Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Taking a Step Back to Step Forward "Smarter"

by Angie Christensen, Board Member, Friends of GTM

The GTM Research Reserve (short-speak for the Guana Tolomato Matanzas NERR in Ponte Vedra, Florida) is supported, like many NERRs, by the efforts of a Friends group. Working hand in hand with the staff and volunteers of the Reserve, the Friends organization helps with funding efforts and is dedicated to the stewardship, education and research efforts undertaken by the Reserve. This January, we gathered in a unique way, having decided to dedicate part of one weekend to a detailed discussion of our mission, goals, objectives and tactics for executing against those. In other words, under the leadership of Board president Christine Rich, we embarked on a kind of mini-retreat, aiming for a clear perspective. We took a step back. Of course it's early days yet, but in the short time that's passed, that short step back seems to have re-energized us, underpinned our relationships, helped solidify understanding of roles and responsibilities, and renewed our commitment to our work as Board members.

We began with cocktails at a favorite local restaurant on a Friday evening, an informal, relaxing event that allowed us a chance to know one another better. Because we're a diverse Board, reflective of the large geographic area encompassed by the Reserve, some of us know each other pretty well; some are newcomers and some have both history and perspective. This informal opportunity to know our colleagues better bore fruit later in the session, as some relationships and committees began to take on more definition later in our sessions. A couple of key members of the Reserve's staff were able to join us, including director Dr. Mike Shirley and Volunteer Coordinator Carly Swatek. Oh, and by the was fun!

The real working session was the next day, and included the same group (Board members as well as staff). We began with some things that seem very fundamental, but of which our knowledge was a bit uneven, discussing our mission and deepening our understanding of the roles played by each "leg" of our three-legged stool-type composition, with a view to the roles played by the Friends Board and membership, the staff, including educators, research scientists, and more, and the key role played by the diverse body of volunteers we're so fortunate to have. We delved into the expectations of each of our committees, reminding ourselves of the duties and looking for ways to enhance our effectiveness. And we talked about the interaction models for the committees with each other and with the larger Board, again looking for growth and development opportunities.

It was a day of hard team work, honest conversation, and dedicated collaboration, and it was a chance to step back in unison to consider our way forward together. As a member new to the Board AND the marketing committee, with a special interest in development of social media, it provided me with unique insights and perspective, and helped me prepare for some ambitious plans for the coming year. It challenged me to think about some familiar topics through a new lens. For instance, a comment from one of the Board members, herself a college professor with a doctorate in her field, prompted me to tweet about "citizen science". I included a hash tag "#CitizenScience" and became part of a much larger discussion (many thanks, Dr. Melissa Southwell!), one I hope to see continuing as we continue to grow and mature in our journey together. It was an excellent investment of time and teamwork, positioning us for the smartest possible steps forward for our NERR and Friends board.

Lots of work awaits us in the coming year, and I'd love to keep you posted on how we're doing. Meanwhile, any others out there doing anything similar? A Board retreat? A planning session for your NERR's upcoming calendar year or longer-range 3- or 5-year plans? As always, it's impossible to overstate the opportunities for shared learning, so bring on those comments, folks!

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