Over the past several years of managing BNI chapters I have encountered some of the strongest leaders in a variety of fields. CEOs, authors, teachers, politicians and exceptional small business owners. When I take a closer look at the personality types throughout the organization, BNI has overwhelmingly attracted individuals with a strong entrepreneurial spirit. This fact in itself poses one of the biggest challenges to cultivating strong, healthy BNI Chapters. Balancing both the traditions of the organization, while also encouraging innovation is a constant battle.
One of BNI’s strengths is the fact that the programs, systems, policies and guidelines are all developed and enforced by the members of the chapters, not by BNI Management. This fact is also one of the biggest weaknesses. These systems typically would not be an issue with someone with a “Type A” personality, however, when mixed with the strong entrepreneurs in a chapter, the pieces of the puzzle begin to quickly fall apart. By their very nature, entrepreneurs dislike all of that traditional structure. They will almost immediately begin dismantling it, seeking new ways to improve each and every aspect of the system. Members find it difficult to honor the structural traditions that have worked for so many years, while also encouraging innovative ideas to improve in the future.
I have never seen this dichotomy more intense than when encouraging chapter pride. When our regional team looked back for a common thread that all of our most successful chapters embraced, we kept coming back to the fact that the members held a high level of pride in their group. Not only were they larger chapters, but they passed significantly more businesses and retained their members longer. So, naturally we wanted to encourage this pride throughout all of the chapters in our care. While this was a great idea on the surface (I still think it’s a great idea!), it has led to an unexpected challenge.
Chapter members in BNI have often mistook a strong chapter pride with the need to differentiate their group from the other chapters in the area. While I do believe that differentiating your chapter is a good idea to attract new members, there are many ways to do that while still honoring the traditional systems that BNI members hold in such high regard. The entrepreneurs throughout the organization often believe that strong chapter pride is only achieved through significant change, and that chapters can only differentiate themselves through deviating from the systems that have worked so well. Unfortunately, this mistake is most often displayed by the chapters who are struggling and could most benefit from building strong pride throughout their membership.
When I took a second look at the chapters who have successfully developed a high level of member pride, they are almost always following all of the systems and policies that have been used for many years. They may consider themselves to be “rogue” chapters, because they have put their own personal spin on things, but they have never forgot the core values that have made those systems so impactfull. I have seen group chants to begin the meeting, crazy new member inductions and off the wall contests to build fun, energy and pride into the culture of the chapter. The strongest chapters have empowered the entrepreneurial spirit of their members to add these elements into the meeting while continuing to embrace the structure and the programs that got them there in the first place.
So, if you are one of those entrepreneurial BNI members, your ideas,energy and innovations are welcomed and encouraged, but balance is necessary for success! Just remember that the chapter pride exhibited by the strongest chapters also honors the traditions and systems that made us who we are today.