Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Empower the Staff First for More Effective Outreach

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Empower the Staff First for More Effective Outreach

Article excerpt

The rapport we build in our own workplaces has a big impact on our outwardly focused activities. And if rapport is lacking, our outreach work can be twice as hard. On some level, we all know that this is true in organizational life. Yet all too often when we begin planning major new initiatives like fundraising campaigns, it's easy to overlook the hard work of building esprit de corps. If we do sidestep the process of building community in our own organization, there's an opportunity cost further down the line.

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Since this issue of Computers in Libraries is all about reaching out, fundraising, starting grass-roots campaigns, and even political action, I'm going to use this opportunity to explore what we must do first if we want to succeed in the public arena of politics and fundraising: Develop effective teamwork.

Look Forward and Keep an Open Mind

The good news is that no matter how many years of experience we may have under our belts, it's never too late to learn new interpersonal skills and put them to work. This goes for both leaders and line staff. Ideally, staff at all levels should be involved in a robust dialogue with each other before engaging the larger community in a major initiative.

Rather than present a literature review covering the many team-building strategies that are available, I'll cherry-pick four strategies that I have known to work in certain situations. For the sake of carrying a thread of ideas from start to finish, let's assume we're facing a management challenge of getting ready for a major public relations outreach project, possibly a capital campaign. Because the external pressures of such a project are fairly universal, the impact on a team of staff will hold commonalities across many organizational settings.

Action, Not Jargon

Most info pros are long-term survivors of many organizational-change initiatives, all of which employ a lot of jargon. That's bad enough on its own, but it gets worse. Using jargon to simply recodify the status quo and shuffle some seats is a major morale buster. Let's face it, a lot of these kinds of reorganizations don't work, and they also leave staff feeling cynical and abused.

Likewise, how many of us have worked for organizations in which leaders went on retreat, sorted out lots of tough issues, and came back with a complete plan in hand? Then these leaders present the plan in full to those who were minding the store and didn't participate in the plan's formation. How many times have we ourselves been on retreat and done just that? Welcome to the human race. The first challenge of change management is to involve everyone. Is there a way out of the trap of exclusion?

There is, but it's one of the most challenging choices managers face. And like many keys to productivity, it's deceptively simple. In short, the entire organization needs to be involved in a change process, and staff members at every level need to be heard--really and truly heard. They need to know that if they speak honestly (perhaps anonymously), their input will be taken seriously.

I have two examples. During the late 1980s, I was involved in a search for a new law library director while in my very first library job, which was para-professional. Finalists met with the full library staff as part of the interview process. The staff vote for finalist rankings carried the highest weight, and this buoyed morale. The staff didn't agree with the teaching faculty in every instance, but made important assessments of the candidates, which were heard. It brought everyone closer.

More recently, I led the development process for creating an annual alumni giving program. My first step was to involve staff from every unit in a cross-functional team. Everyone's skills mixed together, which built a cohort with an allegiance to the process instead of to their home departments. This was important because the organization we all worked in was pretty balkanized and rewarded staff for staying close to their own program goals. …

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