Archive for January, 2010


Exposing the silo effect

The image reads: “Nope, free range won’t work. They’re happier in separate pens where they can blame each other when things go wrong.” 

Do you ever feel like this? 

My association recently launched an innovative, 18-month virtual education course for members interested in personal growth, interdisciplinary team development and organizational quality improvement. During our initial, face-to-face program we use this cartoon to introduce the topic of team development. Generally, this slide reminds participants why the silo method is not a valid leadership style. 

Unfortunately, not everyone’s attended this training. As an education director for a small trade association, I can honestly say there are days when educating our members fails to be a team sport. Nevertheless, learning continues to be a core competency of our mission, a valuable member benefit and a primary revenue source. 

Most meeting professionals would agree that two education staff cannot pull off an annual convention and expo for more than 800 professionals and more than 450 vendor representatives without help. Assistance is needed to register attendees, support speakers, test audio/visual equipment, monitor education sessions, direct banquet staff and countless other details. 

The same can be said for other significant functions of an association, including government relations, communications and membership. When departments aren’t willing to collaborate and support one another, the silo effect causes a number of damaging outcomes:    

  1. The association unintentionally competes with itself for member time, interest and resources.
  2. Staff efforts are duplicated (or, worse yet, are in conflict with one another), causing individual projects to become diluted and less financially sound.
  3. Staff members are neither efficient nor effective, and those who consistently perform despite the adverse work environment become overwhelmed, frustrated and burned out.
  4. The “blame game” further impacts morale; places a disproportionate emphasis on failed ideas; and ultimately discourages innovation.
  5. The association’s image and reputation are potentially harmed.

So, my question to you is this: Do you know an association that subscribes to the silo method? What’s the best way to expose this unhealthy and unproductive management style? What solutions do you offer for those who currently find themselves operating within this type of work environment?


Young professionals need a space too

Just as chief staff executives can benefit from collegial relationships and professional networking opportunities with other chief staff executives, the same can be said for young professionals.

In fact, I would argue that young professionals need this interaction even more than their seasoned counterparts. As young professionals, doors sometimes close more than they open. In many cases, we don’t have the years of experience to back our education and training. Our “gut feeling” doesn’t always inspire confidence in those around us.

Therefore, we need a space to develop our skills, talents and, most importantly, our work and leadership experience. And that’s where our peers can help. Young professionals need a designated safe environment where they can ask the “silly questions” and strategize with their colleagues before approaching senior staff with a new idea or proposal.

For many young professionals who have five or fewer years of experience, this may be the first time they’ve managed other professionals, delivered a report to the board, negotiated a contract, coordinated a program or facilitated a project. Indeed, it can be a stressful endeavor with little internal support or reassurance.

Currently, I’m working with the Michigan Society of Association Executives (MSAE) to launch an Emerging Professionals Committee for young association professionals in Michigan. The mission of this group is to cultivate future association leaders through the development of resources and structured opportunities that enable career advancement.

Which brings me to another important distinction among young professionals: we value opportunities for career development. We appreciate the opportunity to discuss with other young professionals things like resume building and cover letter writing, as well as how to request a promotion, how to network and how to job hunt effectively.

Young professionals have much to offer you, your staff, your association and the greater association community. Many young professionals are on the cutting edge of technology and use it daily to bridge their personal and professional lives. They also brainstorm and crowdsource some of the freshest, most innovative ideas and are contributing some of the best content both online and in print.

So, my question to you is this: How are you maximizing this talent bank? Is your association creating a space for young professionals (both staff and members)? What products, services and resources have you created specifically to recruit and retain young professional members? If you’re a young professional, what’s the single most important benefit you look for in joining an association?


Innovation: A committee function or a member service?

It seems reasonable to assume that association members, especially if they pay dues, would have a strong interest in the mission, goals and objectives of the organizations to which they belong. Moreover, it seems these same individuals would be in the best position to generate a menu of products and services that would serve their unique needs and business plans.

In many associations, committees are formed around specific functional areas to engage association members, to allow members the opportunity to provide input on a regular and ongoing basis, to develop innovative strategies for reaching annual association goals and to recommend, as appropriate, the allocation of association resources, both human and capital.

At least, this was my conclusion seven years ago when I first entered the association community. Today, I’m more inclined to believe that association professionals drive innovation (rather than members). After all, you don’t know what you don’t know. And that’s my assessment of many member communities. They simply don’t know what’s possible and they aren’t privy to the opportunities that exist.

This is where we come in – and why we have jobs during these otherwise bleak economic times. As good association professionals, we have our ear to the ground. We harness our networks, social media channels, professional development opportunities. We’re on the cutting edge of member services and are constantly connected with people who have great ideas and are trying new things.

As the staff liaison to my association’s Quality and Education Committee, I look forward to next month’s committee meeting when I present a recommended agenda for two of our upcoming conferences, complete with topics and speakers, as well as a completely redesigned and much-overhauled annual convention agenda, including suggested keynotes and special events.

Plain and simple, it’s important for our association to be competitive, innovative and dynamic this year. With a number of recent organizational changes, the status quo is no longer an acceptable benchmark for success. Now’s the time to step it up with renewed focus, energy and enthusiasm.

It’s not to say committee members won’t have input. In fact, our agenda will contain many more topics than those listed here; however, any agenda item the staff believes could benefit from substantive change is receiving special attention prior to the meeting. We’re developing the fresh and innovative recommendations we think will best serve our members. At the meeting, we’re simply looking to committee members for feedback and approval.

So, my question to you is this: Do you agree with my strategy? Does staff drive innovation at your association? Should they? If member-driven, does staff even have the opportunity to bring new and innovative ideas to the table? Are your members truly in tune to the needs of their colleagues? How are problematic ideas/recommendations handled?

meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, running, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Digital content manager. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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