How to Kill Your Community Coalitions and Collaboratives

How to Kill Your Community Coalitions and Collaboratives: Meet and Talk Meetings

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Because CES works with a lot of community collaboratives and coalitions, I attend a lot of community meetings. So, I see the good, the bad, and just plain ineffective. What I have observed is that there are some sure-fire things you should NOT do if you want to fire up your community for change. (Note: for the purpose of this blog, I use the terms coalitions and collaboratives interchangeably).

Meet and Talk meetings are probably the most common meeting killer that I see. In this type of meeting, attendees go around the room and share updates of their organizations, one after another. There is no work done, no direction, and participants don’t really connect in any meaningful way. What participants share in the meeting really could be done through other means like email updates, newsletters, or social media posts. There isn’t really a purpose that brings participants together and if you use this type of structure consistently, you shouldn’t be surprised if the energy, and eventually your attendance, decreases.

Another guaranteed meeting killer is to have guest speakers present at each and every meeting. Although your participants may learn something valuable, this type of meeting has the same effect as the Meet and Talk type of meeting. Participants don’t really connect in any meaningful way, and there is no work done.

After all, isn’t collaboration is THE whole point of a community coalition or collaborative?

Recently, Gabrielle Hawkins-Stewart, a Prevention Support Specialist for Georgia Family Connection Partnership, led a discussion for a group of community collaborative coordinators on how to have effective meetings. This list will highlight some of these ideas along with some of my own suggestions about ways to infuse energy in community collaborative meetings. If you have been having Meet and Talk meetings for a while, you may have noticed that your attendance is down. If that is the case, you definitely want to act quickly and shake things up.

  1. Get energy started before people enter the room. Have music playing. Have a bright color table cloth at the sign in table. Place candy and table toys around the room. Start with a quick, fun ice breaker. Introduce new members and help everyone connect, but don’t waste valuable time having everyone introduce themselves.
  2. Remember – the whole point of gathering your community leaders and members together is to collaborate. So, make the meeting about collaboration! If you have time, make part of the meeting a work session, perhaps letting committees and workgroups meet briefly within the meeting to have a work session. At the very least, committee and workgroups should provide updates tied to your work plan. This of course, requires you to assign responsibility for your action plan to the committees/workgroups in the first place! If your time is limited, you might want to have longer work sessions every other meeting or perhaps quarterly.
  3. If you are going to have guest speakers, require them to attend a certain number of meetings before they get the floor. This will help you limit people who want to get their message out but are not tied to the work of the community collaborative/coalition. If you do have guest speakers, require them to complete an information form that structures their talk so that you can ensure that what they share ties back to the work of your coalition. Then as the leader, when the speaker is done, make sure YOU tie it back to the work. If you do have speakers, you might announce that there is a speaker and tease the topic, but don’t announce the name of the speaker.
  4. Every once in a while, it’s a good idea that you as the coalition or the collaborative leader lead the meeting. Use this opportunity to remind everyone why they are there. Share the purpose of the collaborative, share the goals and objectives you are trying to accomplish, the strategies you are implementing to accomplish those goals, and the data you are using to track your progress. Make sure you assign responsibility for the work to work groups and committees and use this time to show them why their work is important to achieving the collaboratives goals.
  5. Round table discussions are another way to involve collaborative members in the work. Identify some good discussion questions and group members discuss and report back. Concentrate on questions that are related to the work: the strategies and changes that the collaborative and coalition are putting into place.
  6. In order to provide the communication that your participants desire and expect, use different ways to facilitate communication other than taking valuable collaborative meeting time for report outs. For example, once a year, hold a resource fair so that members can share with each other what they do. You might consider limiting the first hour of the resource fair to members, then opening the resource fair to community members.
  7. Instead of members sharing details of their upcoming events during the meeting, create a newsletter with a Community Event corner.
  8. Encourage communication by sending out an email to those who missed the meeting with the message, “Missed the meeting? Call me (the collaborative leader) or a friend and find out what you missed!”
  9. Focus on the community outcomes your collaborative is trying to address (e.g. poverty, graduation rates, foster care, unemployment). Looking at your data only once a year when you update your work plan or write your year-end report isn’t effective. Use your indicator data often, perhaps quarterly, to inform your members about local conditions and help motivate them to stay/get engaged.
  10. You might consider asking groups to pay a small member fee to become a member of the coalition; they will have a little skin in the game and perhaps be more likely to attend collaborative meetings.
  11. Find resources to help you improve your meetings. Look for professionals in your community who are good facilitators and ask them to facilitate a meeting. SCORE is a nonprofit association and a resource partner of the Small Business Association (SBA) whose members are retired professionals dedicated to helping small businesses through education and mentorship. They have a wide variety of skills that may help your collaborative and your members.

We’d love to hear from you! What tips have you used for effective meetings?