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Soulful Staff Meetings

Published in EJewishPhilanthropy, January 20, 2017

by Aryeh Ben David

The favorite part of my week is our staff meetings. I wonder how other organizations begin their staff meetings.

Do they jump into business? There is always so much to do.

Do they begin with a D’var Torah? Is it pro forma or does the D’var Torah impact the staff meeting?

Do they offer a heartfelt prayer to help everyone focus on working harmoniously and letting go of personal interests?

Ayeka begins its meetings by inviting one staff member to share something personal that helps us know him or her a bit better.

We want to create an “I/Thou” setting for our work. Soulful Education does not begin in the classroom. It begins in our lives. If we cannot create an “I/Thou” setting within the organization, then we will surely not succeed in doing so outside.

It is true that there is always so much to do. Sometimes I am guilty of chomping at the bit while a staff member talks about him or herself. A voice whispers in my head: “Oi. Let’s get to business. There is so much to do.” But then I work very hard to quiet that voice. We do not want to turn our “human beings” into “human doings.” We want not only to know what you can and should do for us, but also who you are. One of the key opening questions we use is: “If only you knew these 3 things about me, it would help you so much in working with me…”

In our last several meetings I learned that one of our employees had a miscarriage that she was still emotionally reeling from. I learned that one of our employees was once an actor who still struggles to discern when he is being authentic or when he is acting. I learned that one of our employees struggles with living so far from his children. Another is going through a theological crisis. And we also learn the fun stuff about each other – one member needs to swim every morning. Yours truly shared that, notwithstanding all of our focus on spirituality, a highlight of my week is watching NFL football.

Hearing each other’s stories has enabled our organization to grow in patience, compassion, and love for each other.

It is disheartening for me to hear how many of my colleagues moan about the dysfunction in their work. It is clear to me that in our small organization, the more we invest in our connecting to each other’s being, not only each other’s ‘doing,’ the more efficient, productive, and meaningful the work is for all of us.

I will never know if someone is giving 80% or 120%. It’s not something I will ever be able to enforce. But I firmly believe that the bonds engendered by our listening to and learning more about each other is the surest guarantee that we will get the most accomplished.

Just like every human being, each organization also has a soul. It needs attention; it needs to be listened to, nourished, and cared for. The 15 minutes we dedicate to learning about each other’s story impacts not only the rest of our staff meeting, but our continued relationships as co-workers and friends.

We love each other. I feel good about that.