“Board members have a renewed sense of commitment and energy since our work with Anne. Now our monthly virtual board meetings are fast paced and productive.”
—Ann Marie Almeida, President Association of Women’s Business Centers
National nonprofit association
The Association of Women’s Business Centers (AWBC) supports a nationwide network of Women’s Business Centers offering resources to women entrepreneurs. Hired as the AWBC’s first president in 2002, Ann Marie Almeida obtained a Kauffman Foundation grant to develop a new, global bold vision, expanded mission statement, strategic plan, and implementation plan. Even under optimal circumstances, busy and demanding lives take their toll on board members of any organization, no matter how committed. The AWBC board faces an additional challenge: geography. Members, who live throughout the U.S., participate in monthly “virtual board meetings” via telephone and meet face-to-face only once a year. Ms. Almeida saw this strategic planning as an opportunity to re-energize board members and strengthen relationships. After a rigorous nationwide search, the search committee chose Anne Litwin. They saw in her a person “able to establish relationships both virtually and face-to-face, and courageous enough to work through conflict,” explains Ms. Almeida. She felt Dr. Litwin’s approach would “invite us all to build an inclusive vision and help us face the amazing work we could accomplish.”
Dr. Litwin consulted with the Strategic Planning Committee to plan an ambitious schedule of two weekend retreats, the first only two months away, the second two months later. She worked with Ms. Almeida to collect strategic information from AWBC stakeholders in preparation for the first retreat. She also facilitated both sessions, a process that generated interim and final reports, a strategic plan, and new marketing literature. Remarkably, 16 of 20 board members attended both retreats. All knew it would be hard work involving some difficult dialogue. “The surprise,” says Ms. Almeida, “was that it was also so much fun. One board member said she hadn’t laughed so hard in two years.”
The retreats brought a collective burst of energy that has produced all documents on schedule and transformed a virtual and somewhat detached board into a team. The change in board members’ relationships is “palpable, as our bonds continue to strengthen and sweeten,”reports Ms. Almeida. She adds, “Board members have a renewed sense of commitment and energy since our work with Anne. Now our monthly virtual board meetings are fast-paced and productive. We even enjoy them more.” Ms. Almeida marvels at Anne Litwin’s ability to “push people so seamlessly that you don’t even know you’re working as hard as you are.” She also credits Dr. Litwin for a collaborative spirit that infused the entire process. The result was a common vision allowing each member to find her place, proving that “intimacy, power and leadership are not mutually exclusive.” She has since recommended Dr. Litwin’s services to other boards she sits on.