The executive leadership at Apartment Life, a national faith-based organization that places CARES teams in apartment communities to build relationships and community with residents, had just unveiled a new organizational model to its staff in order to reach a vision of impacting 1 million apartment residents by 2020. Colette Strange, COO, recalls how the senior leadership team responded to the changes. They told the executive leaders, “Because so much of the required change and execution will land with us as senior leaders, you need to make us part of the change. We have questions, so we need you, the executive leaders, to listen to us.” Strange said, “This was a wake-up call to our executive team, that the regional leaders had felt pushed to make changes versus asked.” What happened next propelled both leadership and engagement to a whole new level they never imagined.
“Through a series of four quarterly senior leadership meetings and hands-on coaching/training with consultant-author Dr. John Townsend, leadership discovered they were disconnected from one another—both strategically and interpersonally,” says Strange. “Our vision couldn’t be successful if we didn’t have cohesion. Goal: If our leaders could build true cohesion amongst themselves, it would trickle down and build new staff-wide trust, unity, and effectiveness.”
“The leaders gave themselves the needed time to authentically build relationships, resourcing and cross-pollinating ideas amongst one another. The team itself came up with an ingeniously valuable approach: “We gave ourselves 24 hours of margin, or ‘white space’ at core meetings to ponder, pray, converse, sift, and sort our vision implementation plan. When we re-grouped, wow! . . .”
Being direct and vulnerable with each other heightened our listening, brought down walls and created new solidarity and team unity.
• Cohesion trickling down. Without fully appreciating it at the time, individual leaders were actually practicing the very skills they would soon use to engage and empower their respective staff teams. One staff member recently said, “I know the leadership cares for us by how they’re investing in us.”
• Cohesion trickling up! Sr. leaders now connect with each other on monthly regional conference calls. Their candor, mutual trust and shared best practices help sustain one another for the good work now taking place.
Strange adds, “Developing unified leaders isn’t optional but foundational.” As Larry Osborne, author of Sticky Teams, stresses, “Unity is one thing that can’t be left to chance.”
“The ultimate dividend of cohesion,” she says, “is when an apartment resident in one of Apartment Life’s 370 apartment communities discovers new hope through a new way to live.”
After a year of no growth during the re-building process, Apartment Life’s number of CARES programs grew from 329 in January 2012 to 352 (+23) at the end of 2012. The organization has almost matched that growth in Q1 of 2013–369 CARES programs (+17). This number of CARES programs represents an all-time high. The year-over-year effectiveness of our CARES Teams continues to grow and is currently 20% higher than last year.