Board with your life?

This year I’ve had the opportunity to establish and serve on two new boards: my condo HOA and the Board of Directors for my Toastmasters organization, Speak up Cambridge.

While I’ve had plenty of experience working on group projects during my courses as an MBA student and tackling major software initiates at my day job, establishing brand new leadership/management initiatives for part-time organizations was a first for me.

Both boards were launched early this summer and are a work in progress, but we are steadily identifying early objectives and working together towards our common goals.

I have witnessed a number of parallels in working with both teams. This has allowed me to utilize similar organizational strategies and adopt a communication style that is both informal and friendly, but also effective to help move things along as we establish ourselves.

For the sake of this blog post, I will focus on my efforts with Toastmasters, but many of the themes, challenges, and insights can apply to many other types of boards, including community groups, HOAs, and PTOs.

I have been a member of Speak Up Cambridge for over a year now, and as an active participant, I’ve gained valuable insight and forged a number of connections with members and guests during our regular meetings.

At the start of 2018, Lee, our President, decided to elect a team of officers to serve on the board, both to enrich the experience of some of the group’s members and also to delegate the overwhelming number of tasks and duties bestowed upon him during his years serving as President.

I had no intention of nominating myself for any position on the board, and I was actually intimidated by the thought of being placed in a leadership position within the club; after all, I had only been a member since the prior summer.

To my surprise, a number of members cast their vote, and by the early spring, I was nominated the role of VP of Special Events. Together with six other members, we formed a multidisciplinary team tasked with managing Speak Up Cambridge and ensuring that it can properly grow and provide value to members for years to come.

Our first board meeting was held in April 2018, and we eagerly brainstormed a series of questions and issues facing the club prior to our informal gathering at the Lesley University Cafe.

Amy, our VP of Education, put together a detailed itinerary and emailed us questions and concerns that we should cover in our upcoming meeting. This proved incredibly helpful, and for each of our subsequent meetings, Amy has provided a similar foundation to preface each board meeting. This itinerary helps to keep our meeting on track and allows us to efficiently work through all of our major bullet points (something I wish we did better at my day job).

Since Lee had largely managed the club by himself, most of our documentation and member data was stored in a collection of spreadsheets and documents. There was no formal database or system to keep track of members and guests, and we knew that this was a major project to tackle.

In addition to improvements to our technology, we put our heads together to look at ways to run our meetings efficiently and smoothly while also providing the best value to members and guests so that they would keep coming back for more.

We covered topics like marketing, logistics, our relationship with Lesley University and the use of their space for our meetings, as well as the frequency and content of the events we could host and promote.

At the end of our two-hour rendezvous, I felt confident in our team’s ability, given our shared desire to learn and contribute. In addition to this, we all come from different backgrounds and bring unique skills, resources, and knowledge to the table. Let’s take a look at the roster:

  • Lee – President
    • Lee serves as the captain of our board and provides each of us with guidance and feedback every step of the way.
  • Amy – VP of Education
    • Amy spearheads the transition to the Toastmasters Pathways program and provides members and guests with all information pertaining to training and mentoring within the club.
  • Karen – VP of Members
    • Karen engages current members and helps to ensure that roles are filled prior to and during meetings.
  • Kelly – VP of Guests
    • Kelly works together with Karen to greet and manage new guests to the club and provide them with the necessary information and guidance for joining.
  • Kim – VP of Web Presence
    • Kim sets up and manages all of our social media and web presence, promoting events, meetings, and initiatives across several different platforms.
  • Ray – Secretary
    • Ray manages all of the club’s records and documents, ensuring that they remain consistent, organized, and up-to-date.
  • (the other) Kim – Treasurer
    • Kim maintains all information pertaining to member dues and club renewal records (for our paid services, meeting space, etc.).
  • Paul – VP of Special Events
    • I help create and coordinate monthly or bi-monthly events for members and guests, providing us with social and learning opportunities outside of our standard meetings.

The separation of duties seems to play perfectly to our strengths and experience outside of Toastmasters, plus we all have a fair and equal say in club matters, regardless of our titles.

Each meeting offers us opportunities to present ideas to the group and practice a form of public speaking in a group setting. So far, the team is receptive and open to discussion, even if opinions might differ.

As someone with a wide range of interests and a number of years of experience living in the city, I had a few ideas of social events that we could try out.

Our first event kicked-off in June, at the SoWa First Fridays event in Boston’s South End. About a dozen or so of us gathered at the entrance of the old mill buildings of the SoWa marketplace and we spent a couple of hours touring the open studios of local artists, designers, and photographers.

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The sights and sounds were amazing, and we all got lost in the maze of unique artwork on display for the general public. Afterwards, a few of us made our way to the Addis Red Sea restaurant, also in the South End, and enjoyed Ethiopian cuisine (a first for some of us). It was the first chance I had to chat in-depth with other members outside of our Toastmasters meetings, and it was a memorable experience!

Later in the summer, I organized another get-together at the Lawn on D in South Boston.

The Lawn hosts public and private events throughout the year and is open to the public on most evenings for free. The open space is full of games, an illuminated swing set, and even offers a tent with a full bar and food stand.

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When we arrived, a cover band was playing and the place was bustling! It was a gorgeous summer evening, and a handful of us gathered on the lawn as the sun set, sipping on Harpoon beers and wine and sharing our stories. Again, the event offered a casual, comfortable venue for us to further meet new members and get to know each other as board members.

This fall, I plan to organize two events for members and guests: a casual hike at the Middlesex Fells Reservation and a brewery night at one of the local beer halls in Cambridge or Somerville.

I hope to continue a monthly or bi-monthly frequency to our events to attract members and guests of all different ages and backgrounds, and hopefully the meets help forge friendships and develop camaraderie within the club.

The events can also provide guests an avenue for meeting members prior to attending a Toastmasters meeting so they might see some familiar faces if they choose to attend.

Thinking further ahead, I think we should organize some sort of holiday party to get everyone together before the end of the year.

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While my primary role is handling events for our club, I’ve found that there is plenty of room for overlap in our board member duties.

All of our board members work full-time jobs in a number of different fields, so we each bring something different to the table. For example, Kelly works in HR and uses some of her knowledge and experience with on-boarding to help acclimate guests and transition them into active members.

As it turns out, Ray is a software developer, and working together with Karen and me, we were able to select, design, and deploy a cloud-based database using Airtable to help manage all of the data pertaining to the club.

Since I have a little bit of software development experience myself, I was able to work with Ray to write our own custom Google Apps Scripts in Google Sheets and develop reporting/analytics from our Airtable database, a project that was both fun and challenging!

Ray showed me the ropes of GitHub so that we could develop simultaneously with a level of version control and offered guidance on how to properly structure our Google Apps Script code.

We are still plugging along on our to-do list, but as a group, our progress over the past few months has been inspirational. Here are some of the major takeaways.

We hold a board meeting every month to sort through our plans, progress, responsibilities, and takeaways.

We hold each other accountable but also trust each other, so the work that is promised is delivered.

We meet in a casual setting and sometimes enjoy a meal together. We try to make the meetings as fun and as engaging as possible, especially after a long work day.

Every time we meet, I learn something new and have a chance to practice a completely different side of public speaking compared to our standard meetings.

We enhance the skills and experience that we use regularly in our full-time pursuits, whether we’re employees or founders and managers of our own enterprises.

If you have an opportunity to participate on a board, give it a shot! Even if it’s only a temporary run, the experience and connections that you can gain will be worthwhile.

You’ll discover new aspects to teamwork and collaboration that you won’t get in a classroom or office setting, and I believe that this experience is invaluable.

Be prepared, as the duties and responsibilities will indeed add work outside of your full-time job, but hopefully the mission and the goals of the organization will fuel your desire to go above-and-beyond.

While I have not yet served as a board member for a major company, I feel that some of this early experience might prove valuable if I were to pursue that avenue down the road!

 

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