Communication breakdowns can occur within community organisations, especially when you have a mix of people working together with differing backgrounds and experiences.
Just remember, not everyone is going to get along, but it is important to create an environment in your Shed where all people feel welcomed, valued and listened to. Your Shed does not belong to one person, it is there for all members and, therefore, everyone should have a level of ownership.
Ensuring good communication in your Shed can be a difficult task; some Sheds have a lot of members, not all members attend every week, and not everyone has access to phone or email.
Here are a few useful tips to improve communication in your Shed:
- As well as committee-only meetings, hold regular meetings where all Shed members (committee and non-committee) put down their tools and come together to discuss any burning issues, upcoming events, and share ideas in an open forum. These meetings don’t have to be formal, sometimes it’s better to sit down together and have a cuppa and keep it relaxed. This could be a monthly occurrence.
- Noticeboards are a good way of informing members of what is going on each week (e.g. who might be visiting the Shed, what events might be happening, who is in charge of emptying the kitchen bin and cleaning the toilets).
- Have a good social area that encourages people to talk to each other and share views/ ideas. This is often the most important area of your Shed as not all men are interested in practical activities. On a basic level all Sheds should have a kettle and a decent biscuit selection.
- Name badges are a good idea to encourage members to chat to each other. Sometimes not knowing someone’s name can be enough to stop people speaking to each other.
- Welcoming new members by giving them a tour and introducing them to current members. If someone turns up at the door, make sure to put in the effort to welcome them in, offer them a cuppa, ask what their interests are and introduce them to others. Someone may have spent weeks plucking up the courage just to walk through the door.
- Keep up to date contact details of all members, including alternative contact details for those who don’t have access to email. Ask your members if your current system of communication is working and what might help to improve this.
- Some members may be louder or more dominant than others, or may try to assert authority and make decisions without consulting with everyone. Often people who are from management or leadership backgrounds find it hard to let go of old working habits and may want to implement strict rules and regulations, or try to run the Shed like a business. Some Sheds may implement different levels of governance and leadership, but it is important to ensure that this is not a hierarchy that excludes the views and opinions of others and that everyone is treated equally. The Shed belongs to everyone. Make sure that you are constantly aware of how things may appear to your members, and offer plenty opportunities for members to give feedback if they are unhappy (e.g. an anonymous suggestion box).
- If you are unsure about how to approach a particular communication issue within your Shed, you can always seek outside assistance. Sometimes someone external and neutral, such as a local voluntary sector support worker, can bring a fresh pair of eyes and ideas to help solve your issues.
The overburden of committee members
Men’s Sheds typically attract those with ‘time on their hands’, including men who are retired or are looking for a leisure activity to fill a gap in their week. However, this can mean that members may be reluctant to take on any formal role within a Shed, especially if they are seeking to escape the structure and responsibility of their previous working life. Similarly, some members may simply not have the skills or knowledge required to take on some responsibilities, or may have health issues that limit their capability to perform tasks. This can mean that all of the necessary tasks required to operate and sustain a Shed can fall on the shoulders of a very small group (typically committee members) or one person. In some cases, Sheds may have committee members who are not very active and just ‘fill a space’, leaving their delegated tasks to others.
It is important to remember that volunteers who are completing the necessary tasks to sustain your Shed are not being paid for their time and hard work. The role of the committee is to ‘safeguard’ you and your Shed- including all members and assets (money, property, equipment etc.).
Without a committee your Shed may cease to exist, so careful forward planning and action can often be required:
- Do some research- find out what skills and knowledge your members have and if they would be willing to share this experience in any capacity. This could be a supporting role to an existing committee member on an ad hoc basis (e.g. taking minutes, helping to check machine safety). This could also involve filling in for a committee member if they are ill or want to take a break.
- Succession planning- identify members who might be willing and able to take on a role in your committee in the future or in an emergency. Make sure you have a plan in place should a committee member be ill or decide to leave the Shed, even if this is a temporary measure.
- Talk to inactive committee members- be realistic about their expected roles and if they are willing/ able to take on any responsibility. Remember some members might just be making up the numbers, so ask if they would mind being replaced should someone else be more suitable.
- Do a recruitment drive- advertise for committee members through word of mouth, contacting other community groups, leaflets or at events.
In simple terms, if your committee is unable to complete tasks or keep up with responsibilities (often through no fault of their own), and you are unable to find new committee members, it may helpful to scale- back activities. For example, not open the Shed on as many days, hold fewer meetings, or keep costs down. It might be useful to contact other Sheds for practical advice about committee issues.