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Designing the Destination: 2 Hours to a Vision and Mission for Our Center

Source: John Sabo

  • In my last post, I described how I used Think-Pair-Share in a 2-hour meeting to build trust and momentum among faculty who are creating a center on food systems at Arizona State University. In our second meeting (also 2 hours) we modified several tools introduced at the Leopold Leadership training last June to create vision and mission statements. Here’s what we did. Meeting 2: Creating a collaboration space to draft vision and mission statements At Meeting 2 we had some of the same faculty (veterans from Meeting 1) and a group of faculty who could not attend the initial meeting (rookies). In hindsight it would have been nice to redo the Think-Pair-Share exercise by pairing veterans and rookies and having the veterans “swear in” the rookies to the group. Note to self for next time. The goal of Meeting 2 was to brainstorm a vision, and if time permitted, a mission for the center. To brainstorm the vision statement, we used a version of “Pitch and Post.” We divided the large group into subgroups of four and tasked each one to come up with a two-sentence vision statement for the food systems center. Each subgroup appointed a delegate who pitched the idea to the larger group. The other participants wrote their reactions on post-its and posted them on the written (paper or tablet) vision statement. Each subgroup took the feedback, synthesized it, and redrafted their vision statements. We then reran the Pitch and Post a second time. In the end we derived three very solid vision statements. After this vision exercise, I charged the group with brainstorming a mission that would achieve the vision. We did this as a snowball activity. Pairs discussed and synthesized their top three activities that would achieve the center mission. These ranged from more organization to writing collaborative research proposals to funding conferences led by graduate students to changing the metrics for P&T evaluation to rewarding engagement and the translation of research into action. The pairs then paired up into groups of four and honed and culled until they had a set of their top three activities. Then we did this as a large group. In the end I left the meeting with a short list of top 12 most desired activities for the food systems center. By the end, I had new insights about managing large faculty meetings. Most important do’s and don’ts:

  • Don’t be afraid to deviate from the script: Think-Pair-Share and other interactive activities can be mixed and matched, co-opted for other purposes, and redesigned.

  • Make room for movement: Switch between pairs and groups of four midway through the meeting, or better, make the group reorganize into 2-3 different groups of four to discuss focus questions. Getting up and moving keeps interest levels up.

  • Appoint assistant coaches to help design and execute the meetings: The coaches were valuable notetakers and guidance counselors to faculty through the meeting process. Their participation led to better outcomes.

  • Don’t forget the food: Eating together builds community. Design these sorts of meetings at lunchtime and feed participants well.

  • Don’t fear execution imprecision: The second round of Pitch and Post in Meeting 2 was actually a complete accident (unplanned) but hitting the clutch and shifting gears on the fly paid off.

  • Don’t try to do too many interactive activities in one meeting: Giving good instructions and getting participants in the groove takes precious time and may ultimately get in the way of getting work done.

  • Don’t go in blind: Have a ballpark idea of your desired outcome — e.g., what that vision and mission should look like. Design your destination, be flexible, and prepare to listen in order to lead more effectively. Share your best tips for leading faculty meetings in the comments below. John Sabo, a 2013 Leopold Leadership Fellow, is a Professor in the Department of Coastal & River Science and Engineering in the School of Science and Engineering at Tulane University. Follow him on Twitter @saboByH2O.


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