Charlie Davis

“In humility, be moved to treat one another as more than yourself.” – Philippians 2:3

I recently made the comment: “Our Y will be a chapter in Jim Collins’ new book, ‘Surviving and Thriving through a Pandemic.’” (Of course, this is a hypothetical; Collins is not working on a book to my knowledge, but I am sure someone is.) I do believe the work we are doing is worthy of documentation, especially because I believe we are discovering a new way of work as we navigate these very challenging conditions. Here are just a few of the things we are learning:

Focus on a Finite Set of Priorities

Prior to COVID, one of the challenges we faced as an organization was having too many number one priorities. As a result, I was frustrated that we consistently fell short of experiencing the collective power of our organization. It was not anyone’s fault, except maybe my own, but we needed to do better on focusing our resources on a limited number of priorities. Given our current circumstances, we have been forced to focus on only a few things, and clearly, it has benefited us greatly. One of the true bright spots in this pandemic is the contribution by Camp Seymour.

Not a weekend goes by that Marketing and Development Director Diane Jackson does not forward me an email from a family who has enjoyed camp as part of their membership. Here is part of a message from a recent family experience: “The playgrounds have been closed, the schools are closed, and there was nowhere to really take the children to explore and play. Camp Seymour has provided us with safe and structured activities that we look forward to going to as much as we can. I would say that this has helped me, as a parent, gain a sense of normalcy in a very unpredictable situation with the COVID restrictions.” The contribution by Camp during this period has been a great example of utilizing our resources to strengthen our overall operation. It also led to another key learning – elimination of the silos within our organization.

Working as One Y

I recently read an article about the past success both Tesla and Apple have had. The article highlighted Tesla’s ability to compete with, and excel against, the big auto companies, and Apple’s success in defeating Sony with the iPod. The article underscored both companies’ ability to eliminate silos as the key ingredient to their success. Steve Jobs coined this strategy as the “no-silos rule.” Jobs closely controlled all of his teams and pushed them to work as one cohesive and flexible company. Elon Musk and Jobs both point to the no-silo rule as a big part of their success because they believe they are able to avoid the divisive tendencies most companies exhibit, with their internal teams subconsciously competing with one another. In addition, both Musk and Jobs strongly contend that by working as one team, their companies were able to operate with greater “intelligence and agility” as opposed to being divided into multiple subgroups. In essence, there was more innovation and alignment of resources within the company.

I believe we are thriving because of our effort to work as one Y. Chief Operating Officer Brian Flattum has done a remarkable job aligning our Y. He has worked hard to maintain the alignment and create a synergy throughout our organization. Brian has orchestrated the careful design of programs and services we offer to our members. Everyone is clear what we are doing and when we are doing it, and it allows us to move together as one Y. Within this framework, the executive directors are building an open network of ideas and information, which is building a consciousness of support for one another. They look out for one another and understand it is imperative that everyone’s contribution is vital to the overall success of our Y. It is perhaps the biggest bright spot in our organization. In addition, Brian has included the Center for Community Impact, Child Care, and Camp Seymour into the network. As Brian says, “We are all in this together, and we need each other to succeed.”

Information is Vital to Success

Prior to COVID, I struggled with keeping everyone informed about what was going on in our association. I would often hear from staff that they were not aware of decisions made or that they felt excluded. Throughout the pandemic, we have worked hard to keep staff informed about everything going on. Whether it is the weekly newsletter, the “Staying Connected” calls, or by utilizing Microsoft Teams, we have worked to be transparent with all the issues our Y is facing – from staff decisions, to adding programs, to the state of our budget. In the past, I may have been reluctant to share bad news with staff, but I now realize it is crucial for staff to understand all the issues we face. I have seen our team embrace the bad news with a stronger conviction to persevere and seek new ways to move our Y forward.

Watching our team quickly adapt to the virtual experience has been inspiring. It has been a team effort, and it is rapidly becoming a successful medium to connect our members and keep them active. I have learned that staff need to know what is going on because they are better equipped to adapt to the challenges. It may sound obvious, but when we were a larger Y, it seemed near impossible to connect our staff. Being more transparent leads to a greater degree of trust, which leads to a greater degree of engagement from everyone. With greater buy-in and engagement, I have learned to get out of the way. I have witnessed the energy level and ownership from our team increase exponentially. It is amazing to walk into any of our community centers or operation sites and see staff doing everything in their power to make our Y successful.

I do believe our team has excelled during this period. I am proud of how our team continues to rise up against great adversity. It inspires me. Last week, an email was forwarded to me about a Child Care staff member who had shared her personal experience with the Y. Adrianna Goldstrom, Site Director, shared how her two step-brothers, who were from the Philippines, learned about teamwork and developed friendships at the Mel Korum Family YMCA while participating in the Youth Sports program. She said, “… but the YMCA also gave them a sense of belonging after moving here from another country. I am forever thankful. This is why I give back every year, so other children get the same opportunities.”

Our team is so amazing. You give of yourself every day so that others can experience “normalcy” or find “connection.” Thank you for your selflessness; you are the heroes of this pandemic.