A Weekend in the Mountains: Guiding Student Orgs Down a Productive Path
By CJ Novogradac ‘19
The Kravis Leadership Institute (KLI) held a Team Retreat for Claremont McKenna College (CMC) student organizations in the mountains of Big Bear, California. The Team Retreat gave leaders from CMC student organizations the opportunity to explore who they are in the context of their group, learn how to manage group conflict, think intentionally about how they personally impact their group, and discover practical tools to make their team more effective. The retreat was and organized by Sara Thompson, KLI Director of Leadership Programs, and Talia Deljou, KLI Leadership Programs Coordinator, along with students from KLI’s leadership programs team.
Teams from three student organizations, the Women’s Forum (WF), Claremont Consulting Group (CCG), and Asian Pacific American Mentors (APAM), devoted the weekend of November 6-7, 2015, solely to leadership development and improving their organizations. Gabriel Ayala ‘16, a member of CCG, described the Team Retreat as providing “a time where we were all forced to be in the same place and talk about … only CCG for 10 hours.”
On the first day of the retreat, group learning scenarios and activities explored student’s individual effects on their group’s functioning and processes and elicited each group’s unique internal dynamics. Team members completed the DISC personality test to assess individual strengths and weaknesses. Using this knowledge, leadership teams could position themselves to take advantage of each member’s strengths and reduce adverse impacts of weaknesses. Each team’s group dynamics were highlighted through simple yet competitive games, such as drawing as many pictures with triangles as possible in a given time period. As Ayala put it, “It was a team building experience but it … also [prompted] conflict and competition in different groups … [and was] a way for us to see our internal dynamics.”
The second day’s programming was tailored to meet each group’s needs and focused on the nitty-gritty details of running and managing their organization. Retreat facilitators, Sara Thompson, Scott Busiel (Assistant Director, Event and Social Media Coordinator at the Career Services Center), and Amy Bibbens (Director for the Center of Civic Engagement), customized programming to allow teams to target their distinct difficulties, identify areas for development, and take specific steps toward organizational improvement. For instance, CCG completed a module on shared leadership, which trained the group to effectively delegate work in order to produce the best product in an efficient manner. Su Min Ha ‘17 stated, “We’ve grown so quickly, so our management system is not quite aligned with our growth … we divided our organization into four groups that are tackling different problems we identified.” Jonathan Shaw ‘18 described, “We now have four separate divisions … sales division, marketing, the human management team, and public relations.” CCG believes this restructuring will allow the organization to handle its rapid growth.
Jill Rosok ‘16 from WF stated, “The goal of the trip was to solidify our structure and plan for the rest of the year in order to ensure the sustainability of our organization.” Rosok later noted, “We realized we needed to work more as a larger group rather than being segmented into smaller groups focused on different kinds of events.” Catherine Teebay ‘16, also a leader from the WF, noticed, “We need to play to each other’s strengths.” Rosok added, “We all realized that if people are playing to their strengths and interests at the same time they are more likely to … do what they are supposed to do and do a great job.”
Did student leaders find the retreat helpful? Shaw eloquently sums it up, “We all consider ourselves competent and believe we could have made the changes on our own, but it was definitely helpful to have a trained staff to help us be productive and make the changes we needed to make.” Participants believed the facilitators struck a perfect balance between a pre-structured plan and spontaneous work on each group’s pressing problems. Shaw described facilitators as helping “steer us on the right track” without being over bearing.
We commend the KLI programs team for producing a successful retreat that gave CMC student leaders the opportunity to sit down for two entire days and strategize how to boost their organization to the next level. The KLI programs team has high hopes these CMC student organizations will continue down a productive path and thrive as the year unfolds.