Someone shared with me this Washington Post article (behind a paywall, unfortunately) and it’s wonderful.
So here’s an AI-written summary and then a few highlights.
The article discusses the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, which was tasked with fixing Congress but was considered set up to fail as it was evenly split between Republicans and Democrats and required a supermajority vote to get things done. However, the committee managed to create 202 bipartisan recommendations, two-thirds of which have already been executed or are in progress, making it one of the most high-functioning and bipartisan workplaces in Capitol Hill. The committee members made changes to their work routines and behaviors to prevent conflicts and promote collaboration, including starting the session with a bipartisan planning retreat, hiring one bipartisan team of staffers, and creating drop-in workspaces for members from different parties to have casual conversations. The article suggests that the rest of us can learn from the committee on how to get things done in divided institutions and families.
In particular, their changes to meetings amazed me. (Amaze in two ways - first being shocked at how they ran things before, and then amazed of how big of a difference it was to improve them.
- "They started the session with a bipartisan planning retreat, which almost never happens. They hired one bipartisan team of staffers together, rather than separate staffs for Democrats and Republicans. That meant they started with twice as much capacity — and everyone rowing more or less in the same direction. "
- “They stopped sitting up on high, on a dais, like every other committee and started sitting in a round table format, at the same level of the people who came to testify. Turns out that fixing politics starts by rearranging the furniture.”
- "…the committee also integrated the hearing-room seating so that Democrats sat next to Republicans. And it stopped seating people based on tenure and allotting only five minutes to each member to talk. Instead, members chimed in whenever they felt moved to do so.
"This sounds small, but it was utterly subversive — and surprisingly popular. “The members truly loved it,” remembers Yuri Beckelman, the committee’s staff director. “It made people more comfortable. It was very conversational.” This was in stark contrast to his experience on other committees, where members glared at each other from opposite sides of the room.
It was also refreshing for the witnesses, as I can attest. The modernization committee asked me to testify two years ago, based on a book I’d written on conflict, and I came in with low expectations. I’d covered a lot of hearings as a reporter, and they always felt choreographed, stilted and performative. This experience was different. It felt, at times, like members were sharing their genuine fears and asking real questions. It was not obvious who was on which political side, which was at once both disorienting and wonderful.
“I learned more in one hour in a modernization committee hearing than weeks sitting in every other committee venue,” Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) says. “We learned by conversation — not confrontation. It was the most profoundly meaningful and gratifying time I’ve spent in Congress.”