CEO Notebook |
At one of my previous employers — another association — the board would attend an annual retreat, until one year, when the board chair asked an insightful question. “Why do we call it a ‘retreat’ if our purpose is to move the association forward?” From that point on, the yearly activity of going off-site to plan the future of the association became the annual “advance.”
That’s just what the NBOA staff did last week: advance the work of the association during our first-ever off-site planning week. Typically, when the full staff of sixteen comes together to meet face-to-face and plan upcoming meetings, projects and initiatives and review strategic goals, we gather at NBOA headquarters in Washington, D.C. This means that seven employees who work in remote locations from Colorado to Connecticut fly in to the office where the other nine work every day. It’s a model that has worked well for us for several years.
But at the encouragement of our board leadership, we decided to try something new this year. We planned an off-site gathering where ALL staff members, not just distributed ones, traveled to a new location in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, to both “unplug” and “recharge” on the heels of the most successful NBOA Annual Meeting in the association’s history. The new space made a big difference to everyone, and I was surprised how elevated the energy level was throughout the entire staff over the week.
So what is it that happens when colleagues leave their everyday workplace and travel to a completely different setting to conduct their work?
First, for a staff like ours, which is distributed among remote and headquarter locations, it leveled the playing field and brought us closer together. Rather than half the staff returning home at the end of each day, while the other half meandered back to hotel rooms, everyone stayed together in the same place, morning and night. This made for a more uniform experience across the board and better promoted staff bonding. Even when your staff isn’t split between remote and headquarter locations, meeting off-site can provide neutral ground as well as quality one-on-one time — the kind you never really get in the office because of meetings, phone calls, emails and surprise interruptions. Business officers understand exactly what I mean. We tried one-on-one walk-and-talks on the boardwalk; idea sharing, where every staff member shared something that they found interesting whether it was an app, book or gadget; game night and even karaoke (you would not believe the hidden talents of the NBOA staff). Whatever your staff composition, how do you ensure that you get quality and authentic one-on-one time within your organization?
An off-site site can also level the playing field when it comes to your organization’s hierarchy. Of course, I’m always the CEO, but during the off-site, I was more often Jeff. The other staff members too felt more like they were one of 16 individuals working to fulfill the NBOA mission, as opposed to being defined as vice president, director or manager. Would it be helpful to find a time for your staff not to see each other as the controller or payroll coordinator, but rather as members of a team committed to common goals and your school’s mission?
Finally, meeting in the off-site location helped us better understand our staff culture. I’ve long placed great importance on staff culture, so when I became aware of Work XO’s Workplace Genome Profile, I was naturally attracted to doing this work with the NBOA staff. The Genome helps an organization not only identify key characteristics within its culture, but also diagnose which ones propel an institution forward in fulfilling its mission, and which ones may inhibit it. The entire NBOA staff completed a comprehensive survey prior to the off-site and reviewed the eight dominant cultural markers: agility, collaboration, growth, inclusion, innovation, solutions, technology and transparency. We then assessed these markers on a scale of traditional, contemporary or futuristic. Without the different space that the off-site provided, away from our typical office setting, we never would have been able to immerse ourselves fully in this very constructive but sensitive work. Might your staff more fully and authentically dive into a major project or exercise when taken out of the daily office environment?
This may have been the first staff “advance” for NBOA, but I assure you it will not be our last. If you aren’t already doing so, I encourage you to find opportunities to step away from your day-to-day routine and undertake some of your most important and meaningful work as a leader. As we consider the time and space needed to deliver world-class 21st-century learning, I believe it’s equally important to consider the time and space you and your staff need to do their best work. I think you’ll be glad you did. I know that I am.
Follow NBOA President and CEO Jeff Shields @shieldsNBOA.
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