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.

When two forum members begin dating …

I was recently asked by a forum how they should respond when informed that two members have begun dating.  I was told the forum had good dynamics; everyone liked each other; and the group was functioning well. The remaining (non-dating) forum members were reluctant to make a quick decision with some members trying to understand what options might be workable for allowing them to remain. Others were wary of the conflict.

I shared the following thoughts:

  • The fundamental question: Does the new relationship between two members (in this case, dating), prevent any member from being fully open, honest, engaged and committed to the forum? It is essential that everyone speak their truth and clear the air if the forum is to maintain a healthy dynamic.
  • Normally this would be a situation where one member would leave, but there is no reason both need to leave.
  • Another forum I observed had two members who were business partners. They were happy and the rest of the group accepted it. My personal view is that this undermines the ability to share and trust, but everyone in the forum is a consenting adult, and that could be the case with this dating couple as well.
  • The forum should discuss future scenarios: What if the couple gets married? What if they break up? Even if the group accepts that both can remain for now, does everyone (not only the couple) reserve the right to raise concerns in the future? The last thing you want is an elephant in the room that no one can discuss.
  • Finally, in light of this new relationship in the forum, see this other blog post of mine on “Known and Safe, Safe and Known.” Invite all members to read this poem, and then to respond to the questions at the end of the post.

Forum leadership: The role of the moderator

The voluntary moderator is key to the success and health of your forum. Some ideas to consider as you organize your own forum’s leadership plans:

  • The standard model is to have a moderator and asst. moderator, often with the assistant also being the moderator-elect. As an alternative, two people can serve as co-moderators and share/divide the responsibilities.
  • Ideally, the moderator’s term is one year, but sometimes that’s not possible. If so, terms should be no less than three months to ensure continuity in the forum’s meetings.
  • Over the life of the forum, each member should have a chance to rotate into the moderator role, but not everyone will have the time, temperament, and skills to serve. That’s okay. There are other opportunities to serve the forum.
  • Whatever approach you take to the role, the moderator should delegate, delegate, delegate! He or she is not responsible alone for the success of the forum.  Many tasks can be “outsourced” to others: sending meeting notices, keeping the parking lot, ordering food, coordinating retreat content and logistics.
  • The most important roles of the moderator are to lead by example, serve as a role model, and ensure that forum remains a safe space for members to share their toughest challenges and highest aspirations. That’s also the role of a leader in any organization, so serving as moderator is great practice for the rest of your life.

The value of forum explained in two cartoons

Andrew Miller, a member of a Harvard Business School Alumni Forum in Toronto, shares two cartoons and his interpretation of how they explain the benefits of forum.

In the first Far Side cartoon by Gary Larson, an artist’s vision is obstructed and distorted by a fly on his glasses.  The forum reading: My peer support group helps me identify underlying assumptions, beliefs, and biases that color my vision and distort my perception of reality.  The forum doesn’t help so much with the technical, fine details of how I do my work or live my life; it doesn’t tell me how to use paint or a brush to create my masterpiece, but at a deeper level, the forum helps open my eyes to new perspectives and possibilities and brings greater clarity to my thinking.

In Gary Larson’s second cartoon, an airline pilot is surprised to see a goat way up high in a cloud bank.  The forum view: Sometimes I get so wrapped up in an issue that I lose perspective – it becomes overwhelming with emotions and information and ideas whirling around.   It’s easy in a busy life to get spun around and lose sense of direction.  Forum helps me get my bearings – gets my head up and over the clouds to see things more clearly.   Forum helps me see my path and chart my course with greater clarity.   Forum discussions help me from crashing and burning.

Safe and known, known and safe

The following beautiful poem by Merle Feld, called “Dreaming of Home,” was recently brought to my attention.

We want so much to be in that place
where we are respected and cherished,
protected, acknowledged,
nurtured, encouraged, heard. 

And seen, seen
in all our loveliness,
in all our fragile strength.

And safe,
safe in all our trembling vulnerability. 

Where we are known and safe,
safe and known. 

Is it possible?

We might ask ourselves and our forum mates if our forum is such a place?  If yes, we are truly blessed.  If not, what further questions might we ask?