In addition to being a consultant, I’m also a regular human being. So when I’m not working, I like to spend time on my various hobbies and sporting activities. This includes being a member of several clubs and societies. But even at evenings and weekends, I can’t stop being a consultant, so am constantly on the lookout for ways to make these groups run more smoothly. And over the past few weeks, I’ve come across several issues that are common to many small organisations.
Firstly, there’s the personal fiefdom. This is where one individual – often the founder – is very much the driving force behind the organisation and makes all of the key decisions. While this can sometimes work well, it usually has the effect of stifling innovation and of demotivating other members. It can also mean that, when the founder eventually takes a back seat, the organisation falls apart. Far better to get others involved in the running of the organisation early on, perhaps with a formal constitution and governance structure.
Secondly, we see the development of cliques or factions. This is common where there’s a natural divide within a club, such as where some members play on a competitive team while others are there more for recreation. Unless it’s addressed quickly, this situation can quickly become one of ‘them and us’, with communication between the different cliques becoming ever more difficult. The key, in my view, is to recognise that all members of the club are of equal value and that decisions should take into account the requirements of the club as a whole.
Thirdly, I encounter quite frequently the problem of stagnation. I see this often in professional societies, where difficulty in recruiting new members means that committee members get gradually more set in their ways and less inclined to try new things. When new people do join, they quickly get disillusioned and leave. And so the organisation continues in its decline. In such cases, wholesale change of membership may be the only realistic course of action.
Fourthly, there’s the perennial issue of communication. This is often aggravated by the increasing use of email, online forums and electronic mailing lists. Or rather, by a lack of familiarity in how to use them effectively. On one email list of which I’m a member, for example, some users frequently use the whole list to communicate with a specific individual. In such cases, an email to just that person is surely much more appropriate. In another case, a fellow member of a different club emailed one of the club’s officers to express his concern about some aspects of the club’s activities, only for the officer to (inadvertently) forward his email to the whole membership via the online mailing list. Very embarrassing for all concerned.
These are just four examples from my own experience, but I’m willing to bet that they’re replicated in small organisations across the land. And the frustrating thing it that these issues are so easy to deal with. If they happened at work, we’d never put up with them. Surely, whether we’re involved in running a FTSE 100 company, a small business, a professional society or a local sports club, the same principles of good organisational management apply. Just because we do things in our free time doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also do them well.