that everyone is busy.  Everyone is running companies and many people have families, social activities, and community commitments.  Claiming that you are busier than everyone else could come across as whining, or like you’re saying your time is more valuable than theirs.  Still, presenting your case is a reasonable thing to do, and you can do it in a manner that doesn’t come across as condescending.

Remember, being a Moderator is a privilege that each Forum member will probably encounter at some points.  Scary, yes – but think of it as an opportunity instead of a hindrance, and it will only get easier from there!

What is a Forum?

I’ve been working with Forums for so long, the concept is like second nature to me. But I realize that there are quite a few of you reading this blog that may not have heard of Forums before. Or maybe you’ve heard of Forums but still aren’t quite sure exactly what they are.

In simple terms, here’s the answer to the burning question, “What is a Forum?”

A Forum is:

  • A leadership peer group or peer advisory board of 6 to 12 business owners, entrepreneurs or high-level leaders.
  • A monthly leadership exchange among peers who act as a personal ‘board of advisors’ for each other.
  • A confidential and collaborative venue for sharing, learning and growing with like-minded leaders in a structured peer team setting.

The Power of Peer Teams

Caroline Santos had worked hard to build her small business. She started in the 2nd bedroom of her house, working at nights and on weekends while she held her day job to pay the bills. It was two years before she could afford to resign from her day job and focus solely on her custom jewelry business. Then the business really took off. Two years later and she finally had what felt like a real business – an office, seven employees, loyal customers, a written business plan and best of all, profits!

Caroline arrived at work one morning to find that one of her employees had stolen a significant amount of jewelry and left town. A few days later, her business partner – a friend for 10 years, announced that she was leaving to start her own business, as a competitor! Caroline was angry, overwhelmed and unsure of what to do next. Enter Caroline’s peer team.

Caroline had joined an organization called EO (Entrepreneur’s Organization) six months earlier. As part of her membership, she was assigned to a forum – a group of 10 non-competing entrepreneurs that met monthly to discuss business issues. Caroline had grown to value her forum as a source of knowledge, ideas and sometimes, an empathetic ear. Caroline didn’t want to wait till next month to ask her forum for help and she knew she could call an emergency meeting of her forum. So she put out the call for help and later that afternoon, she had nine fellow business owners sitting at a table with her as she walked through the messy situation.

Three hours later she had a plan, developed through the connections, ideas and experiences of her fellow forum members. It was more than she could have accomplished on her own in three weeks. And it included a plan to protect herself from a future repetition of the same mess.

The power is in the peer team – the opportunity to talk with someone who is or has been in the same situation.

Peer teams are not a new concept. Informal peer teams have been meeting for hundreds of years – artists, scientists,musicians, religious groups, sports enthusiasts. Regardless of the common interest that brings these people together, they find comfort, inspiration and knowledge through their association.

Consider Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), founded in 1935 by Bill W. Today, this organization is a worldwide community with an estimated two million members. What these people have in common is a disease called alcoholism. What they gain from AA is hope for a better future and support from other people who have experienced the exact, same disease.

Consider Weight Watchers, an organization dedicated to helping people achieve and maintain their ideal weight. What these people have in common is a desire to lose weight. They achieve accountability through weekly weigh-ins and they get support through weekly meetings. Would it help them lose weight to talk with a thin person who has never been overweight in their lives? Of course not! The power is in the peer team – the opportunity to talk with someone who is or has been in the same situation. A fellow overweight person can offer knowledge, ideas, pitfalls and suggestions on how to succeed at weight loss. Then, they can support each other as they strive to achieve their goals.

Peer team members have an inherent respect for each other because they all share many of the same experiences. It is significantly more valuable to get advice from someone who has lived through the same thing you are experiencing.

Consider joining a peer team for an area of your life where you could benefit from the experiences of others. Discover the benefits of this powerful new experience as you open the door to a unique opportunity to learn and grow.

The 6 Key Factors for Effective Forum Meetings

Forums hold frequent meetings to bring members together. Many factors of the meeting will depend on the type of forum, however, a discussion of options and implications is still useful.

 

Location, location, location – The size of the forum will have a direct impact on your choice of locations. You may be able to meet at someone’s office, in someone’s home, in a private room at a restaurant or at a rented meeting facility. Always be sure you have ample space, comfortable seating and good lighting. Attempt to find a space where interruptions will be minimal, and if confidentiality is important, be sure that complete privacy can be guaranteed. Be sure to provide clear directions to the meeting location and the phone number of who to call if there is a problem.

 

Frequency, length – Both of these factors are largely depending on the type of forum and the objective of the meeting. For example, a professional forum meeting is likely to occur once a month for approximately 4 to 6 hours. An inter-company project team might meet once a week for an hour. An advisory board may meet once a quarter for a full day. Be sure to balance the objectives of the meeting and the size of the group with the frequency and meeting length.

 

Agenda – All meetings should have an agenda, preferably distributed in advance so that everyone knows what to

 

expect. The content of the agenda will vary with the type of forum, however, there are certain common elements that all meetings should include:
  • Welcome, introductions (if appropriate) and agenda review
  • Statement of meeting objectives
  • Meeting content – this is the heart of the meeting; the content will vary
  • Housekeeping for the forum (next meeting date, logistics, etc.)
  • Summary of objectives achieved and action items
  • Closing

 

Leader – Someone should be in charge of leading each meeting. This role may shift among the members of the forum or it may handled by an external facilitator. What’s important is that one person has primary responsibility for running the meeting and everyone has clarity on who that person is. Two important responsibilities of the meeting leader are to stay on track and stay on time. This requires a combination of good leadership skills, good listening skills and a balance of firmness and compassion.

 

Meeting Minutes – Some forums maintain a copy of meeting minutes for future reference. Other forums intentionally avoid keeping meeting minutes due to the confidential nature of the meeting. Forums should decide and communicate the appropriate policy to its members. If your forum needs to keep minutes, refer to www.robertsrules.com, the official website for Robert’s Rules of Order, for standard practices on how to take meeting minutes.

 

Meeting Protocol – Many forums have specific protocols that are followed by all members of the forum. For example, some teams have strict guidelines regarding attendance, tardiness or dress code. Others may have guidelines about food and alcohol consumption during the meeting. If the forum is a subset of a larger organization, the higher organization may dictate the protocols to be upheld. Protocols should be provided to members in writing to avoid confusion, disruption and embarrassment.

 

Taking all of these factors into consideration when planning your meetings will help you conduct more efficient and productive Forum meetings.