Last June, I wrote about my “temporary” professional transition as I took over as the Interim manager of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP). I had had a lot of history with this organization, having served in various capacities (including member, committee member/chair, board member, and President) over the previous 15 years, so I was eager to help in any way I could when the new CEO hired by the board suddenly resigned in early 2017.
Since we thought a candidate would be found fairly quickly, I committed to filling in temporarily, including “commuting” to Phoenix, AZ as needed. The interim period stretched on much longer than any of us could have imagined; only now am I wrapping up my related duties and finishing training my replacement.
As my challenging role and long work hours draw to an end and I re-immerse myself in my own Mediation and Collaborative Practice firm, I finally have time to begin reflecting back over the past year to appreciate the personal and professional lessons I have learned. Here are some of them:
The Power of Teamwork
When I first went down to Phoenix last March, I was quickly overwhelmed (and that is an understatement!). The job was intense, as much of my initial role involved putting out fires and dealing with emergencies that had cropped up due to the sudden departure of my predecessor. I found myself putting in 18-hour days, 7 days a week, for the first three weeks I was there. I distinctly remember looking at a clock on a Thursday of the third week, noticing it was 5pm, and realizing it was the first day I could actually leave the office at a normal time.
I faced a steep learning curve in many areas. Having never run an organization before, I had a lot to learn about the inner workings. I really had no idea how the financial aspects worked; in fact, I did not even know how to use QuickBooks. Fortunately, an amazing staff person with a good head on her shoulders helped me initially. When the former CEO had resigned, the board member who had been serving as treasurer resigned as well. Unbeknownst to me, someone I knew as a mental health professional saw the need and stepped up, informing us that she had formerly worked as a CFO. She was appointed treasurer.
I felt a little guilty that I should be doing more in the financial arena, but realizing that realistically I did not have the time or background, I left it to them, since they understood all the financials. I did try to educate myself, participated in conference calls, and reviewed the budget, but there is absolutely no way I could have brought the organization to the place it needed to be financially on my own. If it hadn’t been for Anne and Alicia (who was just hired a month before) stepping up, we would have been in serious trouble.
Because I had been off the board for a number of years, I was not up on all of the IACP goings-on like I had been previously. The current president of the organization graciously reached out and helped me tremendously, too. Recently people have been kind, saying nice things about me since I basically gave up my life for a year, but the fact is that it was our team that made things happen: the new treasurer, dedicated staff person, president, and myself. If it hadn’t been for all four of us, we would not have been able to do what we did.
The Value of Resources
Incredibly, we managed to keep all the big balls in the air; only a few minor ones got dropped. The organization puts on an annual conference in October. I started in my new role on March 5; ten days later was the deadline for the submission of speaker proposals for the conference. Since I knew we would have to review the proposals, make our selection, and get the program schedule together soon, I asked for an update on current proposals. I was told we only had one so far. The program typically contains 30 to 45 workshops, and we often get more than 100 proposals submitted. It turned out that my predecessor had only sent out one announcement and was actually in favor of cancelling the conference.
I quickly sprung into action. I knew there was no way I could do everything myself. I had a team, and beyond that I had outside resources that I could tap. I reached out to all kinds of people throughout the organization; I notified the board of our situation, and ran a promotion through a contact I knew who runs a list serve. Knowing you can call on the right people to assist you when you need them makes such a big difference. I may have used up a lot of political capital, but I had it to use. We were able to successfully pull off the conference on time.
Practicing What I Preach
I have long known about the value of the right combination of teamwork and resources, and I preach this to my clients often. They often push back, saying they do not really need more people (financial, mental, and tax professionals, etc.) on their team. In some cases, I suspect this has largely to do with what they consider to be an unnecessary extra expense related to collaborative meetings. In reality, however, we are doing them a great service by getting the right players on the team so we can try to hit a home run.
During my time as interim manager, I saw the value of these principles of collaboration illustrated right before my eyes on a regular basis. People within the IACP organization saw what needed to be done and stepped up as volunteers. Because they are all collaboratively trained, they understand the value of teamwork. This way of thinking is so ingrained in them that they just acted on it.
My biggest lesson from this past year is reinforcement of the significance of the collaborative approach and the importance of the training that we get. With the right team and the right resources, any problem can be handled correctly, if not solved.