The Same Page: Getting the Organization Working Together

I’m reposting this from my blog I started a little while ago, CS in the Clubhouse. It was originally posted July 24th.

Looking Back on the CS First Rollout

CS First has now been running at Boys & Girls Clubs of Portland for 4 weeks. In that time, we’ve seen some major successes in the program and some notable hurdles. Apart from technical issues and difficulties with having a large number of volunteers in place for a new program with short notice, we’ve had some challenges with implementing the program according to our vision.

A lot of this comes down to sharing our vision accurately and effectively with the Unit Directors and Program Directors of the various Clubhouses: something it has become clear we could have done better.

“I Thought You’d Have a PowerPoint.”

A few days after coming on board at BGCP, my co-VISTA and I made a brief presentation at one of the Unit Director meetings. We introduced ourselves and gave a one-minute spiel about CS First and our purpose at the organization. After the meeting, one of the Directors and a friend of mine told me something that’s stuck in my mind ever since: “I thought you’d have a PowerPoint.” The purpose of our presentation was just a brief introduction, but I think that comment hints at one of the big gaps of our project rollout: we never gave a purposeful, planned project overview to all of the Directors at once.

The In-House Interview

In the first weeks of our planning for summer CS First, we adopted a very fluid model for introducing the program to the Clubhouses. We scheduled a meeting with each Club’s directors and drove out in person to discuss the program and how we could fit it into their existing summer plans. We came in to the organization late in the game, and the summer schedule was already mostly set, so we needed to tailor our approach to each individual Club’s needs to a greater extent than most programs. This approach had some significant advantages:

  • We met Directors on their terms. We showed the Directors that their concerns were important and that we were willing to work with their needs right from the get-go. We also demonstrated our willingness to go the (literal) extra mile to make sure each club got the attention it needed
  • We saw the Clubhouses in person. We were able to personally visit each of the sites and figure out specific technological challenges to overcome, and plan how the program would look in each location.
  • We had a personalized experience. We took time to discuss with each of the Directors their needs and concerns individually, and give them the information and reassurance they needed, as well as learn about the specific needs of each Clubhouse.

This approach had some limitations, though. For one thing, it took two weeks to schedule and travel to each location. Having a personalized experience was a double-edged sword, too: though we gave each Director personal attention, our presentation and our expectations were not unified and consistent. It didn’t help that we were just starting, either: we were new enough that articulating our specific expectations was difficult, and we didn’t have all the pieces of information we would need from our sponsoring organizations to give the complete picture.

Outcomes

Some of the outcomes of our approach to rolling out the program through in-house interviews have been awesome. We’ve been able to tailor the scheduling and themes of CS First to each Clubhouse, rather than subjecting them to a one-size-fits-all approach. Our personalized attention has increased the enthusiasm and buy-in at each of the Clubhouses, and the staff there are, for the most part, excited about CS First. We’ve identified some shortcomings to our current implementation, though:

  • Lack of Registration. In most of our Clubhouses, the program was not promoted well beforehand, and kids were not registered for the program ahead of time. This has resulted in a fluctuating roster of kids, and in some cases only a small core of members completing the entire module.
  •  Missing Pieces. Some of this comes down to us not having all the information ahead of time, but some parts of the program are not being implemented in all cases. None of the Clubhouses have updated their demographic survey sheets for any modules so far, and it remains to be seen if the pre- and post-assessments are being run at any locations where my co-VISTA and myself have not been present. Group e-mail has not proven to be a successful way of communicating to the Directors, and a presence at UD meetings would be a significant help in this regard.
  • Communication Disconnect. Communication is understood to be a major stumbling block within the BGCP organizationally, and our current model is contributing to that. In speaking to the Unit Directors individually and not to the whole group, we gave up our presence at the discussions they have with each other regarding the program. We are missing a big piece of the puzzle in their understanding and what information regarding the program, if any, they share with each other. There may be practices or understandings forming within the group that are harmful to the program’s intended implementation, and we have no way of addressing the community of directors about them, or indeed knowing if they are there at all.
  • Lack of Group Accountability. This ties into the previous one. As the group was never formally addressed regarding our expectations for the CS First program, there is no accountability or forum for addressing the shortcomings of the implementation, Club-side. As e-mail fails to create the changes we need, we have no way of making the group accountable to each other and making our requirements real to the UD community.

 Next Steps

As we move forward into planning for the school year, I think it’s important that we create a presence for ourselves at UD meetings. We need to be able to speak to the group regarding the needs of the program and the changes that are necessary in a way that is not a unilateral, easily-ignored e-mail or individual follow-up. Creating a space where Directors and we, the VISTAs, can speak to each other and agree to make changes is vital to the program’s improvement.

The organization currently holds that VISTAs should not regularly attend Unit Director meetings, and this is unavoidable due to some internal necessities. However, we need to be able to address that forum in some capacity. I plan to speak to my supervisor and our VP of Programs about our need to have a presence there, and hopefully arrange for time to address the group as necessary.

What methods have you found useful in getting directors or managers from different areas on the same page for a program? Let me know in the comments!

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