Hi. I'm Jeffrey Cufaude.

I believe deeply that the communities of which we are part are resource-full, but we must be more resourceful in how we invite and engage individuals to be caring contributors and learners. My past experience as executive director of two national associations and as a student affairs staff member at two large public universities has informed much of my subsequent 20+ years as a facilitator, strategist, leadership conference designer, consultant, and speaker.

The Meetings and Conferences I Want to Attend



A decade ago, the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) asked 14 thought leaders about the metamorphosis we need to see in meetings and conferences.  I was privileged to be one of them.

I recently revisited my contribution (below) to see how it stood up 10 years later and to reflect on these aspirations in relation to meetings coming out of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

These original ambitions still resonate with me, but I would now add:
I want meetings that ensure the safety and security of all those who attend, so that they can engage freely in community and conversation with others.

I want more meetings that crackle with energy and excitement—where participants are on the edge of their seats in general sessions and the din of hallway conversations between breakouts is ear-splitting because people have so much to share with colleagues.

I want stories that inspire, examples worth emulating, insights worth adopting and adapting.

I want the highest-quality sessions that immerse newcomers in their profession’s fundamentals and mind-blowing conversations among experienced professionals that push their collective brainpower to unseen levels of mastery and fresh insights.

I want to leave with my skills polished, my awareness heightened, my passion ignited, my network of influential colleagues expanded, my relationships with mentors deepened, and my spirit renewed and reinvigorated. 

In short, I want it all, and I’ll pay dearly for guaranteed results. I just can’t find many meetings ready to take my cash and my contribution to the community.

Meetings like this should not be rare antiques available only in elite circles. They should be the norm.



Be Careful With Your Changing of the Guard


I facilitated a session a few weeks ago where some participants talked about the need to replace the "old guard" with some new faces and fresh thinking.

It's a common concern and a common expression.  No doubt for even the most dedicated of lifelong learners there is an expiration date on the value of their tenure in a particular role.

But remember, just because you're changing the guard doesn't mean you necessarily want to change what they were guarding.

People and programs will come and go.
Purpose and principles should be more permanent.

When recruiting and orienting new leadership be sure to explore their commitment to the purpose and principles you want to preserve, as well as their ideas for new ways to amplify them in the programs and practices they want to pursue.

Challenging Assumptions About Growth


Double our membership.  
Increase conference attendance by 50%. 
Triple non-dues revenue in five years.

These are a few of the growth goals I have heard tossed about in strategy conversations over the years.  If there is one common interest or goal of organizations it is getting more people or more money.

But to what end?  And at what potential cost?  Amazingly, organizations often fail to explore the short- and long-term consequences (positive and negative) of having more. Too many groups put growth goals ahead of any real strategy, a shortcoming explored in this excellent strategy + business article.

People often have strong mental models about growth.  Mine is simple: growth should enable accelerated progress on an organization’s mission and vision.  Simply getting bigger to be bigger is not strategic enough in my eyes.

When facilitating conversations about growth, the two initial questions I usually pose are:  (1) What mission-related results will more _____ (members, volunteers, conference attendees, monies, etc.) help make possible?  (2) What are the possible trade-offs involved if this growth is pursued and/or realized? 

In terms of negative consequences, organizations that pursue explosive growth sometimes fall prey to the following:

  1. Inadequate competence or capacity to scale their efforts.
  2. Incomplete criteria and/or processes for evaluating potential growth opportunities, be they partnerships or new programs.
  3. Insufficient shared clarity around what truly constitutes the organization’s core and its historic success, brand value, and market position and differentiators.

The issues raised in the three points above sometimes cause an organization to pursue opportunities that promise significant enhanced revenue streams, but are not fully aligned with its core values, market position, or competencies.

The potential negative consequences of this are several, including:

  • Diminished quality control on their existing successes which in turn can reduce market interest/demand for these programs or services, creating new financial pressures for growth.
  • Fragmenting their identity in the marketplace as prospects and/or long-term partners wonder “why are they doing that?”
  • Pursuing new opportunities because of convenience, timing, or personalities of those advocating for an idea versus thoughtful and consistent application of evaluation criteria.

Decision-making conversations shift from what the organization should do based on core values and strategy to what the organization could do based on available opportunities and the ease of implementing them.

None of this happens overnight; none of it is usually irreversible.  

All of it likely can be avoided by proactively addressing the three points previously outlined before launching major growth initiatives and/or new programs. 

To do so, I find it effective to have staff, board members, and other volunteers discuss and apply the following observations and frameworks for organizational strategy. Notice how they differ somewhat in content and tone from traditional (and too often predictable) goal-setting. 

I invite you to try them on for size in your own discussions about strategic direction and growth.









Wayfinding for Groups: Seven Questions to Accelerate Progress


Wayfinding.

It is the term used to describe the various ways that cities, buildings, parks, transit systems, and more help people find their way and avoid getting lost.

I find that more successful organizations pay great attention to wayfinding. Doing so usually accelerates group progress and often increases the satisfaction of group members.

During the early stages of every new group—a committee, a staff project team, a board, et al—a handful of basic wayfinding questions need to be answered.

They are not particularly sexy.
They are not particularly challenging.
They are not difficult to answer.

Yet they often go unasked and unanswered, essentially leaving those convened to accomplish something to feel rather lost in how to do so.

That's a huge missed opportunity.

When you next convene a group of people address the following, at minimum:
  1. What are we here to do and how does it relate to other efforts?  Clarify purpose and overall strategy.
  2. How will we know we are successful? Explore desired results, key metrics for progress, and feedback opportunities.
  3. Who’s here to do it (background info), what can they contribute, what are their interests, how to they engage?  We don't trust people we don't know.  Help us get to know each other.
  4. How does work usually get done?  Review structure, legal obligations, processes, systems, and the range of permissions for people to exercise initiative.
  5. What agreements do we need to make with each other?  Calibrate individual preferences with group and organizational needs.
  6. What relevant “insider” info will help me contribute more effectively? Help orient me to the existing culture, relevant historical data/efforts related to our current charge, and available resources we can access.
  7. What should I do between meetings?  I'm here to work.  What should I do besides showing up for meetings?
Want to go to the head of the class?  Share all of this info prior to the first meeting being convened.  Or better yet … as a part of the recruitment process to make sure you are attracting the right candidates.

This orientation shouldn't be tedious and complex, but it should be done.  Consistently.

What other core questions would you add to this list?

Privilege Active Learning: In-Person and Online


Here's a very simple principle anyone who designs and/or facilitates meetings or workshops should commit to memory:  for every content segment, a more engaging format likely exists. In the recent rush to move workshops and conferences online, engaging participants in the process of learning does not seem to be a priority.

How should this reality inform our workshop or meeting design?  In The Chronicle Higher of Education's Teaching newsletter, a Grand Valley State University professor suggests we should privilege active learning.

I agree wholeheartedly with one minor caveat:  we must remember that engagement, participation, and active learning mean different things to introverted and extroverted learners.  

Our design choices must intentionally honor and leverage those differences for a stronger experience for all participants in a workshop, meeting, or conference.  It is too easy for presenters or facilitators to instead unintentionally privilege those learning formats and teaching techniques with which they are most comfortable, regardless of their potential appropriateness for participants.

For me, this intentional design involves a simple process for each content segment of a program:
  1. brainstorm possible ways to teach it (workshops) or explore it (meetings), ones that move participants from passive to active whenever possible;
  2. select one of those options as an initial planned format/teaching technique;
  3. order the content in an appropriate flow, both in terms of content and learning format
  4. examine the flow of the draft teaching techniques and formats and how different learners are engaged through the session, revising as desirable; and
  5. identify backup formats for each individual segment and an alternative revised flow so you can make adjustments in real-time while preserving the desired engagement from/for all learners.
What often happens, however, is a presenter or facilitator focuses almost exclusively on content or format.  Design becomes an either/or activity for them instead of one involving the AND.

Great content, poorly presented, sucks the life out of participants.  This is the shortcoming of many subject matter experts presenting at association conferences.  They know their stuff, but don't really know how to engage others in learning about it any way other than talking at them.  I previously wrote about this challenge and offered some practical tips in this piece for the ASAE Professional Development newsletter.

Or a presenter gets so excited about using a teaching technique (case study, audience voting, role play) that they lose the necessary connection between content and learning format. Interesting and varied teaching techniques can initially mask weak content selections, but ultimately are like cotton candy: the good feeling dissolves and leaving nothing behind.

Calibrating the selection of appropriate content and learning formats is as much art as science, but doing so is a commitment each of us needs to make to honor the interest and attention of participants and the process of learning.  I like how Jeff Cobb defines learning on his Mission to Learn site"Learning is the lifelong process of transforming information and experience into knowledge, skills, behaviors, and attitudes."

For virtual programs, this tranformation process will require intentionally calibrating the mix of synchronous conversations and interactions online in a learning community and asynchronous interactions done offline. I find it easiest to determine those critical moments and formats for synchronous online interaction and to then build the asynchronous elements around them.

Bottom line?
Robust content presented in ways that engage participants in active learning should be a minimum standard for success, not an aspiration only few strive to achieve.  Too many speakers and program designs (online and in-person) still focus on presenting information instead of facilitating learning. Let's change that.




Two Questions to Make Yourself a More Valuable Contributor


Master keys unlock every door. 
They are incredibly powerful.

When thinking about how to unlock the potential that rests within a group of people coming together to collaborate, I suggest two questions you can ask yourself, ones that function as personal master keys:
  • What contribution can I make in this conversation to advance our collective work?
  • What factors do I need to consider to successfully make that contribution?
In my experience, individuals who thoughtfully consider these questions and then act on their answers are more vital contributors to group work regardless of the group composition, its purpose, or the individual's prescribed role in it. Like a Master Key, the questions are universal in value. Let's dig a bit deeper into each one.

What contribution can I make in this conversation to advance our collective work?

Answering this question requires mentally stepping outside the group and assessing its current reality without judgment, much as a facilitator might:
  • What is happening? 
  • What is being said? 
  • How are people interacting? 
  • What is the mix of participation (both extroverted and introverted)?
  • Whose voices are not being heard? 
  • What perspectives are not present among the actual participants? 
  • Where does agreement or disagreement exist? 
  • Where is there understanding and where might confusion exist?
  • What's absent from the discussions?
Answers to these questions (and others you might generate) will help you identify what the group may need to make progress. You can then consider what contribution you might make to what you've identified as being needed.  This transitions you to the second Master Key question.

What factors should I consider to successfully make my identified contribution?

Your contribution will occur within a context and culture. Think about the action you've identified in relation to the following question in order the shape the manner in which you might the contribute:
  • What is the culture in which this group operates, as well as the culture of the group itself?  
  • What trust and social capital have you built with groups members and which ones?  
  • How alike or different is the contribution you want to make from how you normally act in this group?  How might this affect how it will be perceived or received?
  • How might your default style help or inhibit you successfully making the contribution you've identified?
  • How might you modify your tone, expression, language, et al in order to have people hear the value you are trying to contribute? 
  • What observable behavior and understood data can you link your contribution to and how might you build on what others have shared?
At first, working with these two Master Key questions may require great focus, perhaps even jotting down your thoughts.  But as you consistently do so with both intention and attention, the less perspiration they will require over time.

Postscript

When all else fails, consider consulting a "locksmith", someone whose personal qualities and/or experience with the group might help with a stubborn lock.