Insufficient or inadequate premises can be the biggest problem.
Having the right mix of members
The challenge is to maintain a balance in the membership make-up of able-bodied men and disadvantaged men and have them working harmoniously together in an inclusive environment.
The management of the men’s shed
The old saying “the speed of the pack is determined by the speed and direction of the leader” is very relevant to a men’s shed.
Finding the right person to manage the men’s shed can be a real challenge, particularly if there is no salary involved.
I believe the best way to start a men’s shed is to find a champion. Someone who knows a lot of people in the community is well respected and knows the issues involved with a start-up organisation.
Once the men’s shed is up and running well all day every day, the champion can move onto his next project.
This is always a challenge because you need supervision in the shed at all times. some of the best men’s sheds are open 9 to 5 seven days a week. Remember some me will have regular jobs through the week.
Types of members
The makeup of the men’s shed members requires a lot of consideration. While you might want to have an inclusive membership policy, you certainly don’t want to attract known trouble makers. Nor do you want to attract people who have expectations you can’t accommodate.
Types of members could include:
- Able-bodied men of all ages.
- Businessmen of all ages.
- Senior school and other students.
- Retired men.
- Indigenous men.
- Men of ethnic backgrounds.
- Differently abled men.
- Mentally handicapped men.
- Unemployed men.
- Men under respite care.
It is very easy to type a member who is grumpy and never smiles. Men who have health problems, financial problems, relationship problems or they do not have direction, or they have lost their partner, tend to become grumpy.
Engage the man and give him responsibilities, mentor him through his particular situation, take him through his transition. Introduce him to a member who had similar problems, a help them to work at it together.
Be aware that grumpy men can disrupt the others and even cause some members to leave. Discuss the issues at your meetings, fostering tolerance and understanding.
Keep in mind that not all men will want to join your men’s shed for one reason or another. You should be looking to have members who want to belong, not ones who need to be pushed into joining.
Variety and balance of members
There are still many people out there locked into an old paradigm about men’s sheds; “just get a few old men and put them in a shed and give them a pack of cards and something to do”.
Variety and balance of members are essential for sustainability to have a wide variety of men spanning all age groups, where the older men teach the younger men and the younger men teach the older men. A simple formula but it works well as older men grapple with the new environment and the younger men seek direction and life skills.
In every community, there are differently-abled men, unemployed men, retired men and so on, all seeking something and more than anything seeking to improve their life and involvement with other men. The men’s shed can play a key role in helping these people with their aspirations but it will only be sustainable if there is a balance of membership.
Your men’s shed will need able-bodied men to be able to do what is necessary to help these people and where there is an imbalance there will not be the manpower available. Every man will have some skills to offer the men’s shed and his community, but in order to utilise them as they would also want the balance and variety must be there.
“Bad things always happen in the start-up phase. The odds of getting from start-up to sustainability without some kind of disaster happening will be rare. The trick is not to give up, but seek advice”. Peter Sergeant
The mix of skills
There is a large range of skill required for a sustainable men’s shed including, management skills, trade skills, communication skills, marketing skills, creative skills, computer skills, writing skills, training skills, people skills, the list is endless.
It is most important to document the skills available in your men’s shed and the skill that are not and you are seeking. From this list, it will be easier to manage the overall skill base of the men’s shed.
It is important to manage any rivalry between certain members with particular skills, sometimes a hierarchy can develop where some members see their particular skills as superior to others; this must be avoided as there is a place for everyone.
It is very important to assess the dynamics associated with various skills and the activities undertaken by the men’s shed.
Personality types – Temperament
It is difficult for many men to make new friends. Be alert to introducing men to each other and getting them to work together at every opportunity, is a good start in getting to understand their personalities.
There are in fact different personality styles and they are part of a person’s makeup, we can’t change them. However, we can strive to understand the basic personality styles and quickly learn to work with them. Some people, of course, make it very hard for others to work with them because of attitude problems. People with such problems should be carefully assessed and even avoided in the initial membership as they can turn others away.
A men’s shed that was full of men with the same personality style would not work for long. It takes all types to make an organisation of any sort work effectively and efficiently.
You may recognise some of the basic personality types like the director type (boss), the thinker type (the academic, the inventor, the social type (the salesman type, the friendly and enthusiastic type) and the amiable type (the one who gets on with everyone).
There are workshops available to learn more about this fascinating topic and in fact, all the men would enjoy and benefit from participation, which is a lot of fun. Discuss it with the men’s sheds Helpdesk.
Numbers to provide for future stability
Firstly, let’s review the reasons for maintaining and increasing membership?
- To increase the number of members participating regularly.
- To share the workload of the management team.
- To improve outreach to the community.
- To improve the enthusiasm within the men’s shed.
There are many actions that can and should be taken on a regular basis in order to maintain and grow the men’s shed’s membership. In any organisation it is necessary to do this if vigour and vitality amongst the membership are to be maintained, it won’t just necessarily happen. Some of these actions include:
- Conduct training sessions on men’s issues
- Invite people you think would be interested simply in coming and seeing you.
- Invite people to a special function of the men’s shed. Seeing is believing!
- Ask existing members to bring friends along to see the men’s shed.
- Deliver some talks to local organisations, Rotary, Lions, CWA.
- Ramp up your social media and content marketing.
- Put special editorials and ads in the local newspaper.
- Have an invitation to prospective members in your newsletter.
- Do a special letterbox drop to invite people to visit.
- Deliver your newsletter to a wider audience in your community.
- Ask existing members “who do they think would like to join our men’s shed”?
Suggested member’s subscriptions
It is important that the members have a commitment and a feeling of ownership and belonging. There will be negative reactions to having such fees, however, people who tend to resist this (mendicants) will tend to be the ones to continually cause unrest in the group.
Many members will be pensioners or self-funded retirees so fees should not be a strain for them, in line with what they will be receiving. Keep in mind when discussing this that most members will consume more than your fees in coffee and food over the course of a year, never mind any other benefits.
Men’s health and well-being
It is the issues of isolation and loneliness where men’s sheds have a real capacity to make a difference, such as nurturing mates and mateship, an aspect of Australian culture that is slipping away. However, we must be able to provide a non-threatening environment where the men will more freely discuss their issues relating to their health and well-being.
The men’s shed should grow a capacity to deliver much-needed changes in men’s attitudes to their health by providing education materials ubiquitously and making the necessary connections to the local Health Professionals.
Marketing a men’s shed
Word of mouth referrals is a good marketing approach, particularly in a small community. Most people think that their members come from word of mouth. However, they are dismayed when they are not able to recruit the number of members that they want or need. The first thing that comes into their heads is that “the men’s shed is not working”.
Some people are living in fairyland when it comes to their marketing. We all want to think our service or reputation, or our men’s shed is so great that people will line up at the door.
Marketing is important for these reasons:
- To attract new members.
- To retain members,
- To sell the output of the members.
- To attract the right funding and resources.
In most case, no matter how great you build your men’s shed, members will not come, certainly until they know about you.
Word of mouth is a desirable way to get new members, but too many forget that word of mouth doesn’t always happen by chance.
Effective recruiting of members uses a combination of content marketing and marketing materials to deliver your men’s shed’s message. It is the combination and variety of activities that gives your message to the men in the community the greater impact.
You have to create it. And there are just two ways to create it.
- You use marketing materials to tell people in the community who you are and what you do.
- You deliver a “wow” experience for your members so they tell others.
Most word of mouth is created or at the very least augmented by effective marketing programs. By ‘marketing’ we mean anything you do to get the word about the men’s shed out into the community. (It could be advertising in the local paper, public relations, special events, member approaches, referrals, networking, direct mail, etc.)
Some men’s sheds are so good they deliver “a wow factor” to their members and visitors, which produces great word of mouth marketing for them.
Many think word of mouth successes happen independently of recruiting and marketing activities. Unfortunately, most people dismiss it as ‘lucky’ without understanding the principle.
Do your marketing well to create effective word of mouth marketing for your men’s shed. Then “wow” those new members and you’ll create even more.
As you think about how to get new members, remember that most men’s shed members come from word of mouth, backed up by good marketing activities and materials.
Many hands make light work on projects
A good example of this working is when a family’s front fence has needed fixing for years, the wife continually nagging, the husband continually putting it off, when suddenly a few mates turn up and offer to help. The job now gets done, they have a couple of beers and a yarn, and everybody is now happy again.
The men’s shed provides a resource where many hands can make many projects come alive and get done. The men enjoy it because they are working with other men and of course the health benefits of men working with their hands, should not be overlooked.
Try to avoid unskilled people interfering with the tools and equipment of the other skilled people. This will lead to conflict quicker than anything else.
The best way to avoid conflict is to provide good communications amongst the men and treat everyone fairly, there is definitely no room for favourites.
The best way to avoid conflicts is to spot them coming and to address the potential conflict before it escalates out of hand. This requires the leader and managers to spend quality time in the shed with the men helping them to work together and bringing out their grievances and doing something about them quickly.
The socio-economic differential
One of the main strengths of a men’s shed revolves around crossing the bridges between various socio-economic groups in a community. The men’s shed offers some common ground, men’s health and well-being, community service and various practical pursuits such as woodworking, metalworking model making and so forth which have no boundaries.
Unfortunately, the team leader, committee or board can cause the membership to revolve around their own socio-economic status and cause the membership to be stereotyped.
When this occurs the membership will tend to remain static again revolving around the skills and experiences of the leader or committee. The same members will be on the committee year after year and with no new blood will tend to stagnate, or worse still start going backwards and eventual failure.
One answer to this problem is to have some external committee members or board members who are not involved in the day to day activities of the men’s shed and can therefore often see dispassionately what is happening as well as broaden the membership base across the various groups in the community.
[read more=”Personal Experience” less=”Personal Experience”]
Building tolerance amongst the membership can become a big challenge. Despite the fact that older men can become ‘grumpy old men’, older men are usually more tolerant. Most men, particularly older men, tend to resist chance which can lead to discontent amongst the members.
The capacity of the men to tolerate unfavourable or different conditions and personalities compared to what they have been used to is important. Tolerance in the men becomes a state of adaptation in which exposure to new situations brings about changes in the men’s behaviour that leads to harmony in the men’s shed.
All parties agree that granting any vested rights to any particular person can have a detrimental impact on the harmony in the men’s shed.
Tolerance is a social and cultural term applied to the collective and individual practice of not persecuting those who may believe, behave or act in ways of which some may not approve. It is all about respecting your mate’s point of view and don’t let political correctness become rampant in your men’s shed.