Exploring spirituality and religion in forum

Our religious and spiritual beliefs and practices can be a powerful theme to explore in forum.  One way to do so is as follows:

  • Invite each member to take about 5 minutes each to answer these questions:
    • The religious/spiritual background of my family of origin was…
    • As an adult, I still believe/practice the following…. I no longer….
    • (Optional, if relevant) My spouse’s religious/spiritual background was…. He/she still believes/practices the following….  He/she no longer….
    • My (or my family’s) current approach to religion and spirituality is working/is not working for me in the following ways…. And here’s how a feel about that….
  • After all have shared this background, members are invited to respond and resonate with each other, sharing what moved them, the emotion they felt, and what new memories or experiences came up for them.
  • At the end, go around the circle and each member shares a new insight, perspective, or question they are taking away from the conversation.

No problem is being solved, but important experiences and feelings are shared, helping all members get to a deeper level of self-awareness on this important topic.

Note: Members may appreciate knowing about this exercise and having the opportunity to prepare in advance.

The many alternatives to a standard four-hour meeting

Many forums standardize on one four-hour meeting monthly plus an annual retreat.  However, there are many ways to mix it up, to accommodate individual scheduling needs, and to build richer connections between members.  Some options to consider on an occasional or regular basis:

  • Try a shorter meeting between 2-3.5 hours, either because that’s what works one month or because your forum is smaller and less time is needed.
  • If you regularly have shorter meetings, consider adding a 30-minute check-in/quick update call between monthly meetings.
  • Once or twice a year, shorten the meeting to about 2.5 hours (time for updates and one presentation), and then go out to dinner or cater the meal in to a member’s conference room or home.
  • Plan a 5-6 hour mini-retreat, with or without a professional facilitator.
  • In the summer, rent a boat (or find a friend who has one). Go on a 2-3 hour cruise, including extended updates only, then socializing.
  • Plan a holiday dinner with spouses or a summer picnic with kids to get to know each other’s families.
  • Don’t limit connections to forum meetings. Meet one-on-one, either as part of the coaching process, as a follow-up to someone’s presentation, or to discuss shared personal or professional interests.
  • When requested by a member with an urgent issue, schedule an emergency meeting. Such sessions have only one agenda item – a presentation of the member’s urgent issue. The meeting usually lasts an hour or less and may be held via conference or video call.  Because the meeting is not on the regular calendar, absences don’t affect member attendance statistics.

The power of pairs: A new approach to your presentation parking lot

Forums sometimes struggle with the process and effort of generating a rich parking lot of possible presentation topics. If you want to almost guarantee a great list of options, try this method at your next meeting.

  • Before updates, randomly pair members up and announce the pairings. (Have a trio in addition to the pairs if you have an odd number in attendance.)
  • To prepare updates, members can use the standard update form, but also ask them to consider these questions:
    • Great questions that lead to great updates
    • And before members share their updates, ask them to consider how they would complete one of these sentences:
      • “The one thing I don’t want to share with my Forum is…”
        or
      • “The one thing I have not yet shared with my Forum is…”
  • When members are sharing their updates, everyone listens carefully, but we pay particular attention to the update of the person we have been paired with. Proceed through updates without any interruptions or questions.
  • Immediately after updates, meet separately in your pairs (or trio) for 10-15 minutes to help each other reflect on and define the most significant, deep issue or two on which each of you would like to hear the group’s experience.  Consider in your conversation what you heard today, but also issues that your partner has mentioned in the past.
  • Come back together and each member reports out the issue(s) they have identified for possible presentation.  Someone should scribe all of these topics on a white board or in a notebook.

This should generate a great list of at least one topic per member for presentation either that day or in the future.

Possible conflicts: Can I be in forum with this person?

Your forum is considering adding a new member, and one current member is concerned about a potential candidate, saying some variation of:

  • We have close mutual friends.
  • Our spouses are close friends.
  • The CFO of my company is a good friend of this person.
  • This potential forum mate had a close, longstanding relationship with one of my co-founders and their spouse.
  • We were in the same MBA class, executive education program, or section at business school.

In situations like this, it’s important to be fully transparent about any potential conflicts of interest.  The key question: Can I be open and honest about all aspects of my life with this possible new member?

Additional clarifying questions:  What is the exact nature of the relationship?  How close is it in practice?  Is there regular contact/communication? (Sometimes people say they are “close” but rarely see each other.)

Keep in mind that in YPO, members and their spouses are usually each in a forum, are friendly with many other members and spouses, and see each other regularly at monthly chapter meetings.  There are many close relations, but forum confidentiality is still fully respected.  Everyone keeps in mind the clear boundaries between what is said in forum and what is shared in other settings to avoid violating forum confidentiality.

In summary, there is no simple answer – neither an automatic rejection, nor a blind acceptance of the new member.  The nuances of each case must be carefully considered.

It’s the hard days who determine who you are

Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of FaceBook, and author of the bestselling book Lean In, was invited to speak at the University of California commencement in 2016.  She chose to talk not of what she has learned in life, but of what she has learned in death.

She related the tragic story of how, a year before her husband Dave, age 47, had died suddenly of a previously unknown cardiac issue. She shared the challenge of deep adversity, and “of what you can do to overcome adversity, no matter what form it takes or when it hits you.”  Sheryl went on to say:

A few weeks after Dave died, I was talking to my friend Phil about a father-son activity that Dave was not here to do. We came up with a plan to fill in for Dave. I cried to him, “But I want Dave.” Phil put his arm around me and said, “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.”

Sheryl concluded: “We all at some point live some form of option B. The question is: What do we do then?”

I reflect to myself: How have I responded when Option A was no longer available to me:

  • When a professional colleague of mine died too young of cancer and the opportunity to collaborate with him was lost?
  • When I expected to receive a job offer that never came?
  • When a treasured business partnership came to an end?

I am inspired by Sheryl who said:

Dave’s death changed me in profound ways. I learned about the depths of sadness and the brutality of loss. But I also learned that when life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, break the surface, and breathe again. I learned that in the face of the void — or in the face of any challenge — you can choose joy and meaning.

As a forum, consider reading Sheryl’s book on this topic, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, or this shorter version published in the Boston Globe.

Then discuss as a forum:

  • What have been some of life’s toughest challenges for me?
  • How did I deal with them?  What role, if any, did gratitude play?
  • Almost all of us will face deep adversity at some point in our lives.  How can forum be a sounding board and resource now and in the future?

Who is presenting at your forum meeting today?

One sign of a healthy forum is that all members are willing, even eager, to explore their toughest issues and highest aspirations in forum.

While that is the ideal, some forums find that members are reluctant to present, or are always deferring to others. To encourage more members to step forward, first ask all members at every meeting to complete one of these sentences:

If I was to present today, I would explore…

OR

I would appreciate hearing the group’s experience that can help me think about…

Then, working with that list, don’t just wait or plead for a volunteer. Instead call on a full repertoire of presentation selection methods including:

  • Voting: During a break, each member gets to cast three votes for the topic/presenter. Your votes can go all to your own topic, all to another member, or be divided as you wish. The member with the most votes becomes today’s presenter. This method can be done in the open (everyone can see which topics are getting the most votes) or anonymously (put your votes on a separate piece of paper, and the moderator then counts up the votes).
  • Secret ballot: Each member writes on a paper the name of the person they would most like to see present today. Again, you can vote for yourself or someone else. The moderate collects and counts the papers. The member with the most votes is invited to present, either on the topic they proposed for the parking lot, or something else of their choosing.
  • Finger shoot: All members are asked simultaneously to hold out between one and five fingers. Five = I must present today. Four = I want to present. Three = I would like to present. Two = I don’t need to present. One = I don’t want to present.
  • Put in place a rotation of one presenter scheduled in advance, and one chosen on the day of the meeting. The scheduled sequence is reviewed monthly and presenters may be moved forward or backwards in the queue based on the urgency and importance of issues.

The “ABC” shared model of forum leadership

Most forums follow the traditional model of rotating moderators annually, often with an assistant moderator who also serves as moderator-elect. That model works well for many, but some forums embrace that we are all leaders (of the forum), and all must take responsibility for our success as a forum. Other forums struggle to select individual leaders, but still want the forum to function effectively.

For forums that want all members engaged in leadership, consider the “ABC” rotation model. A forum of nine members is divided into three groups of three: ABC, DEF, and GHI. The ABC team agrees to lead the forum for the first six months of the year, followed by DEF for the second half, while GHI manages the content and logistics of the forum’s annual retreat. Each team decides internally how to divide their responsibilities. At the end of the year, the teams rotate responsibilities, with GHI taking the first half of the year, ABC the second half, and DEF planning the retreat. The rotation model can easily be adapted to work with forums that are smaller or larger in number.

I’ve worked with multiple forums that have found forum leadership can be as easy as A-B-C. Everyone contributes, and everyone benefits from solid, shared leadership of the forum.