Would you steal your forum mate’s computer or car?

Of course not. We all learn from an early age to respect the property of others so taking without permission is simply unacceptable.  But far too often and without thinking, we steal something even more precious from our forum mates – their time.  When you arrive 10 minutes late for a forum meeting and six other members must wait to begin, you have stolen collectively an hour of their time.

Tardiness is a chronic problem among busy executives, but time is money, and there is no better example of that than your forum mates wasting time around a table, their combined compensation ticking away at thousands of dollars per hour. And chronic tardiness, no matter how innocent, can gum up the gears of a forum’s ethic, build resentment and anger, and make forum members less willing to share and be vulnerable because of that tardiness-induced stress.

Here’s one simple way to be on time:

  • Block plenty of time on your personal calendar to arrive early, even assuming traffic delays or other unforeseen circumstances.
  • If you are early, simply wait outside in the lobby or in your car, checking email, making phone calls, or reading the article you’ve been saving but never get to.

Your fellow forum members will appreciate the courtesy and respect you are showing for them, and this will build everyone’s commitment to not steal our forum mates’ most valuable possession, their time.

Great questions that lead to deep updates

There are many ways to encourage forum members to share during the updates part of the meeting.  One of the simplest approaches is to ask members the following questions.  Each person can then decide which question(s) resonate with them and which they will answer when they share their update.

  • What is the toughest relationship challenge (personal or professional) that you are facing now?
  • What is the toughest leadership challenge you are facing now?
  • What is the greatest fear you have now?
  • What is going on in your life right now that you have not spoken with anyone about? What are you hiding?
  • What are you complaining about, blaming others for, or notice yourself playing the villain, victim, or hero?
  • What are you not sharing because you don’t want to seem perfect?
  • What is something that you don’t like about yourself that you are working on?

Whichever question(s) members choose to answer, encourage everyone to also answer one more question:

  • … and how does that make you feel?

Financial planning: A great forum topic

Talking about money and finances can be great vehicle for forums to go deeper, leading to greater levels of vulnerability, trust, and insight.  Here’s one way to begin the conversation:

  • One member brings copies of key pages from their retirement plan (income, expenses, assets, debts) and unpacks the document(s) for the forum:
    • How did I develop this plan? (myself, with a professional)
    • How do I feel about it: my uncertainties, reservations, and doubts?
  • Others respond by sharing their experiences and feelings:
    • What resonated for me?
    • The memory or experience that was triggered for me…
    • This topic/conversation makes me feel…
    • This is how I connect with what has been shared so far…

Some additional questions to spark your discussion:

  • What is the next (financial) thing I would like to do in my life?
  • What is stopping me?
  • Am I obliged to others or do I feel free to follow my own plans?
  • How much control do I feel over my financial life?
  • What meaning does money have for me?
  • Does financial planning drain or invigorate me?
  • Do I feel that I will have to retire to get the reward I deserve?
  • When I am not working, do I feel worthy?
  • What do I expect from hard work?

Another option: Invite a financial planner to your meeting, and ask each member to do some advance homework for an interactive exercise with the planner.

The right way to add new members to your forum

Adding members to your forum can be a source of renewal and new energy, but the process needs to be managed thoughtfully to maximize the probability of successful new member integration.  Consider following these steps:

  • In a forum meeting, get clarity on these questions: How many members do we want to add and when do we want them to join? Are we looking to enhance peer quality or diversity of perspectives or both? Are there any other demographic considerations (e.g., gender, industry, career stage, scope of responsibility)?
  • Appoint a forum member to serve as “point person,” managing the process of communication with potential candidates, and with Alumni Forum Services and your local club in sourcing candidates.
  • Decide how your forum will engage with candidates: over the phone, in coffees with selected members, and/or by inviting them to a partial or full meeting. Everyone needs to be clear on the process and time frame.  Ideally, at least a couple forum members will meet the candidate(s) before they attend a full forum meeting. Topics of discussion can include:
    • Member and candidate demographics/backgrounds
    • Forum experience to date and expectations/aspirations for the future
    • Reviewing the forum’s constitution or norms
    • Coordinating calendars: Determining when the candidate will attend their first meeting
  • Before the candidate attends a full meeting, arrange for them to have an orientation call with Alumni Forum Services to review forum principles and processes.
  • Select an integration exercise to use at the first meeting that the new member will be attending. Some ideas are available here.
  • To support the integration process, assign a “forum buddy” to every new member who will check in regularly in the first few months after joining. Also encourage other members to meet the newest members for coffee or a meal to get everyone connected as quickly as possible.

Forum updates: Two powerful questions

For a change of pace consider doing away with any formal update forms, and instead asking members to complete one or both of the following sentences during their update:

  • The most challenging (personal or professional) relationship I am dealing with now is… With whom? For how long? Why? How do you feel?
  • My toughest business or leadership challenge is… and this is how I feel…

These questions have the potential to cut through the chatter and quickly identity important presentation topics.

Should our forum add new members?

The “sweet spot” for forum size is 8-10 – large enough to have critical mass and diversity of perspectives; small enough to be manageable when scheduling meetings and sharing air time.

So when should a forum consider adding members?

Tilt towards not adding if the following is generally true:

  • Attendance is solid, almost always 7 or 8.
  • Members are comfortable with the group dynamics, chemistry, balance between peer quality and diversity.

Tilt towards adding members if:

  • One or more members are likely to leave in the next year, for any reason: relocation, dissatisfaction, or lack of alignment with other members’ goals for forum.
  • Your numbers are on the low side (7 or 8), and new members could provide an infusion of new energy, different styles, and a wider range of experience to share.

It’s essential to plan ahead.  Remember that adding members can take several months between identifying candidates, vetting them, and integrating them into the forum.

On the virtues of joining a “younger” forum

A potential forum member recently expressed concern about being placed in a forum where most of the members were considerably younger than him. Being of a “certain age” myself, my response was as follows:

  • Most of my friends and many business associates are around the same age as me. Forum is one place where I can broaden my horizons and get out of my comfort zone.
  • Personally, I’m actively seeking to develop deeper relations with younger people. With all due respect to my peers, those who are 20+ years younger have an energy and entrepreneurial spirit that inspires and motivates me.
  • Just as I’ve reached the age where I prefer to select a dentist or accountant who is not going to leave the scene before me, I also seek friends and forum mates who are more likely to be with me into old age. (I suppose that may sound selfish, but I need to look out for myself, while also serving others.)
  • My contemporaries can tell me about their experience as parents of teen or adult children, or as children of aging parents. It’s a whole new perspective to hear instead from forum members one generation removed, who are themselves the same age as my kids or who are observing the aging of their own parents.

I’ve benefited from being in forum with younger members, and I encourage others also to be open to the possibilities.