Seeing Your Team As A City

RMCVB Balloons

During a recent day with the marketing team from the Richmond Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Center (RMCVB), we explored team dynamics from a variety of perspectives –– starting with an energetic and revealing exercise involving dozens of balloons. After some conversation and activity about team climate and the role that our individual personalities and an organization's leadership play in shaping that climate, the RMCVB team began to identify their best attributes.

Because their primary role is to market and celebrate the Richmond region, we then invited them to begin thinking about those team attributes from an urban perspective. What cities around the world embody similar attributes as your team? If your team was a city, what design attributes -- infrastructure, architecture, etc. -- would be critical to its construction?


Once they'd nailed down their identity -- both as a team and as an urban area -- we took them into the printmaking room of the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, where education director Aimee Joyaux and I helped them turn all of the ideas and concepts into a team-generated map.

It was an exhausting day for everyone, but apparently an exhilarating one, as well -- I'll be facilitating a retreat for the entire RMCVB staff (marketing, sales and administration) later in March.

Time to get more balloons.

The Wrap on the Steak Rap

The first Evening at Morton's community conversation of 2010 went without a hitch and generated plenty of buzz. More importantly, it created a space for a diverse group of five engaged locals to come together and talk about Richmond as a destination for young professionals.

This year's series is a joint production of The Hodges Partnership, Morton's the Steakhouse, Richmond.com and Floricane. My primary role in the conversations is to act as the facilitator, keeping everyone on-track and awake. Fortunately, it takes very little work on my part.

You can revisit the online blogging and tweeting of the event at Richmond.com or read Trevor Dickerson's summary article, "Steak Wrap", excerpted below:

Two of the panelists, Julie Bondy and Joslyn Bedell, both hail from the city of Atlanta. Coming into town for college, they fell in love with the Capital City and decided to stick around after graduating.

Julie found herself unhappy amidst the hustle and bustle of the big city and opted for the "big small town" experience that Richmond offers. Two others, Eric Kim and John Sarvay, echoed their sentiments. Kim explained that the cost of living is low and standard of living is high.

"For every dollar I spend somewhere like Boston, for example, I can live for 60 cents in Richmond," Prenika said.

Sarvay brought up the point that many outsiders come to Richmond and think there’s nothing to do, but said that he feels that’s just not the case.

"Richmond’s a very ‘self-service’ kind of town," Sarvay said. "There are plenty of things to do, especially for the younger crowd; you just have to take the initiative to find them [as opposed to larger cities]."

Blue Skies Ahead for Local Nonprofit

I spent a Saturday in February with a small, active nonprofit board with a passion for the outdoors and children. Blue Sky Fund is focused on transforming the lives of urban youth through outdoor education and experiences, and it is run by one of my favorite Richmonders, Lawson Wijesooriya. Lawson and I met several years ago as teammates at a Greater Richmond Challenge event, and we've stayed connected since.

Lawson asked me to spend some time with the board of the Blue Sky Fund during their annual retreat, and between us we hammered out an ambitious three-hour agenda – part board building, part brainstorming and part planning, our objective was to provide the team with some real traction as they dove into 2010.

Funny thing – as I often find with organizations – is that they didn't actually need me in the room.

That's probably an overstatement. I often find that the most powerful function I can play when organizations bring me into the room is provide focus, ensure everyone has a voice, and to mirror back the conversation in a way that helps people see a common path ahead of them.

The Blue Sky Fund board was no exception. To the one, they were clear on how they wanted to function as a board and on how their organization made a difference in Richmond's East End. They had set lofty goals in 2009, and were justifiably proud to have knocked them out of the proverbial park. They were ready to line up 2010 and knock it down, as well.

After some quick teambuilding fun, and a serious discussion about ways in which nonprofits can transition from hands-on, tactically minded boards to more strategic boards, we broke into two groups. One was focused on exploring ways in which Blue Sky Fund could build awareness in the community about its work, while the second group concentrated on beginning to build a process around the organization's successful fundraising initiatives.

If you're interested in seeing what sort of difference Blue Sky Fund makes, check out the annual Church Hill Games on May 1.

Getting Your Mouth (and Mind) Around #Steakchat

One of the more interesting projects I backed into when I started my business was "live blogging" a new series of community conversations organized by Morton's the Steakhouse and their PR firm, The Hodges Partnership. The idea was to bring influential people from the Richmond area together over dinner to discuss the issues of the day. Budgets being what they were, thoughts of compressing a two hour discussion into a 30 minute hi-def PBS series went into the can.

What emerged was one of Richmond's first genuine social media events – a private conversation that is broadcast through CoverIt Live's live blogging technology and a companion stream of Twitter commentary. We added an audio component to the mix, as well, but it's not posted until after the event.

There were three An Evening at Morton's events held last year with a focus on sports, the arts and the nonprofit community in Richmond.

This year, the ante has been raised, starting with this Tuesday's kick-off conversation, "Hot or Cold? Richmond’s Young Professional Business Climate."

In addition to a new co-sponsor and media partner – the folks at Richmond.com – An Evening at Morton's has expanded to six community conversations, starting this Tuesday. I've also made the move from the blogger's table to the faciliator's table, and will serve as the moderator for the six discussions.

Paul Spicer at Grid Magazine recently wrote about the new offering:

Hosted on Tuesday, February 23, from 6:30-8:30pm, an Evening at Morton’s will headline an all-star panel: Julie Bondy, founding member of HYPE; Kate Hall, founder of RichmondMom.com; Eric Lin, realtor with Keller Williams; Ergys Prenika, Leadership Associate, MWV and Joslyn Bedell, associate director, Career Development Center at University of Richmond.

The first discussion of 2010 promises informative discussion around the opportunities and challenges that young professionals currently face in the RVA business sector. As with the lively discussions in the past, the actual dinner is private but the beef inspired chatter will be open to the masses via live-tweeting from Trevor Dickerson (@TrevorDickerson) as #steakchat, while Tony Scida (@tonyskyday), of the Hodges Partnership, handles the live-blogging. John Sarvay (@Sarvay), founder of Floricane, returns to moderate the conversation.

Here's the plug from the folks at The Hodges Partnership:

Feel like there are important conversations happening in Richmond that you’re not a part of? Morton’s The Steakhouse, along with Richmond.com, is looking to change that... Each of the six Evening at Morton’s discussions this year will assemble 5-6 Richmond-area “experts” to discuss a range of issues over dinner. NOTE – this is a virtual event so go to Richmond.com to participate!

John Sarvay, founder of Floricane and the popular Richmond blog “Buttermilk and Molasses,” will moderate the event. And this year, the online discussion will be hosted by Richmond.com, where the public can find the live-blog posts and pose questions online to the panelists. While the actual dinner at the Shockoe Slip restaurant is private, Richmonders can participate in the discussion by submitting questions and comments to @TrevorDickerson, #steakchat on Twitter and by way of the live-blog on Richmond.com.

I'm looking forward to Tuesday's discussion, as well as the other conversations planned this year (which will focus on Richmond neighborhoods, the James River, Richmond as a "foodie" town and more).

Connecting Your Values and Your Creative Vision

As a poet, I don't officially catalogue myself as artist, but I'm married to an amazingly talented artist. And I know more artists than I can count – painters, craftspeople, cooks, singers and performers, writers.

Those countless relationships certainly don't qualify me to gather 15 people together on February 27 at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond to consider the relationship between our core values, our beliefs and the art we create – o r creative endeavor for which we have genuine passion.

But for the past decade, I have worked – sometimes instinctively, other times by design – to help individuals and groups create a stronger sense of alignment between their actions and the universe (or team or organization) that they want to co-create.

All of which is to say that the deadline for registering for my full-day workshop at the Visual Arts Center – "Climbing the Right Mountains: Create Your Personal Vision" – is fast approaching. The workshop runs from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, February 27. You can register here.

Here's how I describe the workshop at the Visual Arts website:

Are you climbing every mountain? Are you even climbing the right mountains? During this workshop, participants will chart out their own personal mountain ranges in a discussion centered on creating a creative life built around the things that matter most to you. Come prepared to explore how your personal values and your beliefs about yourself, others and the world can provide focus and energy for your creative work.

I'm probably more excited than you are about this workshop. Pieces of it feel very familiar to me, such as working with people to identify and explore the beliefs they hold about themselves, about others, about the world. Other aspects – specifically, helping people visualize their learning through some tactile and creative activities – is less familiar.

But what I do know, and what I experience almost every time I sit down to facilitate individuals and groups through work like this, is that the answers are in the room. The participants will take the space I help to create and redefine it in ways I simply can't envision in advance.

And that's what I am beginning to love about this new teaching space I am beginning to explore at the Visual Arts Center, through VCU's Nonprofit Learning Point, and with my own clients.

Number One Rule Is No Rules

I recently attended the first of four BizFit workshops organized by the Greater Richmond Chamber and presented by Alex DerHorvannessian (aka Alex D). Alex wrapped the hour discussion around a notion I've always found very appealing – "Breakingthe Rules, and Being Successful!"

Alex's first question – "What is one rule that is important to your organization or business" – brought to mind the lyrics of a hardcore/punk rock band I used to love, 7 Seconds.

"Number one rule, no rules.
Number two, they're not for you.
Number three, they're not for me.
Number four, don't be ignored.
Number five, to live our lives we must break down stagnant rules."

Keep in mind, those lyrics were screamed out at a rapid-fire clip with a pulsating guitar rhythm pushing them forward, but it's not surprising that I had a sudden realization last week that a great deal of my strategic planning and organizational development theory was born out of my love affair with the do-it-yourself, invent the rules ethos of early American hardcore punk music. I guess I should let my mom know that all those late nights booking shows at clubs in downtown Richmond and touring the East Coast as a roadie while I was in high school weren't wasted.

I think that now, more than ever, organizations and the people who believe in them, are looking for ways to rewrite the rules. Which makes my work more punk rock than I ever thought it could be.

Classroom: Connect Your Vision to Your Creativity

It's not too late to register for the one-day creativity workshop I'll be facilitating at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond! Here's how I framed it in a previous post:

At the end of February, I'll be teaching a workshop at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond focused on the alignment of your personal values, beliefs and creative endeavors. The six-hour session will help participants recenter their lives -- especially their creative lives -- around those things that matter most to them.

What excites me most about this workshop is that the space -- the Visual Arts Center -- demands a very different sort of instruction than most of the environments I find myself engaged as a teacher, trainer or facilitator. My goal will be to make the day as interactive, tactile and fun as possible, even as I push participants to dig deep to identify and define their core values and beliefs.

You can register here.