Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Pig Pile Projects

There isn’t a whole lot of turnover at the top level of Imagine!’s administrative team. We have people who have worked for Imagine! for decades and have served and supervisors, managers, and administrators for almost as long.

That is a good thing, but it is nice occasionally to have someone new join Imagine!’s leadership group because they always bring a fresh perspective. This happened recently when Karen Kalis joined Imagine!’s administrative team as our new Director of Human Resources. Now, Karen is a longtime Imagine! employee, but new to this role, and has been great at asking tough questions and trying to figure out how the administrative team works together and what makes us tick.

Her questions are always welcome, because they serve as a reminder to me as to why we do things certain ways, and why I think some of the ways we do things are extremely valuable to the organization and the community we serve.

One of the things Karen and I discussed recently was Imagine!’s leadership structure – kind of a “who reports to whom?” conversation. Our leadership structure is fairly flat at the top. There is the CEO (me) and then a group of Directors who oversee the various functions at Imagine!. I believe this fosters a great sense of cooperation and teamwork among the Directors, while at the same time giving them ownership and accountability of their own area of responsibility.

But, as Karen pointed out to me, it also opens the door to some areas where who is in charge of a particular project or program is kind of fuzzy or dare I say muddy– areas that don’t neatly lie under the specific supervision of any one particular Director. I like to refer to these as “pig pile projects.” People tend to pile on projects because of interests and talents. Some of the pens we play in have varying kinds of dirt and mud making demands on people who thrive better in certain types of dirt and mud.

The projects at Imagine! that lie in these pens are numerous, and I believe strongly that as an organization we have developed very positive habits around tackling and piling on projects in teams of administrators and others with overlapping responsibilities. It is rare that you will hear someone say “that’s not my job” when a new challenge needs to be addressed. Instead, people pile on and offer input, volunteer to help out, and dive in right away to tackle the issue irrespective of whether or not it lays within their identified job duties; thus the pig pile project management style. This keeps the kid in all of us; sometimes checking one’s ego – even if one person is technically “in charge” of a project, that leader isn’t always the only decision maker in the process and must sometime acquiesce to group decisions.

These habits of working together as a team in the muddy pens at Imagine! have proven over and over to be beneficial for our organization as we face tasks that perhaps no one person has the experience or knowledge to meet single-handedly. The group knowledge (and willingness to share that knowledge) almost always leads to better decision making and consequently, better results. Great minds don’t always think alike, but if they are willing to pile on and work together and find the common ground in their thinking we can achieve great things.

This system and framework for addressing issues I just described isn’t perfect. It can get messy. Sometimes you have to strike a balance between too much freedom and cooperation and just saying “this is what needs to be done” and telling someone to pile on and do it. I say that not just in my case as CEO but for all of our Directors. But I think the approach is on the whole quite effective, and it is certainly fairly unique in our field.

I am honored to work alongside a group of leaders who have built a team committed to quality and cooperation when it comes to facing our biggest challenges while having fun in effective pig piles. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Then again, what do I know?

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