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Democratic Women of Mecklenburg County Small Group Evaluation April 28, 2011 Davida M Jackson Queens University

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Abstract This small group dynamic consultation plan aims to solve a communication issue facing a political club the Democratic Women of Mecklenburg County which centers around conflict management and leadership development. Months of thorough research including personal observation, notes, documentation, and personal participation as a member of the club’s board of directors assisted in the findings for the organization which led to suggestive strategies to limit the negative aspects of conflict in order for the group to accomplish its goals. Also, the club’s strengths and weaknesses were identified to develop a practical plan for implementation by its board members as a whole. This paper uses communication theories to fully understand and evaluate the group dynamics of the women that make up the Democratic Women of Mecklenburg County’s current leadership.

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Introduction The Democratic Women of Mecklenburg County (DWMC) is a county chapter under the umbrella of the Democratic Women of North Carolina (DWNC) which was founded in 1961. Currently, the DWNC has a membership of over 3,000 and the DWMC has over 100 members respectively. Overall, the organization is dedicated to encouraging Democratic women to seek office, promoting the principles of the party, urging Democrats to vote, and ultimately actively participate in the political process. The group’s mission reflects upholding Democratic ideals through elections and work with lawmakers to bring about change. Currently, the DWMC is dealing with its own transformation by electing the first Black club president since its inception. This changing of the guard has caused major conflict within the organization which is reflected in its leadership. For decades, the DWMC membership consisted of mostly older white women from a middle to upper middle class background. Now, the club is more diverse with Asian, African-African, Hispanic, and Caribbean women of all ages, races, sexual orien-

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tation, disability, and income levels. The club’s diversification is changing the characteristics of the organization as new and old members alike, adjust to new leadership and new rules. The DWMC’s board of directors plays an integral part in the club by overseeing all of the organization’s activities from planning monthly programs to political fundraisers. The board is made up of 12 nominated positions which are approved by the general membership and 7 elected officers which include the president, first vice-president, second vice-president, third vice-president, secretary, newsletter editor and treasurer. The other board members are as follows: the historian, (2) members at-large, and the chairwoman of each of the following committees; hospitality, issues, publicity, telephone, ways and means, search committee, and three ad-hoc members. I serve on the board as the public relations chair. Overall, the task roles of each board members have been clearly defined over time. For example, the hospitality chair seeks volunteers to bring food to each monthly general body meeting and board meeting. However, a newly implemented task roles assigned by the current president includes requiring each board member to give a report at the general body meeting have deeply uprooted the group’s cohesiveness which will be discussed in the findings section of this paper. The DWMC board of directors share the same short-term and long-term objectives which mirror the goals of the statewide organization. Right now, the board is pushing to recruit women in the community to run for a political office to fill upcoming vacant seats held by women in the local government. Also, the board is looking for ways to actively support the Democratic National Convention in 2012 which will be held in Char-

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lotte. Long-term, the group shares the same objectives as the DWNC which is to support the Democratic ideals of the party. Methods The methodology used to conduct my research consisted of four main components unobtrusive observation, notes, documentation, and personal participation. First, I attended each board meeting prepared to study the group’s behavior without interference to the group’s productivity . During the observation, I took notes to retain information regarding the different forms of non-verbal/verbal communication including physical appearance, proxemics, body language, facial expressions, and paralanguage. The notes supplemented the observation by providing an immediate resource that was available to review when future issues and/or conflicts arose within the group. Important documents were used to gather data including the DWMC constitution and by-laws. Also, executive board meeting minutes served as a resource. As a member of the DWMC executive board, I participated in the meeting and my experiences were used to further the group evaluation. Findings The research analysis points to the growing realization that the DWMC board of directors shortcomings lies in groupthink, diversity, and conflict management. The group’s strengths can be seen in its commitment to accomplish the club’s objectives. The catalyst for continued conflict within the group began after the club’s first AfricanAmerican president was installed earlier this year. Shortly thereafter, several long-time members stepped down from previously held board positions and stop attending general body meeting. Those actions are an example of avoidance power which has sent a

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strong signal throughout the organization making the president feel threatened. Therefore, the president as an elected leader is using her influence to make broad sweeping changes to the club and the board to flex her power which is creating conflict amongst the board. Despite, new membership the DWMC remains a cohesive organization. However, the tight knit group dynamics are not healthy for the club as a whole or the board of directors. New members do not want to “rock the boat” so in many instances they remain silent or “go along to get along” in order to fit-in which is an example of a concurrence-seeking tendency that leads to groupthink. Groupthink is defined as a strong concurrence-seeking tendency among group members that leads to a deterioration in their decision-making process. (Janis 1982) Currently, the club and its board members are dealing with issues of group think which have evolved from years of long lasting friendships formed amongst the members. Tackling diversity is another issue stifling the board’s progress. For the first time in 50 years, the DWMC has an African-American president and a diverse board of directors which is causing racial tension within the group. Now, the members have to get used to new leadership at the same time a new set of norms have been introduced by the president which were previously outlined in this paper. The president’s ethnicity has not directly come into question but her race is mentioned in board meetings on a regular basis. For example, several members make a point to mention in every meeting that the club has its first African-American president every time the opportunity aries. In addition, conflict arose at a board meeting over the monthly program for February not including a Black History month presentation. The first vice-president whose

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duties include program implementation blamed a simple oversight for the exclusion of a Black History month presentation at the meeting. A special presentation was suggested but it was not enough to prevent a board member from protesting by not attending the February meeting. Also, our issues chair (a white woman) decided to take up Black History month as a cause for the month of February which only continued the conversation and hurt feelings. In this particular situation the board of directors are not understanding each other on any level which is causing more conflict.

The way in which the board of directors handles conflict management is another weakness which was discovered as the research process progressed. The most common problem solving approach is through competition due to the political nature of the organization. With a shake-up of leadership, new board members became more willing to fight for a particular issue. Another important factor to note is that only women make up the board of directors, therefore; unchecked emotions can lead to unnecessary conflict. For example, the president had to “go below the line” to resolve a conflict between a board member and general body member of the club. The conflict boiled down to hurt feelings between the two parties which one did not show any empathy for the other involved in the argument. The president offered mediation between the two fighting parties but both sides could not come to an agreement. The outcome resulted in the general body member leaving the group and animosity towards the board member from the other DWMC leaders. Despite conflict, the DWMC board of directors are proficient in coming together to complete task assigned to help the larger organization accomplish its goals. The presi-

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dent pushes the narrative that the DWMC is the premiere political organization in Mecklenburg County, supporting dozen’s of local Democratic candidates through its big fundraisers. She leads by the law of influence which is commitment. Recommendations The DWMC board of directors needs to overcome the issues stifling the group’s growth by essentially reforming or starting from scratch in the group’s development. The majority of the women who currently sit on the board are not only new to the board but they are new to the organization. Therefore, each board member needs to become familiar with one another including the elected officers. This is a part of the forming process. Also, the continuous conflicts need to be addressed in the storming phase. As mentioned previously, new rules (norms) were set by the president without any input from the board which again has caused more conflict for members who are resistant to change. According, to the Four-Phase Model (Harris & Sherbloom 2005) a point is reached in a group due to new membership where reforming is necessary to replace unnecessary steps, change ineffective procedures, or develop new goals. Once, forming, storming, and norming are completed the task-oriented phase of group development which is performing will be more fruitful for the group. How does the group accomplish the steps to reform? I suggest, a weekend retreat for the DWMC board of directors. The retreat should be filled with team building activities. Also, the board members should be required to get to know someone in the group they do not currently have a relationship with in order to build a bond. A brainstorming session involving decision-making by the majority should also be a part of the activities to combat groupthink. In this way, the voices of all board members will be

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heard, shared authority as well as shared responsibility will be achieved during the process. Hopefully, the outcome will result in a stronger team who will be an example for the rest of the organization. Key Learnings So what does all of this mean? The DWMC needs to take a closer looks at itself and how it currently operates as a club. Is the group effective? Do all the members feel included or excluded? How does the group handle conflict? Someone on the outside looking in can see that the club is filled with drama and cat fights. However, the negative image can be changed with a leader who rules by the influence of social proof. In a nutshell, each time major changes come to any organization whether it be through new leadership or new members the group needs to reform.

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References Janis, I. (1982). Groupthink (2nd ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Harris, T. & Sherblom, J., (2011). Small group and team communication (5th Edition). Boston: Pearson

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p 11, find group think page

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