Call to Council: Process of the TLA Network
What is a council?
In council, we come together as equals, all drawing on our gifts and working with our challenges cooperatively. In council, we work together as a team, sharing tasks, thoughts, and visions. We also come together as a community, sharing bits and pieces of our lives, and getting to know each other while we do our work. In these ways, being part of a council can be a nurturing, life-giving experience that helps us model, as it models for us, ways to work together in a sustainable community. We also model together the kind of group process, and the values informing it (everyone welcomed to the table, listened to, witnessed). Most of all, we are guided by the belief that each of us has a piece of the truth.
Why not a standard Board of Directors?
Boards of directors, modeled after the business model, are the mode of many not-for-profit organizations, and in some cases, the boards work well. In many cases, however, boards tend to be – by their very design – hierarchical: the president has the most power, followed by the officers, then the committee chairs, etc. Many boards struggle with just keeping channels of communication open between their parts. Most of all, the structure of boards – with their innate hierarchy that privileges some and silences others – surely mirrors part of our culture’s deepest problems.
How does the Council work?
The council consists of 7-13 self-selected or invited people who meet (via monthly phone conferences, regular emails, and one face-to-face meeting each year) to collectively guide the development of the TLA Network. The reason it works well to have self-selected and invited (even if some of the self-selected are cajoled by others) is that then people who decide to serve are coming to the work from their own initiative. Everyone on the council commits to specific tasks (some for the duration of their terms, and some for the duration of the task), but the council is also more open to the foibles of our lives than other structures: If someone needs to pull back for a time because of life circumstances, they should communicate this with others who would then discuss together how to handle the work on the table. If someone has extra energy and time to devote, they could give that easily and in communication with others.
What is the group process?
Councils are natural bodies for a consensus-based process, but a process based on making the best use of our time.
Before the meeting (by phone or in person):
- Our staff, in concert with the council chair and committee chairs, collects agenda items and any background information (background information is ANYTHING that can be reported) to integrate into our rolling agenda (which has on the usual Network responsibilities, such as the conference, finances, membership, etc.).
- Staff, a week before the meeting, emails out the proposed agenda (also a chance for people who forgot to send in items to send them) plus the background information.
- All council members read the background information and proposed agenda carefully before the meeting (so that meeting time doesn’t have to be spent on reporting on what’s already in writing).
At the meeting:
- The facilitator presents the proposed agenda and asks for approval. They then facilitates the meeting.
- The timekeeper keeps track of time (using a small beeping or ringing device works well) and alerts people when the time for a item is coming to a close. The group can then decide to close on this time or devote more time to it.
- The group can also – and this may be particularly appropriate to face-to-face meetings – ask for someone to be the vibes watcher. This person’s job is to help make the group aware of any person who don’t have much of a chance to speak, or if there’s an underlying tension that needs attention.
- The note taker takes notes (by simply writing in decisions makes, future considerations, tasks assigned, etc. under each agenda item).
After the meeting:
- The note taker distributes notes. If anything needs to be revised, the note taker makes appropriate revisions, and then uploads the notes to wherever the council keeps them.
Putting together agendas:
The following system, designed by Caroline Estes from the Quaker model of facilitation, allows for good flow and participation:
- Opening: a check-in or other short, opening activity to help everyone arrive at the meeting together.
- Review and approve proposed agenda with any necessary changes
- Discuss one small, less-controversial item to help the group get its feet wet.
- Discuss a bigger, more complex item.
- Announcements followed by break (usually not part of phone conferences)
- Reconvene to discuss other items, beginning with a small one, going to a big one, and ending with announcements.
- Note taker reads off who committed to do what, and what the group has accomplished today, along with questions and issues to think about further for the future.
- Closing: check-outs or other activity to help everyone connect to our common vision and/or leave on a good note.
Note on items to be discussed: each item discussed has several possible outcomes:
- A group decision is called for at this time, and the facilitator asks the group if we have consensus, any stand asides, or any blocks; if someone blocks (VERY rare in a well-trained and committed group), the item goes back to the table for further discussion.
- A task needs to be completed as part of a previous decision or a future commitment, and the group then discusses how the task will be done, and who will be responsible.
- The group needs to gather more information in order to make a decision.
How are decisions made?
In the consensus model, individuals may elect – when a decision is called for – to give consensus (basically agree that this is a good direction for the group to go), stand aside (agree that this may make sense for the group but one has questions or issues on it, or stand aside because of a conflict of interest), or block consensus (feel so strongly that this is the wrong direction for the group to go that one is confident they know better than the collective wisdom of the group at this moment). In a well-guided and active group process, blocks are exceedingly rare, yet this possibility needs to be present because there are obviously times when one person’s intuition and wisdom may be greater than the group’s.
What are the criteria for Council members?
- Ready to commit to a two or three-year term on the council.
- Committed to phone conferences.
- Committed to check and participate via email weekly.
- Committed to attend face-to-face meetings that are scheduled as part of or close to TLA conference each fall.
- Committed to be a work horse, not a show horse.
- Committed to working collaboratively with active and lively council.
- Able to contribute to developing the TLA Network through participation in any or many of the following tasks: grow TLA website, fundraise, help plan TLA conference, write for or edit TLA future publications (online or in print), develop or contribute to networking and right livelihood resources, participate in articulating the vision of TLAN.
- Plays well with others.
How do I join?
Send an email to Coordinator@TLANetwork.org stating why you’re interested in joining the Council and what experience (if any) you have in non-profit development.