Each week the PAIRS team — including lead instructors, assistants, research, finance, and administrative staff – meets for one to two hours to review lessons learned, best practices, and assure we’re aligned and prepared for the challenges of the days ahead. The meetings regularly take place at the offices in Weston, from which we direct implementation of the South Florida grant project that has touched the lives of thousands of local men, women, teenagers and families since beginning in October 2006.
While schedules are often packed full with classes, previews, data analysis, reporting, and other time-sensitive activities, the meetings have been invaluable to building, sustaining, and motivating a team that is able to consistently meet the highest expectations of the people we serve. Although each member of our team makes significant contributions, organizationally, I believe our nearly 100% client satisfaction rate is closely related to the interactions that take place in our weekly meetings.
Every meeting follows the same format, modeled after an exercise taught in PAIRS classes that was originally developed by the late Virginia Satir, known as the Daily Temperature Reading:
- Appreciations: Team members take turns acknowledging each other for specific actions over the previous week that made a difference, creating an environment in which individual contributions are purposefully recognized and collectively appreciated.
- New Information: Team member take turns sharing details of tasks they are working on, from classes and previews planned, goals established, research reports, lessons learned, and challenges overcome, assuring the full team is up-to-date and aware of the interconnectedness of our collective efforts.
- Puzzles: Team members ask about anything they’re wondering about – and get answers — whether they’re seeking additional information on a planned activity, deeper understanding of an assigned task, details of an expectation or objectives, or general information about organizational issues.
- Concerns with Recommendations: Team members are invited to share concerns over issues or actions that could be getting in the way of our effectiveness, focusing on a specific situation, including, as appropriate, how they felt about the situation, and offering a specific recommendation for what we should do instead. Much of our growth and improvement as an organization over the past several years has emerged from the concerns and recommendations shared in weekly meetings.
- Wishes, Hopes, Dreams: Team members are invited to share whatever their hopes are for the week ahead, whether it’s personal or professional. Expressions are often related to shared goals for an upcoming class, the impact of our efforts, or for a new project we’ve taken on. Sometimes they’re connected to personal hopes for someone struggling with an illness, going on a trip, adjusting to a significant change in their life, or celebrating a special moment. Whatever they are, it’s an opportunity to stay connected to the individual and collective aspirations that are unique to each member of our team.
Recently, as a result of a concern shared at a previous meeting, we decided that one meeting a month would be created by any team member who volunteered to take it on and that the rest of us would join in enthusiastically, an exercise we call, “Follow the Leader.” Sanford Rosenthal, a social worker who has been actively involved with PAIRS for more than five years, quickly volunteered. He proposed we would meet at a location outside the office and that he would plan the rest without letting us know the details until we arrived.
Moments after I sat down around the long table with the other members of our team, Sanford said he was ready to begin. He reached into a bag to retrieve plastic glasses he personally prepared for all of us. They had all been altered so that we could either not see at all or see only glimmers of light and shapes through a very slight, narrow opening in the center. Then he turned off the lights in the room and began the meeting.
Sanford has been my friend for much of the past decade. From my first meeting with him, I knew he was blind. Yet until the moment that I placed the glasses on my head and sat back as he began the meeting with “Appreciations,” I never fully understood what it was like for him to sit at our meetings, classrooms, and many places in between without being able to see even a glimmer of light, facial expressions, or visibly take in the environment around us.
Led by Sanford, we continued through the steps of our regular agenda, experiencing a heightened awareness of sounds, intonations, and smells as the deprivation of our sight led to increased sensitivity of our other senses.
We completed the meeting more aware than ever of the unique experiences of others, in this case, our friend and colleague, Sanford. I suspect each of us were also more grateful than ever for the resources we have, our abilities, and empathy for those who have different abilities.
With Sanford’s permission, we eventually removed the glasses, all very aware that for our friend and many others, they could not.