Changing Committee Culture
Every committee, or every group of people organising a Jewish groups activities, has a group culture. The culture within a group is the combination of behavioural norms, shared stories and experiences, ways of thinking, and shared assumptions and beliefs. This culture can be very positive or very negative, depending upon what the committee is trying to do, and what the culture is like. On a committee where people assume that there is no point trying to organise things because nobody will come, or where people aren't interested in welcoming newcomers because they only want to spend time with their own friends, the culture is a problem. A Jewish student group with great ideas, a great chairperson, a lot of money, and a lot of support won't be successful if the committee culture promotes being lazy and cynical. Therefore, dealing with the general mood and culture of those active within a Jewish student group is an important step in bringing good performance.
Ideal Committee Culture
Although obviously there is no ideal committee structure that is the best for all committees across time and space, there is a sense in which certain features are generally positive. These features need to be adapted to meet the needs of different committees, but consider how the following, non-exhaustive list, would fit into your committee:
Shared Assumptions and Beliefs
Ways of Thinking
Shared Stories and Experiences
Changing Committee Culture:
Once you have got an idea of what your committee culture is like, and of how you want it to be, it is time to start changing things. There are a number of ways of intervening to improve committee culture. Remember that most of these ideas can either improve a poor culture, or create a positive culture right from the outset. Focussing on committee culture early on in a committee's time together is a very worthwhile use of time.
Social Events and Building Friendships
Social events that involve an entire committee can work to put people into a good mood. The right kind of event can also ensure that there are plenty of funny stories to tell - that's one reason why top companies send their staff on survival weekends and such like. Try organising a barbecue, or a picnic, a trip to a theme park, or even a softball game for committee members. Encourage socialising, learning about each other, and sharing of feelings, and often committee members will be more willing to work together when they get back to work.
On a personal level it is very important to build friendships with committee members. Obviously nobody will like everybody else on a committee all of the time - but it's possible to make an effort. At the very least, make a small social effort. At most, try and become 'work friends' with other committee members. When people who might not otherwise be totally committed to the work of the committee have social ties with others on the committee they are generally more prepared to work hard.
Individuals on a committee need to be motivated. For many, the best way to do this is on the ideological level. If people are ideologically committed to what the Jewish group is doing, they will work hard, and the atmosphere will be good. Create ideological commitment through education, conversation, and by asking people to think about why they are involved in Jewish education. Send out inspirational quotes to others on the committee. Lend people Jewish books. Arrange for people to discuss their motivations with each other - let committee members inspire each other.
If people feel appreciated they are often happier and more interested in working hard. Committee members should thank each other for hard work done. Notes to say thank you and small gifts often ensure individuals feel appreciated.
Everybody likes to feel noticed, and to feel appreciated. Remembering the small details about people's lives, especially things that aren't connected to their work in the Jewish student group, can be a simple way of getting people to feel positive. Write down people's birthdays, ask them whether they are feeling better after they were ill, and wish them luck in exams. It makes a difference.
Specific Education on Issues of Importance
If a problem is identified, try to solve it through education. If committee members aren't committed to appreciating different view-points, run a session on differences of opinions in Judaism. If committee members don't see the point of what they are doing, arrange for an inspirational speaker to come in and talk about the aims of Jewish education. Consider creating a culture of learning by sending out articles to read every week, or having a very short learning session before committee meetings.
Planning and Long Term Thinking
Long term thinking and planning make little things look big. It is very hard to get inspired by organising a Friday night dinner for twenty people, but a lot easier to get inspired by the grand vision of a plan. The more committee members are involved in planning, the more positive they will feel about the work that they do. The more attention is paid to what the real purpose of a Jewish group is, the less chance there is that people won't be committed to what the group is doing. Long term thinking makes sure that a group is doing important things, and important things motivate people.
Involvement in Big Decisions
Anybody on a Jewish student group's committee will have an opinion on what it's doing. If given the relevant information, they will be able to make an informed contribution to any big decisions that need to be made. It is unfair to expect people to work hard, give up a lot of time, and then treat them as if they are incapable of helping decide major questions. Involving committee members in all decisions, including big ones, will allow them to feel ownership of, and consequently commitment to, the union.
Deal with Causes of Cynicism
If people are cynical about something, it is important to do two things. Firstly, try and ask them to tone down their cynicism. Ask them not to have a negative influence on others. Then, and far more importantly, the cause of the cynicism needs to be dealt with. If people don't believe in something that the committee is doing, ask why? Consider making a change. Address the problem. Only when the cause of cynicism has been dealt with will the cynicism go away.
Build Co-operation into the System
Chairpersons' often want to see cooperation. However unfortunately sometimes competition amongst committee members is built into the system. This can be the case if different committee members are competing for approval, the chance at a better job, or resources. If competition is used to motivate people, for example through 'committee member of the month' awards or such like, then co-operation will difficult to foster. Get rid of any unhealthy competition within the committee, and then start to reward co-operation. Mention great bits of teamwork, send out quotes about co-operation, and set a good example by working with others.