As the Area Governor for Area S56 in the South Suburbs of Chicago, I just came back from a combined Division and Area Council meeting for Toastmasters International. It was such a great experience, I almost forgot that, according to the District Leadership Handbook from TI, you should have both a Division and an Area Council meeting, but it doesn’t say anything about combining them.
It was the idea of our Division Governor, Cassandra Lee, for the South Division of District 30, to combine them so that the Division Governor, the Area Governors, and the Area Councils for each area (the President, VP-Education and VP-Membership for each club) could gather together and share inspiration, and helpful tips on how to achieve each of the goals each Club and Area is setting for itself within the Division. Here are a half-dozen reasons why the combined meeting approach works well.
1. Information Flow from District Downwards
There are some upcoming events which affect the entire District, either in the short-term, such as the upcoming Fall Speech Contest, to the preparations for the new and improved Educational Program, which are occurring throughout the coming year. By having all of the leadership of the Division at one meeting, the District can disseminate important information in an efficient way.
2. Information Flow from Areas to Clubs
After the part of the meeting where the Division Governor mentioned some announcements regarding District-wide events, she broke up the meeting into separate meetings for each Area. Each Area Governor has been spending the week looking at the individual Club Success Plans received from the clubs in their area in order to come up with an Area Success Plan. This involves initiatives that will help either individual clubs, a group of clubs, or even better, initiatives that heave individual clubs help each other. Certain clubs, such as newly chartered clubs, will have needs that are different than clubs that have been around for decades. So you can explain initiatives that help only clubs that are facing unique circumstances (unique in that Area, that is). You can explain initiative that help clubs that are facing the same problem, not just because it is efficient to address multiple problems in a single initiative, but also because at some point, the leadership in these clubs may eventually look to each other, rather than to the Area leadership, for assistance.
3. Information Flow from Clubs to Areas
After talking about the initiatives that I came up with that addressed the clubs needs, I opened the floor up to the clubs. Did they have any initiatives that they thought should be started to help their clubs? Well, it turns out they had a couple of ideas that I had somehow missed. They were all great suggestions and I plan to include them in my Area Success Plan. For example, all of the VP-Education members of the Area Council who were present complained that members were having no trouble advancing on the communication track of the educational program towards their Competent Communicator award, a number of them were having trouble advancing on the leadership track towards their Competent Leadership award. Since we were all facing common problems, we decided to spend 10 minutes brainstorming about ideas to encourage members to achieve their CL award.
4. Information Flow from Areas to other Areas, and Within Areas
Rather than the vertical flow of information either downwards (paragraphs 1 and 2) or upwards (paragraph 3), the meeting also affords another important dimension of communication, that of horizontal communication between peers, either between the Area Governors, or within each area between the Area Council members who have similar positions within clubs (all those who are VP-Education for their clubs, for example). This is important, because Area Governors, for example, can act as judges for each other’s Area Contests, thus eliminating the need to conduct a long search for Area Contests judges. Hey, search is over, they’re all here in the same room! Similarly, if all the VP-Education members of the Area Council are facing the same problem getting people to bring their CL manuals, why not brainstorm and have them come up with solutions that they can all use in their clubs? It’s often the easiest information flow, because you and the other person are in similar positions in the organization, and so you know what problems the other is facing–most likely because you are facing them yourself.
5. Information Flow from Past to Present
Cassandra Lee invited former Area Governors, Division Governors, and even District Governors to join the meeting, and those that did added a lot of perspective on how far the Division had come in the past few years. Sometimes when you are struggling up a certain stretch of a mountain, it’s important to look back at the “base camp” and realize how far you’ve actually been climbing.
6. Information Flow from Present to Future
When we talked about the new educational program being rolled out in the next year or so, we talked about the needs of young people, who are much more technically savvy than the previous generation, but who still need a lot of help when it comes to communication and leadership skills. We talked about how many people no longer have a 9-to-5 job, and for whom making it to a regular Toastmasters meeting it increasingly difficult as they juggle their regular job with its increasing demands to be available during the evening and on weekends, their new role as entrepreneurs or consultants, not to mention their home and family life. We realized that the new educational program is trying to address many of the needs of young people who are facing a much different prospect in the job market than existed for the previous generation. So rather than clinging to the old ways, and avoiding change, we should embrace it, because we will also make ourselves thereby more attractive to the new marketplace, and will be better leaders for those young people who are entering it.
All of these reasons, the flow of information upward, downwards, sideways, and through time both forwards and backwards, are reasons why the combined Division/Area Council meeting makes a lot of sense. If you are a Division Governor, you should try it for your next Council meeting, or if you are an Area Governor, suggest it to your Division Governor. It’s worth trying, believe me!