How We Meet: Making Use of Departmental Time

During the last few weeks, I started planning for the summer. I like to think summer is still months away, but the spring temperatures have returned and we are entering the final stretch of the semester. Summer is approaching!

For myself and the team I lead, summer will be busy. We’re slated to teach a five-week intensive information literacy credit course – two hours a day, five days a week. We are co-teaching three sections of the class and working together to edit the curriculum to fit the needs of the program this summer. The course will run from mid-July to mid-August. Once the course wraps up, we’ll get one week to recover, readjust, and then we jump straight into the fall semester. 

As we talked about how we would prepare for this summer course, I realized that we would need to prepare for the fall semester in May and June. This would allow us to focus on the teaching in July/August and then give everyone a break before the fall semester. In thinking through all the topics we wanted to cover in the summer, I realized I would need to be savvy with how I scheduled department meetings in May and June. Lucky for me, I love planning meetings.

A little meeting context

In stepping into a department head role, I’ve tried to be intentional about when and why we meet. Especially when I started in the job, I wanted to make sure we had time as a team to come together, discuss current topics, and make decisions together. I used those meetings to gain additional institutional context and open up space for the team to see connections between their experiences. Those were the types of meetings that truly could not be an email and helped to establish a strong team foundation. For the most part, I scheduled the meetings in advance and would occasionally add a meeting into the rotation if a topic came up we needed to spend time discussing. I learned a lot from the fall, including some ways I wanted to change up our meeting schedule in the spring. 

In true pandemic fashion, our spring semester started off remotely. However, having a strong meeting foundation allowed us to go virtual without too many issues. I introduced a new format for the team – the monthly business meeting. Each month, we have a meeting to discuss individual team news and share updates related to some of our bigger projects (like one-shot instruction, our GEARUP program, and our Library Informatics program). The goal for this format is to open communication and encourage folks to share news to keep everyone in the loop. Originally, I had blocked 30 minutes for updates and 30 minutes for feedback on a certain topic. I quickly learned that dividing the time like that doesn’t work for the team. So business meetings are now focused on just updating and looping everyone in. I think they are working and I’m excited to keep tweaking the format throughout the year. Similar to the fall, I’ve had to add in a few extra meetings, but I think I’ve started to understand the semester rhythms and in extension, the department rhythms. A few meeting types we’ve established as a team are:

  • Instructional data sharing meeting: This meeting happens near the end of the semester and focuses on our one-shot instruction. We discuss data we collected from our students and instructors and also use the time to plan for changes to one-shots for the upcoming semester. It’s a great way to celebrate our work, see the impact, and discuss changes.
  • End of semester celebration meeting: This meeting idea came from someone in the department, who asked if we could have a meeting where we didn’t have a formal agenda and could just spend time together. It was probably my favorite meeting in the fall, because we got to be together, do a craft, and enjoy some holiday snacks. It’s a nice way to celebrate our hard work from the past semester.

Summer planning

With all of this meeting knowledge, I wanted to take a wider view as I planned for our summer meeting schedule. I printed off a full 2022 calendar and marked off when we had met this year and then tried to identify our summer meeting schedule. I started to notice the frequency of our meetings and the many meeting topics we covered each semester. I pinned up the four pages to my corkboard and you can see the full spread in the photo below.

Four sheets of paper are displayed and each piece of paper contains three months. Each month is marked up with meetings and notes about the purpose of each meeting.
The full 2022 EOS meeting schedule. There’s some meaning behind the colors and patterns, but it’s not important to tell the overall story!

As I penciled in our summer meetings, I quickly saw that June would not only go by fast, but we would have to be intentional on what we chose to focus on. Ultimately, we could not cover everything. I tried to identify things I knew we needed to cover in order to start the fall semester off on the right foot. In planning our June meetings, I tried to incorporate some new meeting formats to see what might work best. I’m hoping to pilot the following meeting types this summer:

  • Mega meeting: Borrowing the name from a former department I worked in, this longer meeting is meant for bigger, conceptual discussions and collaborative work. For us, we’ll be doing a full day meeting (with food) to begin the work of preparing for our summer teaching.
  • Pre-Sprint Meeting: In the middle of June, I hope that the team can work on some larger projects and can focus on specific projects during a week-long sprint. To kick off that work, I want to begin with a department meeting on a Monday where we discuss the topic at hand, assign the work, and then go off into smaller groups to get the work done. For example, we’re going to revisit our curriculum maps and I want us to build out time to really focus on this work. 
  • Optional working meetings: I’ve blocked this time on everyone’s calendars and reserved a space, but it will be up to each individual on how they’d like to use that time. If they are working in small groups, it’s a block of time to get together and collaboratively work. But, I also scheduled these knowing folks will be on vacation or have other things to focus on. 

The summer meeting schedule still looks a little overwhelming, but I’m hoping these meeting formats will help us have the team conversations we need to have and help to assign the smaller group work. I’m curious to see how these meetings pan out and what I learn along the way. I know this summer will inform how we set up meetings in the fall. 

I won’t lie that after laying out all our department meetings in this calendar format, I had a minor freakout. Was I trying to do too much? Were we switching between topics and projects too quickly? Were we focusing on the “right” things? In speaking to a colleague, she reminded me that department meetings can be as frequent as I would like, as long as I feel that the time is used to move work forward. This was a good reminder. I know my leadership style is collaborative and during my first year, I will err on the side of too many meetings, because I want the team to understand my thought process and weigh in on the department decisions. Overtime I know the team will establish a rhythm and we will develop other mechanisms for making decisions. I feel like I’m learning a lot from organizing department meetings, something I didn’t anticipate when stepping into this role! 

So now reader, how do you meet with the people you work with? How many meetings are too many meetings for you? How do you keep in touch and keep the work going outside of regular meetings? I would love to hear from you on how you think about departmental time.

Generosity at work

It seems to me that the interconnectedness of our work makes us library folk frequent collaborators. It often takes a number of people working together, for example, to select, acquire, receive, catalog, and provide access to resources. Or, for instance, how does a librarian have access to students for in-class instruction if not through collaboration with faculty? We are often skilled at working cooperatively and fostering partnerships within our libraries, across our campuses, and beyond.

The characteristics and quality of our many collaborations, however, can sometimes be disappointing–as is the case in all work environments, no doubt. It’s frustrating when work that is connected and should be collaborative is instead disjointed and siloed. It’s challenging to work with a difficult or defensive colleague or supervisor. And it’s depressing to recognize when we ourselves have been the source of a problem.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year and a half or so working with a faculty member at my institution on a fairly intensive teaching and research project. The course of our deepening and developing partnership has provided me an occasion to give a lot of thought to our collaboration and, by extension, the nature of collaboration more generally. This particular faculty member has been an especially generous collaborator. By generous, I don’t mean she has been nice or easy to work with, although she certainly has been those things. What stands out most to me is that she has never been territorial or defensive. She has had no tendency toward one-upsmanship. Instead, she has been at ease with and even eager for sharing ideas, work, and credit. She was as keen to hear my ideas as she was to share her own and just as likely to advance my interests as she was hers or, better yet, find common ground between them.

Indeed, when I reflect on the many people I’ve worked with, I feel grateful for all the generosity I can so easily call to mind. These people and moments were characterized by, much like my recent faculty partner, a ready willingness to share ideas, information, communication, and credit, an inclination to recognize the potential and the contributions of others. These were people who were accountable and took responsibility for their fair share of both work and mistakes. Rather than trying to stake personal claims, they sought to support and advance those around them such that everyone benefitted–individually and together.

As far back as elementary school, I’ve prided myself on being a good teammate or colleague, yet I now recognize how one-sided a collaborator I often have been. I cringe to recall the moments when I was certainly eager to help others, but not work with them. I see now how I was often resistant to others’ contributions and reluctant to hear criticisms. I was more than happy to give, but not to actually join forces. I wasn’t ill-intentioned, just perhaps (too) focused on self-reliance or proving myself.

A search for recommendations on how to be more generous at work turns up articles like this one and this one. The short version of their suggestions includes things like: be thoughtful, work hard, communicate readily, collaborate better, share credit, create positive working environments, and so on. While these things can be easy to know, they are often hard to do.

To be clear, I’m not talking about being nice here. I’m by no means against niceness or kindness. What I’m talking about, though, is developing and contributing to an environment of thick collegiality such that we can work effectively together in a “shared endeavor to create something rich in meaning.” Generosity, I think, helps makes this possible.

So how to become a more generous collaborator, leader, colleague, supervisor, supervisee, mentor, and/or teacher? Some research suggests that, perhaps like most things, practicing makes it easier. And my personal experience suggests the same. The more I practice generosity–that is, the more I cultivate the mindset and habits of a generous colleague or leader–the easier it is. And the more generosity I see around me and receive in return. It seems to me that respect and trust are at the core of this attitude and practice. Being generous both requires and helps promote trust and respect.

I’m not trying to pat myself on the back here. I do think I’m better at this than I used to be, perhaps because of time, age, worldview, and because I’ve worked at it, too. I also know I can be better at it still. But the practice of promoting generous behaviors and attitude–the work of it and the reflection on it–has had a significant impact on my work relationships, quality, engagement, and satisfaction.

It would be naive to ignore the roles gender and other types of power and privilege, or lack thereof, can play in collaborative work and the work environment generally. Some might say, for example, that generosity is expected of women, and not men. Or some might say that to be “generous” actually means to be weak or timid or taken advantage of. There are challenging and troublesome expectations and stereotypes wrapped up in this conversation for sure. It’s reasonable to worry how this might reinforce divides, rather than challenge them. It seems to me, though, that generosity can help to subvert stereotyped expectations and structural inequalities by acknowledging others’ capabilities and accomplishments, by making space for voices otherwise unrecognized. I think practicing generosity at work opens communication, creates respect, and transforms our perspectives and practices for the better. Generosity can promote opportunities and engagement for us all.

Your thoughts? Drop us a line in the comments…