“Openness, respect, integrity – these are the principles that need to underpin pretty much every other decision you make” Justin Trudeau

In my post last week I explored the intersection of the different realms of our lives, in particular work, home and charity.  This post continues that theme, focusing on work and charity.  Today is an exciting day for me.  I have the privilege to chair a group that is in the process of becoming a charity – the Down Syndrome Policy Group (DSPG) – and today is the inaugural meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Down Syndrome, for which the DSPG is the secretariat.  Although today is largely procedural event involving the election of the officers of the APPG, it marks the start of what promises to be a full and varied agenda covering matters ranging literally from life to death.  Most importantly it creates a forum with direct influence into our parliamentary system where the voice of people with Down syndrome can be heard so that legislation can truly and effectively reflect the needs and aspirations of this community of individuals.

The DSPG is comprised of representatives from a range of local support groups for people with Down syndrome.  When we established the group, however, we felt it essential that the trustee group included people with Down syndrome; it would seem bizarre to be campaigning for the voice of these people to be heard, yet for us not to have such a voice on the board of trustees.  I am delighted that we currently have five amazing trustees who have Down syndrome.

Collective decision-making is not a straightforward process, yet across the many thousands of corporate boards that meet daily across the globe there is an assumption that get a group of people together to debate an issue and out will flow a decision for the improvement of whatever subject they are debating.   Increasingly there is more time spent on the composition of the board, whether there is a good balance of skill-sets and more recently whether there is good diversity, be that cognitive, gender or ethnicity.  This recent focus is to be welcomed and much more work is needed.  But what has suffered from lack of focus is how to get the most from those individuals in the meeting setting.  Too often we see people talking over one another, dominant individuals railroading a discussion, silent individuals not encouraged to take part or the agenda side-stepped and too much time taken with a ‘rabbit-hole’ discussion. 

Given this background, the intersection of my engagement with this charity and my work life was illustrated very clearly to me in a recent meeting of the DSPG.  One of our trustees pointed out that the pace of discussion was too quick and it wasn’t always clear what was a requiring a decision and what was just for debate.  With this brave trustee voicing up and with the majority quickly agreeing we realised that we needed to take a pause and rethink the way of doing things.  We recognised that to be effective and ensure decisions truly reflected all members, we had to formalise our process more.  The outcome was that anything requiring a vote of the trustees has to be provided in writing ahead of the trustee meeting, thus giving us all time to consider and think, get on the same page, and hopefully provide a much more effective outcome.

A lesson learned from my charity life that could absolutely be applied in the work environment, if only there were more brave people to step forward and say, ‘let’s take a pause’.

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