Department: Leadership Q&A
Help for a unit-based council
Q My unit-based council (UBC) is floundering. How do I revive it?
You aren't alone in this situation. I was once told that the engagement and functioning of my UBC would be like a roller coaster ride—sometimes up and other times, down. This analogy made me think I just had to hold on for the ride. In reality, however, it's more like a patient's medication levels; yes there are peaks and troughs, but something can be done to maintain therapeutic levels.
First, it's important to focus on the relationship you have with staff. This can be a key to a successful UBC, which may flounder if the basis of the relationship lacks trust. You have to trust the members of the UBC as much as they have to trust you. A common error caused by lack of trust is that the UBC functions as a staff meeting. Avoid this error by introducing a level of authority board to remind everyone what decisions are management's, which decisions are totally up to the staff, and those that are shared. Most of the decisions should fall in the middle of the board under the shared region. Sharing decisions increases the team's reliability on each other, resulting in improvement for the unit.
Another technique to keep your UBC going is to ask for volunteers to be on the council. The UBC will be more productive if the members actually want to be part of the activity. Including the entire unit leads to inconsistent attendance and lack of decision ownership. In addition, the “voluntold” method doesn't work well in this setting. Try holding elections for the chair and vice chair of the UBC. This allows for informal unit leaders to take a more formal role. These leaders may potentially be included in your succession planning.
Encourage the UBC to select a meeting time that's feasible for the majority of the group. Some UBCs may alternate the times they meet for the needs of the members working the evening or night shift. Other UBCs have their meetings set around a mealtime to encourage fellowship with each other before they begin working.
The UBC may be hesitant to make a decision that could potentially have a major impact on the unit. The UBC members may think they need more input from other unit staff, which can be addressed in several ways. Consider installing a communication tree for the unit; each member of the UBC is responsible for communication with five to seven staff members. The UBC members communicate with their group about the activities of the council and if a decision needs more input, they gather information or votes for the next meeting.
Another way to seek input from a wider forum is to post sheets around the unit to entice ideas or allow all to vote on options posed by the UBC. Provide each employee with three small, self-stick papers to post on the larger sheets with their ideas or vote. Employees are allowed to use the three votes as they choose, even if all three are used for the same item.
These techniques tend to work better than e-mail communication because they encourage discussion on the unit. Healthy discussions foster growth of the unit and UBC members. A UBC may flounder if every decision has to be unanimous; some decisions may be by consensus or majority rule.
Keeping a UBC on track includes goal setting within the group. At least twice a year, the council should set goals and review the progress regularly at monthly meetings. Providing feedback to the group on their progress provides motivation for future work. The presentation of feedback is crucial, so offer the necessary reports in various formats for encouragement. Again, a word of caution, don't make this your staff meeting. Let the chair conduct the meeting and make sure your report doesn't take over.
Finally, if your UBC is floundering, seek outside assistance. Occasionally, we're too close to the situation to have an objective view. Another leader, educator, or UBC chair can observe your UBC and offer suggestions for growth and sustainability.