Five Ways To Better Your Organization

Feature photo by Kate Barabanova

Ultimate is unequivocally flourishing: there’s more media attention, more awareness, more players, more competition, more, more, more. Amidst such vigor, it can be tough to be critical — let’s just enjoy the party!

Not me.

One of the most surprising attitudes organizers can display is one of complacency or apathy towards the very constituency that makes their organization exist.  “They’ll either play or they won’t.” “If they don’t like it, they can leave.” Rather than swimming towards an anchor, management is adrift and only responds to crises or deadlines.

Your ultimate organization, event, or team needs to be more like a business. Not in the stuffy tuxedo and government bailout sense, but in terms of attitude and strategy. Did you think success was merely a question of more work, more volunteers, and finding the right field space? It may not be a question of resources, time, or dedication, but approach. Disembark from the stewardship, all aboard the entrepreneurship.

Here are five lessons your organization could learn from business:

#1: Develop And Internalize Your Mission

Most organizations have a mission statement. If you do not, develop one and do not wait. It can and should be short: one sentence is all you need. If everyone isn’t on the same page with what you’re trying to do, you will go nowhere.

If your board or leadership group has the same discussions or conflicts repeatedly, a common cause is the individuals involved having different goals for the organization. Developing a mission statement ensures everyone agrees about what the organization is trying to do and provides at least some method for assessing whether an action is “good” or “right” to take.

Even if your organization already has a mission statement, it may not be internalized by those involved. Every member of your organization’s leadership should know your mission from memory. They should be able to articulate it, agree with it, and understand why it is your mission. Anything your organization spends resources on should be within your mission and you should not expend resources on things outside of it.

#2: Develop A Rolling “Top N” Long-Term Goals

Many organizations use 5-year plans as a way of charting a plan for the future. This is overly rigid way for many ultimate organizations, but such plans serve a vital purpose: ensuring that your organization is setting and achieving long-term aims.

It’s incredibly easy to fall into a trap of discussing what just happened or what’s about to happen next. These topics may be time-sensitive or fun, but they’re frequently not important in terms of your real goals. If you’ve ever seen this time management graphic, the goal is to divert time spent in the “urgent but not important” quadrant (e.g. what jersey company should we use) and put it into the “important but not urgent” area (e.g. how are we going to grow by 50% in three years).

Whether you’re a massive regional organization or a 2nd-year club team, every organization should establish a top list of goals that likely take multiple years to accomplish. These are the things your organization wants to do the most and they should be what you look at first and devote the most attention to until they are accomplished. Remove items when accomplished or deemed either failed or unfeasible.

#3: Create Metrics for Assessing Progress

Goals are nearly worthless without metrics. It’s great that you want to “increase spirit” or “improve field quality”. How will you know when you’ve done it? How will you know if you’ve made progress this year over last?

You need a quantifiable way of assessing progress. Some things, like attendance, lend themselves to this naturally. Surveys and polls work well too. With rare exceptions, a goal should have a quantifiable target set at the time it is introduced. Without a quantifiable metric, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to tell if you’re making any progress. Strategies or approaches that seem logical may end up failing when you look at the data or vice versa.

Suppose your league is having trouble recruiting women, so you decide to discount the price. This seems logical (lower price = more players, right?), but unless you have data showing it has brought in new woman, it may very well be doing nothing at all. Do people know about it? Is it just the same women who would be playing anyway? Does a discounted price sends a signal that this league is desperate for woman and become a turn-off?

A successful metric makes it easy for your organization to, at any time, assess their progress towards any goals they’ve set and ensures the strategies employed by your organization are valid.

#4: Acquire and Trust Staff

If you’re a team, get a coach. If you’re a large league organization, hire a director. If you’re an event organizer, pay yourself!

The ability of a 3rd-party to observe and manage is tremendous. They will see things that you don’t and they won’t burn out. Perhaps most importantly, they are accountable in a way that volunteers aren’t and never will be.

If you want to see how much this pays off, look to Canada. Only the largest U.S. based league organizations employ staff, while even moderately sized Canadian cities do (e.g. Waterloo or Regina). This has allowed these organizations to develop high quality offerings at every level of play and now recreational ultimate in Canada dwarfs the U.S. in rate terms.

If you already have staff, or are just now acquiring it, trust them. You are hiring them to do a job. Allow them to do it and thrive or allow them to fail and get rid of them. Micromanagement is no fun when it happens to you, so make sure you obey the Golden Rule.

#5: Adopt Continuous/Consent Agenda Model

The amount of time I’ve seen wasted in ultimate organizational meetings is tremendous. Fortunately, this is almost entirely a failure of system, not personal character. Every meeting you have, ever, should have an agenda. People should know why they are there and what is going to be discussed in advance (like, days).

The agenda should be a living document, not started from scratch each month, consisting of two parts: continuous agenda and consent agenda. The continuous agenda should consist of the aforementioned long-term goals on it (#2, above).  Every continuous agenda item should be covered at every meeting, whether it’s 10 seconds or 15 minutes.  Consent agenda consists of the day-to-day operations or seasonal activities that may require attention.  Consent agenda should be kept as short as possible, and addressed between meetings as much as possible.

DiscNW adopted this meeting model several years back and has significantly reduced the amount of time spent on minutia and recent but relatively unimportant developments. The vast majority of meeting time is now spent focused on what’s important for the organization and not what happened yesterday. If there’s an ultimate organization in the U.S. to copy, it’s these guys.

Issue No. 3 | Business

December 3, 2013

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