I recently worked with an organization where the day-to-day functions were broken into two clear and distinct groups.  They had a “forward-facing” side of their operations…those who interacted most frequently with members (marketing, communications, events, member development) and another side that many might call the “back office” side of things (accounting, office management, etc).  While that may seem like a logical way to break up a larger staff, I want to take some time today and tell you why I found it to be so dysfunctional.

It wasn’t because they were doing a poor job running the organization.  Quite the contrary, the organization was strong with good leadership, solid programming, successful events and communications operations and so forth.  The real challenge for me as a consultant was the separation of duties and what it created within the office.  Let me explain…

In this particular office, I heard “That’s not my job” and “That’s not my area” over and over again.  There may as well have been 50 foot walls surrounding each staff members’ “squarea”*.  There were certainly a few teammates who shared keys to their castles and crossed freely between the two departments, but for the most part, it was a real challenge to get many of them to allow others to “intrude” upon their job functions.  I don’t have to tell you what that leads to in Chambers and Associations around the world.  I suspect that you personally fall into one of two categories…those who understand because they’re living that situation right now and those who understand because they’ve seen it happen in the past.  It’s a recipe for disaster, and if it’s happening in YOUR organization, you have to nip it NOW!

Does your Board interfere in the day-to-day operations of the organization?

Do your staffers resent one another for doing too much…or too little…outside of their traditional jobs?

Do your volunteers feel empowered to do the things they SHOULD do to strengthen your organization?

All of these are examples of poorly trained groups who don’t have the proper boundaries set up.  “But Jay,” you may be thinking to yourself, “You just said that having those 50 foot walls around us are bad.  Now you’re saying that boundaries SHOULD exist.  Which is it?”

There’s a HUGE difference between having proper boundaries and expectations set and observed as opposed to putting up walls to keep others out.  I recommend having regular annual Board Development sessions with an outside third party to ensure that proper boundaries exist.  I strongly support an open office environment where staff members cross frequently into other teammates’ “lanes” to help support and communicate the larger message appropriately, but that’s where having policies in place that create hierarchies everyone understands within each department.  It’s critical that the organization can work within itself and that your employees have an understanding of the other departments within the organization.  And as for volunteers, many organizations are afraid to train them and supervise them as they are “just volunteers”.  Well I can tell you that even “just volunteers” want to be supported and feel effective.  Train them.  Show them what needs to be done and WHY…then let them go do the work.

You’ve surrounded yourself with good people.  Let them do their jobs, but encourage them to keep the Mission Statement above the job description.  Remind them that we’re ALL in the Membership business and that we all have to work as one unit towards our goals.  If you or your organization is guilty of fostering an “us vs them” mentality, you must blow that up immediately.  The last thing you want is infighting and animosity between your staff members.  Trust me…I saw it a few months ago and you definitely don’t want it festering where YOU work.

*Squarea is my term for cubicles or “work areas”.  Feel free to adopt it if you like.  And, if you need help getting your own squarea denizens to work together more effectively, getting your Board to work within the proper boundaries or training your volunteers to be more empowered, give me a call.  I’d love to help.

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