10 Lessons a Fraternity Taught Me About Running an Organization

In the Fall of 2006, I became a brother of the Triangle Fraternity MSU chapter, a Fraternity for Engineering, Architecture and Science. During my time as an active brother, I learned a few lessons that have since applied well to the business world.

Bring a new member in should come with hesitation

It takes months of pledging to become a brother of a fraternity. It first starts with a rush, where people show their interest in joining the group. After rush, the brothers will invite you to become a pledge, give you a pledge pin, and celebrate a new possible member.

During the pledge period, you learn the history and the present of the chapter and national organization. A long the way, you have to prove that you are learning what it means to be a part of the group. You don’t learn the actual secrets of the organization until you are sworn in, because it is a big deal to get a new brother.

Don’t make it too easy to join your company, make new hires learn and prove they have learned the values of the company before proceeding to have the ability to affect those values.

Newcomers need to leave a lasting mark

When I was pledging the pledging class had to do some kind project to improve the chapter house, we chose to tile one of the bathroom floors that had been carpet.

Have new hires take time to improve their organization and surroundings, they start to take ownership and the current employees will show appreciation to them for it.

Secrets, oaths, and handshakes bind people that have never met before

Fraternities are made up of many chapters spread across the world. Each brother had gone through a similar process, with a little tweak between each chapter, to become a brother. They share the same secrets and oaths as each other and can verify themselves with a handshake.

I’ve always felt a bond with every brother I have met, whether it is an alumnus or from another chapter, I know something important we share between us.

The values your organization define are the oaths that each employee should be swearing to when they join. Without knowing anything else about a coworker, you should know that they also believe in the same values as you.

Rules in meetings allow you to get shit done

Most fraternities follow Robert’s Rules of Order during all proceedings. It allows meetings with the entire house involved to proceed efficiently and with courtesy to the fellow brothers. Meetings are the bane of employees, and every website that talks about improving them include purpose and order.

Define rules such as how to call an end to the meeting without letting the facilitator just keep going or simple time limits for a discussion, they will dramatically improve the morale of a meeting.

A single decent is as important as a unified approval

Not every decision is going to be unanimous and it is important to distinguish those from others. Most fraternities follow the practice of blackballing, in which an anonymous vote is casted using white and black balls.

Blackballing is used primarily for voting to accept someone into the group, whether it is rushing or a pledge going to become a brother. These votes are particularly important, and therefore just one vote can make the decision. Sometimes a single black ball, means that more discussion should take place and a second vote is taken to see if minds have changed.

Bringing someone into the organization is a big deal, they are not just another number, they are going to be with you the rest of your life.

Remove people that are bringing the group down

One of the worst days in the fraternity was when we decided to kick a brother out for not being a good brother. It shook us up big time, but it was critical to get him out of the group, because he was setting precedents for future brothers to act that way.

Getting rid of people is tough, but it is important to make sure we hold the values of the group higher than those in the group.

Helping others will make them want to join you

At MSU, the chapter of Triangle holds a 3 day event for incoming freshmen engineers to give a guiding hand to what to expect in college. It also allows them to beat their fellow classmates to move in, missing out on all the hell that is move-in day. We would make sure they were oriented with the campus and also allow them to bond with some new people.

The other effect it has, is that it shows off how great the fraternity is to incoming males. By helping them get orientated, showing our values, and just having fun we were able to get them to rush in the Fall.

Go out and share your knowledge at user groups and college campuses. People treat teachers as experts and want to learn more from them.

Don’t forget to have fun

Of course fraternities are notorious for their parties and I couldn’t write this post without saying that you need to have fun, but it is important that fun is not just by yourself or with just a handful of the other members. Sometimes we’d throw parties that were just for us and other times we’d invite everyone we could find.

The organization needs to make time for everyone to come together and have fun. No alcohol is needed to have fun, just a great atmosphere and lots of people.

Marketing is key to a successful launch

As I thought about a fraternity as a business, I was wondering what would the product or server that business would sell. Our fraternity would sell cups for the beer at parties, mostly to recoup the cost of the first keg and to keep the new ones coming. There were times that we wanted to have a party and no one would show up and sometimes we’d have to turn people away. The main difference between those parties was who we sent out to get people to come.

When launching a new product, make sure there is enough buzz around it and the one pushing it really believes in it too.

Written by Mark Schall on 11 May 2015