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The Central Midwest District UUA merged in 2013 with the Districts of Heartland and Prairie Star to form the MidAmerica Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
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First Virtual CMwD Board Meeting

We had our first virtual district board meeting last Saturday. From nine to noon Saturday we sat on a conference call with each other. We accomplished a lot. We had also reserved the time from one to three but, in the end, we did not use that. We won’t do this every meeting. We like holding our meetings in congregations around the district. We decided not to hold our Winter meeting online. We will finalize our budget then. And we like seeing each other. But we did decide that as part of our reinvention we would try it out.

What impressed me was that virtual was not second best. It was just different. Some things worked better. Non-profit boards who draw people from a distance are finding that those they want most to serve are just too busy to spend all that time traveling. It was indeed a wonderful gift—to wander from my breakfast table to my home office for the call and then at the end of the meeting to be home, not to face travel. A couple of our board members said that they would have missed this meeting had it been face-to-face.

Something about only connecting through the sound of our voices seemed to focus us and to speed the work. Since almost all of us were sitting at our computers, people had all their stuff and not just the few papers they had brought to the meeting. And we were able to pass documents and pieces of information much more easily. Some of us, including me, invested part of the time we would have spend traveling in making sure we had acted on all our action items (there you have it—a confession than I am one of those who do their homework the night before it is due).

Should anyone else want to “try this at home” a few suggestions:

  • Prepare carefully. Our board president, Daniel O’Connell prepared the agenda and we sent out our board packet as usual in PDF format.
  • Ask each person to weigh in on each issue. Before concluding each item on the agenda, Daniel asked each person to say briefly where they were on the subject. This compensated for the fact that we could not see facial expressions but it also insured a more even contribution to the conversation than we might have had face-to-face.
  • Say names before speaking. Our board knows each other well. Yet, when people failed to say their name before speaking, things got confused. Just make your name into an introjection you place before each thing you say.
  • Use the mute feature on the conference call or, even better, on your telephone. The mute feature provided by our conference call service caused an irritating delay. Those of us with phones that had a mute feature did not have this problem.
  • Include all the features one would include in a face-to-face meeting. We did include the opening and closing readings but somehow forgot to appoint a process observer. With the new format a process observer would have been particularly good—and we forgot. I suspect we forgot, in part, because a virtual meeting has an what one might call an “instant on” feature. Our face-to-face meetings have a gradual build up of people arriving. Frustrating as it might be to wait for late-comers caught in traffic the slow opening gives space to remember last minute details.

Most congregations are not going to hold virtual board meetings but I do see increasing questioning of the face-to-face norm for meetings. Congregations are finding that the pattern of meetings that they have set for themselves is becoming unsustainable. Leaders say “ I have been here at the church four nights this week”—and this is not a good thing. Virtual meeting can relieve the pressure. Our leaders tell us that this is crucial at two points: Many of our congregations have board or other committee members who live a long way or for whom travel is cumbersome—using a conference phone within a face-to-face meeting to include these people can mean the difference between a “yes” and a “no” when the leadership development committee is looking for people to serve. Also, boards are realizing that to make their meetings more effective they really should hold an executive committee meeting in advance of each board meeting. Wise as this might be, the thought of another night out of the house is hard. Here again virtual meetings might relieve the pressure.

Also, we all want to go green. Truth is we are going to go green a lot faster and more painlessly if we reinvent the work that if we press for efficiencies within old paradigms. If we all had tied our schedules into pretzels to car pool or take the train we would have lowered our carbon footprint by perhaps a third or a half. Holding our meeting virtually cut it to zero.

Oh yes, and we saved a bunch of bucks.

Ian Evison
Congregational Services Director

P.S. It turns out we’re not alone in discovering the advantages:

Thanks for this write up — I liked your summary of how you did it — actually the PSWD has been meeting like this for three years and it works well, we also like the focus that comes with these meetings as well as the money we save. And our lawyer said that at least since we are incorporated in CA these are legal meetings at which we can transact any business.

Ken Brown, Pacific Southwest District

And…

Thank you, Ian.

Good stuff.

In the OMD, we are going to video conferencing on Oovoo for at least a quarter of our staff meetings.

And we already held our annual Committee Chairs meeting in September on Persony with conference call for voice and online Persony powerpoint to display relevant parts of the Committee Chairs Handbook.

It also went beautifully. And attendance of committee chairs was the best in history. Feedback was excellent.

I will be suggesting that the OMD Board might like to try either Persony or Oovoo for a future meeting – perhaps the winter meeting where weather usually prevents 1/3 of the members from driving in anyway.

thanks

Joan Van Becelaere, Ohio-Meadville District