by Matt Mattson
In successful, thriving, and admired fraternity/sorority chapters, the LITTLE THINGS make all the difference.
A chapter’s CULTURE is made up of those little things. And anyone who knows anything about why organizations succeed or fail knows that CULTURE is everything.
Championship teams. Flourishing companies. High functioning societies. These all have one thing in common. They always have a CULTURE where people feel safe, included, focused, encouraged, and empowered. (“Culture” is defined here as: the way people choose to interact with each other.)
As you are working to attract, select, secure, and onboard new members of your chapter right now… you are setting examples, teaching small lessons, and actively (even if unknowingly) creating your chapter’s culture.
Create the culture you crave!
Here are 16 ways you are creating your chapter’s culture right now.
What you wear to chapter meetings and new member education experiences. And not just what you wear… how you set up the chairs, if you start on-time, if there is an agenda, the first words out of the leader’s mouth. All of these things create the culture — not just the culture of that meeting, but they bleed into the overall culture of the chapter.
The jokes you laugh at. Humor is a wonderful ingredient in healthy chapter cultures. But the jokes your members tell and the jokes your members laugh at send signals out to all who are watching. They let people know who is welcome, and who is not… Who is in power, and who is not… Who is on the inside, and who is on the outside…
The cleanliness of your house/space. If you’re lucky enough to have a physical space for your chapter, it can be one of the most high impact cultural aspects of your group. The cleanliness, the thoughtfulness of the space, the small touches in decor and accessibility, the level of work you put into it, the respect that you demonstrate for it… all of these send messages that are about far more than “the house.” The structure is a metaphor for the people who live there now, who have lived there in the past, and who may live there in the future.
How you greet others (or not) when you walk through campus. When you’re walking through the student union alongside some members, and you see… some sorority members from another council, the Greek Advisor, a professor, a group of lost first-year students, or a parent taking a tour of campus, how will your members interact with those people? The little choices your members make in those moments go a long way to defining your chapter culture.
Your group texts/chats. One of the most toxic (or potentially uplifting) spaces in a chapter is within their group texts. A quick scroll through a member’s messages and a skim of how the chapter talks to each other in this forum is one of the quickest windows into the true underbelly of a chapter’s culture. Control this space and you’ve got a good start at creating an overall chapter culture that reflects what you truly want.
Your social media posts. What are you telling the outside world about your chapter? Does it match what’s really happening on the inside? Your members are probably watching your social media posts more than non-members are. You’re setting expectations for membership in every post. The things you celebrate teach your newest members what you value.
How you talk about HQ. Here’s a scenario… a national consultant from your sorority/fraternity headquarters is planning a visit soon. How does your chapter talk about them? With each comment, you’re either increasing or decreasing the value of membership in your inter/national organization. The HQ representative, in the eyes of many members, is the primary example of the organization beyond your campus.
How often you say “Thank You” and “Good job.” Those two phrases are probably the easiest ways to improve a chapter’s culture. But too often, members fail to share those messages. Thank people and appreciate people willy nilly. Don’t hold back. All day long be grateful and appreciative.
Minimums vs. Expectations. Everyone in your chapter knows the minimum GPA required to stay active. Everyone knows how many service hours are required, and how many absences from chapter meeting are allowed. But those are MINIMUM requirements. Those are like the rock bottom. What are the unspoken (or even spoken) true expectations of a strong, helpful, active member everyone can be proud of? Minimums shouldn’t be the expectation.
Your recruitment talking points. When you talk about your chapter to a new member, what are the 3 things your chapter talks about most? Those are the things new members believe are most important. Those are the things that they’ll shape their behavior and schedules and budgets to accommodate. If it’s parties, they’ll act like it. If it’s being elite, they’ll act like it. If it’s being welcoming, they’ll act like it. Remember, it’s not just a “sales pitch,” it’s one of the biggest lessons you’re teaching new members and it happens before they even join.
Checking in on folks. If someone’s mom is sick, how does your chapter respond? If someone failed a test, how does your chapter respond? If someone is having relationship problems, how does your chapter respond? If someone is absent and distant from the chapter for a week or two, how does the chapter respond? Do you check in on your people?
Micro-inclusions. You’ve probably heard of how micro-aggressions can be harmful to a group’s culture, and to the people in the group. Well, the opposite is true too. Little tiny choices your chapter makes to INCLUDE people can go a long way. Maybe you always share your pronouns when introducing yourself in a group. Or maybe you ensure the bathrooms in your house are welcoming to all gender expressions. Or maybe you always open meetings with a small comment honoring soldiers, veterans, and family members. Or maybe you spend a little extra money on signage outside your house that helps with accessibility. Or maybe you don’t call them “date parties.” And we could go on and on. There are a lot of little things your chapter could do to simply be welcoming to all.
Your selection criteria. What do you talk about when you’re deciding whether or not a person is going to be invited for membership in your chapter? This is a major culture creation moment. These conversations and deliberations are really important and they create cultural expectations that last.
How seniors and leaders talk to new members. A whole lot of an organization’s culture comes down to how those with power and influence interact with the rest of the members. Especially the dynamic between experienced members and those who are brand new. Who visits whom? Who asks who for permission? Who greets who? Who makes sure the other is comfortable and encouraged?
Where new ideas come from. Can brand new members challenge a policy? Can someone other than a leader propose a new idea? Are members expected to just follow their instructions for membership blindly, or can they make their own decisions (as long as those decisions are aligned with organizational values and mission)?
How members talk about the chapter’s problems. Every chapter has problems. Whether it’s drama, financial issues, old reputation baggage, troublesome alumni… the list goes on. When members talk about these problems, are they solution-oriented or are they stuck? When members talk about these problems, are they willing to admit something is broken (and that they might have contributed to it), or not?
[Want to read more on creating a successful organizational culture? We love Daniel Coyle's book, The Culture Code]