Leaving Agendas Outside Is Part of the Organizational Structure

By Joseph Kilpatrick and Sanford Danziger
From Better Than Money Can Buy: The New Volunteers, Innersearch Pub, 1996

At first, this idea was simply a theory, but it quickly needed to be put into practice as the organization started to grow. Decisions had to be made, policies set, buildings built, and procedures put into place. Most important of all, services needed to be rendered. The volunteers found that leaving their agendas at the door was key to the projects' success.

This practice now permeates the organizational culture. Based on years of practicing and observing the effects of this simple concept, volunteers have developed a profound appreciation for it.

Some Benefits of Leaving Personal Agendas at the Door

It fosters selfless service.

Leaving personal agendas at the door enables the volunteers to get the "self" out of the service- They can choose to let go of the "little ego's" concerns and distractions.

It creates energy for service.

It is a liberating process--it releases a tremendous amount of energy that would otherwise be consumed by personal agendas. For the volunteers, it is like discovering a reserve fuel tank they did not know they had. It is uncommon for volunteers to get tired.

The more that volunteers respond to the opportunity to serve at HSA, the more time and energy they seem to have to do it. In the early years, board members and some other volunteers gave an average of five to ten hours of service each week. Several years later, that average has doubled.

It allows ordinary people to produce extraordinary results.

The HSA volunteers are quite ordinary people. But when they eliminate the distractions of personal agendas--and work cooperatively--they are capable of producing extraordinary results.

It fosters cooperation and teamwork.

Cooperation is the bedrock of an all-volunteer service organization. Without cooperation, HSA could not consistently meet its service responsibilities.

Leaving personal agendas at the door is what facilitates the high level of cooperation that characterizes the organization. This practice clears away the personal debris that could produce reactions, turfism, personality conflicts, criticism, and disruptive behaviors. Cooperation is a natural way of functioning at HSA. It is the norm--not the exception.

The Practice Requires Ongoing Vigilance
It is not the theory of leaving personal agendas at the door that counts, it is the practice. By simply doing the service work, volunteers are constantly reminded that leaving one's agendas at the door is an ongoing practice.

Individual and group "issues" are an inevitable part of developing a new organization. In the early days of HSA, the members of the board and other volunteers had their share of tensions and tugs-of-war. In the beginning, the volunteers were not nearly so adept at recognizing and "npping in the bud" the influence of personal agendas. Practice and experience have been invaluable teachers.

And there is always room for improvement. HSA volunteers, like all people, need time to learn new things. This is graphically illustrated by the first two stories in this chapter. It took the physician, Stephen, many months of working with his pride before he became an effective team member. And Jan's goal of caregiving with the terminally ill required an ongoing process of leaving her hesitation at the door. What makes it all work, however, is a firm and constant commitment to eliminate whatever may be distracting or hindering to the service.

Marty is a retired nurse who has been volunteering at HSA for over a year. At a recent gathering with friends, she was asked. "How do you do it? How do you 'leave your personal agendas at the door' at HSA?" Marty replied, "'Well everybody else there does it, so you just do it automatically." She added. 'It's very difficult to bring a 'personal agenda' into that environment, because no one else does it. If you do, it sticks out like a sore thumb and you learn to let go of it fast'

A Breakthrough in Organizational Behavior
HSA's all-volunteer experiment has made a significant contribution to the understanding of how people can behave and produce results in an organization.Until now, organizations have assumed that people will inevitably bring their personal agendas with them. Therefore, they have had to "make the best of it." There is a tendency to assume that such personal agendas have somehow to be tolerated, mitigated, fed, assuaged, channeled, diverted, isolated, or otherwise treated.

The ramifications of HSA's discovery that people can in fact release personal agendas--leaving them "at the door"--are very far-reaching. They illustrate that organizations, and the people in them, are capable of a new kind of behavior. It is analogous to the first time that a person ran a mile in less than four minutes. Until that time, it was considered an impossible thing for humans to do. Then, once it was shown to be possible, many other people found that they were capable of doing it. Now it is quite common.

Because of the innovative aspects of its organizational behavior, Human Service Alliance is being studied as a model by some of the largest corporations and management education institutions in the United States. Leaving personal agendas at the door is a practice that many organizations are capable of emulating. When they do, they undoubtedly will see dramatic results in terms of increased productivity, cooperation, and worker satisfaction.

Related Topics:
Permission is granted to download and reprint this material. Reprints must include all citations and the statement: "Found in the Energize online library at http://www.energizeinc.com/a-z"