Meeting burnout can affect groups working for even the most important causes. Here are some tips to keep up your group’s momentum while working for social change.
Have Short-Term Wins
One common reason that momentum and membership fades in groups is feeling that the group is not getting anywhere. This causes burnout and threatens people’s investment in the mission of the group. By setting short-term goals (in addition to your long-term goals) that can be accomplished within 6-9 months, you create more opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate progress. Reaching goals as a group improves morale and reinforces the value of why you are all there.
Seek and Incorporate Feedback
Take the time to ask for feedback from the group on how things are going. Consider how the way you ask may impact how they answer. If it is an informal verbal check-in or in front of others, will group members feel comfortable giving their honest feedback? If it is an anonymous survey, are you asking the right questions to get the constructive, actionable feedback you need? Consider offering different ways for people to offer feedback that creates a space for them to be honest.
How you receive feedback also matters. While it is hard to not feel defensive when receiving feedback, how you respond will affect what people feel comfortable sharing in the future. When you receive feedback from the group, show that you are able to take that feedback and actually use it well. If you’re assembling a committee to get people’s input, make sure you’re actually interested in what they have to say. If you come in with all the answers and are just looking for the group to affirm your decisions, it’s not only a waste of your time but also that of your group members’.
Be open to change — this shows that you care about what people’s experiences are and respect their expertise. People feel more ownership in a group when they feel heard, respected and are able to help shape the work.
Keep it Fresh and Interesting
Always having the exact same meeting format or the same person leading it can get stale over time. Consider rotating who is up front, which not only keeps the meetings more interesting but also encourages group members to be more engaged and shares power and voice. Create opportunities for small group work or ad hoc committees – time and space for people to build relationships with each other and to network.
Consider if your meeting could instead be an email with notes and maybe a series of videos people could watch. When people attend a meeting and do nothing but listen, their time and energy is not being used effectively. This can build resentment and hurt people’s investment in the cause.
It can also be helpful to vary up the modalities you use in your meeting. See Your Words is one of many graphic recording services that help visually represent the content that comes up in the meeting. It’s exciting and fun to watch the things you say drawn in front of you and connected to the points that other folks have made and helps keep the whole group more focused while fostering creativity.
Finally, consider the purpose of your gathering and make sure they way you organize the meetings, who is there, and what you do aligns. Check out Priya Parker’s work on The Art of Gathering, or listen to her TED Talk. She has great tips for design and facilitating thoughtful meetings – online or offline.
Keep Your Mission Central
Always keep the reason you are doing this work at the center of your group’s agenda. It reminds the group that you are all on the same team and can help smooth over disagreements and push through healthy conflict in good faith that you all have the best intentions. You may decide to spend the first 5-10 minutes of your meetings in “re-dedication” to the work, sharing clips, articles, quotes, videos, and/or especially personal narratives of those most impacted. It can help you set a tone for the rest of the meeting and focus or energize the group. Being reminded of the need/urgency that brought your group together and how the work you’re doing addresses that need, makes group members feel like the work and energy they put into the group matters, and it makes it more rewarding when you hit benchmarks.
Working toward a goal to inspire change requires motivation, endurance, and courage. When groups find themselves dreading another meeting, we hope you’ll refer back to these tips to for inspiration.