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Bringing Off a Path-Breaking BJCTA Board-Executive Work Session

January 30, 2015 0 Comments

Our last blog post described a dramatic step the Board of the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority (BJCTA) took just four days before the scheduled daylong “High-Impact Governing Work Session” involving Board members, Executive Director Ann August, and her top lieutenants. By electing a new chair, Dr. Patrick Sellers, in a special public meeting, the majority of Board members dramatically signaled that they were putting a contentious past behind them and setting out to build a solid, enduring Board-Executive Director working relationship.

Of course, board-executive retreats can, as you well know, easily come unraveled – with disastrous results. That BJCTA’s High-Impact Governing Work Session was so productive and satisfying is testimony not only to the participants’ passionate commitment to success, but also to the meticulous preparation for this turning-point event in BJCTA’s history.

In this interesting new podcast, Patrick and Ann talk about what made the work session so successful. As you’ll hear, two factors loom largest in determining the session’s success: meticulous design and Board member ownership of the event. A committee worked with the facilitator in developing a detailed five-page work session “design” that was shared with all participants in advance, including the objectives to be achieved, the structure of the meeting (most importantly, the use of six breakout groups to generate content), and the blow-by-blow agenda. The six breakout groups were designed on the “structured spontaneity” principle: ensuring that brainstorming would generate substantial content, but not attempting to control the content itself.

Patrick and Ann describe three principal ways Board members were turned into owners of the work session: the participation of three Board members in the committee that developed the work session design; the use of six Board members to lead the breakout groups over the course of the day together; and the active participation of Board members in the breakout group brainstorming. Far from being a passive audience for staff presentations, Board members were actively engaged in generating content, rather than merely reacting to it.

Enjoy the podcast!

Doug Eadie