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Q: What steps have you taken to improve communication among departments within your organization?

In addition to a monthly all-staff meeting, we have a weekly "drop-in" meeting where any or all staff who choose to participate may do so. These meetings facilitate information exchange and improved communication. A one-page overview of each meeting's discussions is distributed to all staff to update those who are unable to attend. These meetings help to identify areas of confusion and provide an agenda for issues that need to be addressed more formally. Departments that are working on projects that require coordination are encouraged to meet frequently to address problems, develop solutions, strategize, and brainstorm in order to create compatible outcomes.

Mary Rimersma, CAE Executive Director. California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, San Diego

I have come to see that too much communication is actually a sign of a problem rather than the healthy interaction we used to think it was. Thus, I've actively worked to reduce communication in our office, The most efficient processes are those involving the fewest people. By redesigning processes to involve fewer people, we have reduced communication and our overhead costs.

To improve the quality of communication within our office, we've worked to instill in our staff the virtues of respect for others' opinions; focus; and clarity. To encourage the communication that is necessary, we have designed several intersections within the layout of our office where it is convenient for staff to bump into each other and exchange ideas. This has worked splendidly. If we can keep communication at an appropriate level and promote clear and purposeful communication, we've met our goals.

Nelson E. Fabian Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer, National Environmental Health Association. Denver

Interdepartmental communication problems that larger organizations face are usually not a problem for our association, which has a full-time staff of six. However, having a small staff brings its own communication challenges. We instituted a yearly staff retreat as a way for staff to spend time together in a relaxing atmosphere away from interruptions and daily demands. In our weekly staff meetings, each staff person reviews what has been accomplished in the last week, what he or she plans to work on in the coming week, and what larger projects are on the horizon. This helps the staff understand and appreciate the contributions that each person makes, and helps us identify opportunities for expanded teamwork.

Dawn M. Mancuso, CAE Executive Director. Association of Air Medical Services. Alexandria. Virginia

Our staff is relatively small--between 25-28 people-so we rarely have communication problems. When we begin a new project or program, the entire staff meets and then department heads meet again to iron out details and inform their respective staff members of changes or updates. The association prides itself on cross-training people in all departments so that we know what other staff members do on a regular basis. This also means that we are aware of how one project in a particular area might affect the day-to-day duties of other staff members.

Tim Heckler Chief Executive Officer, United States Professional Tennis Association, Inc., Houston

While we have been having biweekly staff meetings for years, I found the staff managers and directors were becoming complacent. They were going through the actions of participating in the staff meeting, but not listening to their peers. With the craze of game shows last year like "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," I began conducting verbal quizzes at the close of the meetings. I ask staff questions at random about someone else's work or department. The quizzes keep everyone on their toes--people listen and take notes. They now have a more balanced mind-set about the association and its complexities. And they're having fun answering the questions (and sometimes feeding answers to their colleagues).

Dan Maddux Executive Director, American Payroll Association, San Antonio

Q: Do you encourage or provide the means for your membership to create self-formed e-mail lists? What is the value for members and for the organization?

Through the NSBA Web site, members can access a "school board of tomorrow" e-mail list. We have approximately 650 members who use this to communicate about school and governance issues. Our state associations and board leaders also have list services, which they regularly use for everything from general information exchange to instant surveys. Our council of school attorneys has one of the most active e-mail communication links, helping members get information on critical issues related to school law instantly.

The value is immeasurable--particularly because attorneys and school board members often face crises and need information instantly.

Anne L. Bryant, CAE Executive Director, National School Boards Association, Alexandria, Virginia

We provide the platform for any of our more than 100 subdivisions and more than 60 committees to establish and maintain listservers to communicate with their constituents. We encourage all of these official groups to participate in order to foster communication within their entities and among themselves, We also use the lists to inform members of upcoming events. Having a very Web-savvy membership works for us in that they can create and update their own listservers. But it also works against us because they are very sensitive to spamming. We attempt to balance the need for communication with the desire for privacy.

Mark G. Doherty, CAE Executive Director, Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences, Linthicum, Maryland

We offer listservers for our committees and sections to send meeting notices, continuing education offerings, and other relevant information. Electronic communication is cheaper than print, so we encourage its use. We regularly ask members about their preferred method of communication and honor those preferences. Maintenance of our listserver database is fairly labor intensive, so we created an online membership community in partnership with Harris Publications. Members link from our Web site to access our online membership directory, Web sites for our special interest groups, and chat rooms and bulletin boards.

I think the bulletin boards and chat rooms will be of particular interest to our committees and sections. Instead of exchanging e-mails, they can carry the thread of a discussion on a bulletin board.

Karen L. Garst Executive Director, Oregon State Bar, Lake Oswego

We are stepping up our efforts to nurture and nourish self-formed communities, whether in person or virtual. Because our primary aim is to be the community for financial planning, this is integral to our being. The value to members is that the association helps them see and create the connections that they need. The communities themselves, through their conversations and synergy, create knowledge. That serves the ultimate purpose of the organization. We have the capability for our members to create e-mail lists, we have online discussions, but we see a need to do more, better.

Janet G. McCallen, CAE Executive Director, Financial Planning Association, Atlanta

We have 80 percent of our 14,000 members' e-mail addresses and we publish those in our annual directory, but we do not otherwise encourage e-mail list building. Some members do form small groups, such as alumnae of our leadership academy for incoming chapter presidents, where many forge business and personal relationships with their classmates. Generally, though, members who wish to communicate to groups of other members tend to be promoting a product or service. More often than not, such messages are regarded as spain. We do provide a members-only bulletin board, which gets fairly lively participation from a small segment of our membership.

Gary Krysler Executive Vice President, Women's Council of Realtors, Chicago AM
COPYRIGHT 2001 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Anne L. Bryant, Dan Maddux, Dawn M. Mancuso, Nelson E. Fabian,; Gary Krysler, Janet G. McCallen, Karen L. Garst, Tim Heckler, Mary Rimersma,
Publication:Association Management
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2001
Previous Article:Tune in on ASAE Philadelphia 2001.

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