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Task Management in a Circle

by Micah, with Susan Grove

It’s funny the amount of inherent power there can be even in the small things. How ingrained hierarchy is within our systems. Who gets to determine the tasks to be done? Who then has to get them done? And how do these two roles function in relation to each other and to power? 

How do we as a WSDNP function in relationship with each other? How are we accountable to ourselves, our work, each other, the board and the organization itself? In part, each Circle determines what it is working on, who is doing what, how the work is getting done according to its annual plan and its proposals. The roles needed to accomplish the work must be shared so that we all get better at this, so that no one always gets stuck with a role undesirable to most of us. We each take the lead at times in certain circles and work, but we also each play the supporting roles in other capacities. 

There is a lot of power in simple things, like agenda setting. “This is what I think is important.” Perhaps it is, but what if it wasn’t up to me? Would you make the same agenda? And the notetaker. We may often think that the notetaker is a less powerful role, as they busily type away getting the work done, but not powerful like the agenda setter who runs the meeting. But notetakers can “steal” power by being unscrupulous with the written record that may be referred back to and relied upon to guide efforts.

We often think of these roles as “being given” to those most suited. The role of agenda setter/facilitator tends to be assumed by the Executive Director, Chair of the Board, CEO, or President. We generally believe or want to believe that they earned their position by being educated with years of experience or perhaps just being a natural born leader. We might even say, “They really hold the meeting so well.” Notetaking is usually done by an assistant, secretary, an intern, or the person stuck with the task that day. In a more positive space they are recognized as having the true skills to be able to capture what is said in a concise way in real time, grabbing all of the important details. If you find a great notetaker, you hope they never leave!

To intentionally share this power and responsibility, when we set up our General Circle (responsible for governance), we decided to share these roles. Each meeting is based on a rotation, meaning we take turns serving as facilitator and notetaker. When we have the opportunity to set an agenda, we look at a shared “holding tank” document of future agenda items, reach out to others to see if they are ready to speak on that topic, manage the prioritization of items, determine the timing and then facilitate the meeting. Each of us also gets a turn at taking notes, keeping track of decisions made, what new tasks have emerged from the discussions, and Who will be doing What, by When. We call this a W3. 

I can tell you that I was hesitant for us to use a simple rotation to assign these roles – “but what about the person who simply likes notetaking and is good at it?” The truth is that we all get better at facilitating and notetaking the more we do it. We are all learning to lead and to listen by actively playing these roles. Sometimes we learn something new about ourselves. I was not looking forward to being the notetaker – turns out, I love taking notes. I like being able to tune in and listen in that way. And, oh yeah, its true that as an active listener it can be challenging to also be a full participant, so we look out for each other – when the notetaker needs to jump in and talk, or perhaps an agenda item is theirs to lead, one of us supports them by stepping in to notetake for that section.

This all may seem simple and not revolutionary, but I’d argue with that. It is perhaps too easy to focus on the big changes while leaving the details, the “minor” things, unchanged. “The devil is in the details,” as they say. To change our structure and begin to transform our norms, we had to develop practices at all levels – practices that allow us to get good at doing things differently, practices that allow us to share power in the explicit and hidden ways it shows up.