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Reflective practitioners at JCHE

I am pleased to describe last week’s management team meeting as delightful! Yes, you read that correctly: the words “meeting” and “delightful” purposely in the same sentence. 

Since I started at JCHE, I have observed that the mid-level managers are eager to contribute to the overall well being of JCHE—even beyond their area of responsibility. In an effort to support this high level of engagement, we have been exploring a different organizational model in one of our departments – fund development. We devoted last week’s meeting to a discussion about this team’s experience.

When the vice president for this department retired in March, we decided to hold on refilling her position. Instead, the fund development staff became a self-managed team. We were just weeks away from our major fundraising event and it seemed logical for these individuals to be responsible for self-motivation and self-direction to manage this project while doing so in collaboration with each other.

When we invited the 3 members of the fundraising department to reflect on their experience at the management meeting, I worried about two things:

~ Would other staff feel threatened by some aspect of the presentation—either fear that they would get more work “dumped” on them from this model spreading throughout the agency, or feel threatened that their roles as managers undercut?

~ Would the fund development team gloss over the difficulties they experienced in an effort to present their effort in a completely positive light.

Fortunately, neither fear materialized. The team was honest, straight forward and thoughtful in their reflections.They cited some challenges. There was no obvious path for managing disagreements. There were times when it would have been easier to throw these issues at the person “in charge”. They were honest that there were times when stopping to discuss overall plans took away from doing the work itself. Sometimes they felt considerable pressure and uncertainty about time management – they had their own areas of responsibility as well as overall oversight. But they also spoke about what they gained from this experience. They talked about being free to “bring their whole brains” to work. They described the overall experience as tremendously satisfying. Not only did they coordinate a very successful event, but they did so while experiencing tremendous personal and professional growth.

Here are some of salient take-aways from the meeting (thanks to Maxine Bookless for compiling such a great list!):

~ The fund development team understood that in order for the event to succeed, they needed to work well individually and collectively.

~ Communication among team members rose to a new level, They shared mutual respect,enabling them to think and plan strategically.

~ Individuals had ownership of particular aspects of the event but did not feel as if they were standing alone. 

~ In the end the entire team was responsible for the outcome, but because the premise is collaboration, not competition it was an empowering process.

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