2013 FNPS Board Retreat

Sandhill cranes at the FNPS board retreat location near Haines City in central Flroida
by Ginny Stibolt

Last year Kellie Westervelt, FNPS executive director, obtained a grant to implement a Strategic Plan in order to help FNPS grow to the next level. Desiring an outside perspective, a consultant group was sought and the board chose Bristol Strategy Group from a number of applicants. They sent out a 28-page questionnaire to a newly formed Steering Committee consisting of a few key Society members, and then they talked to another, larger group of Society officers, board, and other influential members. I was in this second group--my conference call with the consultants lasted 55 minutes. The conversation covered a wide range of topics relating to FNPS, its problems from my perspective, and how it could be better. Later in the fall the whole membership received an email with a link to an online survey with more questions--almost 800 of us filled out the survey. Then in November, the consultants from Bristol attended a board meeting. With all this information, the consultants were prepared to act as facilitators for the weekend-long strategic planning session.


The board retreat took place last weekend at a rustic conference center near Haines City, FL. It was my first retreat, so I did not know what to expect. The volunteer board members paid their own expenses for the weekend and some of the board members had come in directly from work. Participants arrived on Friday afternoon and evening. Dinner was served at 6pm. As always, it's good to visit with other FNPS members. What an enthusiastic and knowledgeable group! FNPS president Steve Woodmansee called a regular board meeting to order at 7pm. It adjourned at 9pm.
Sunrise over the lake on Saturday morning. Just fantastic!


The next morning, several of us took hikes around the grounds to take in the scrub habitat and enjoy the sunrise before breakfast. The work session started at 8:30am.
Rebecca Staton-Reinstein and Ellen Bristol
We were divided into five groups of eight or so and took our assigned seats around round tables in the room.  Ellen Bristol and Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, our consultants, introduced themselves and Rebecca proceeded to draw an ascending line with a plateau at the top.

She then drew a big red dot at the end of the plateau. This, she said, is where FNPS is right now--it's an inflection point where we could make some changes to improve our operations into the future and better serve our mission, which they affirmed was strongly stated. FNPS Mission

Voting for the most important topics.

Our first task was to take a giant post-it note to a wall and make a list of things that FNPS does really, really well. All five lists were compiled and then we voted for six of the 12 items on the combined list. After that we voted for three of the remaining six items and out of this, we ended up with five topics.

We were on our feet most of the day working on our lists.

Each group was assigned a topic and we were instructed to draw diagrams and make lists. So in a small circle was the item that FNPS does well and then we were to think of contingencies that started with the words, "provided we can." After this list, we then had to think of assumptions about the topic and finally the solutions. At each stage, a member of the group presented the findings and took questions.
Our homework was to read the results of the
interviews, surveys, and other background research.

This exercise took all day with a break for lunch. It was a lot of work as we were on our feet most of the day, a strategy created by the consultants to keep us alert and on target. Before we left the room, Rebecca and Ellen handed out the summary of all the information they gathered with the interviews and the surveys. It was our homework to read (or at least scan) this material before Sunday's session.

I just love it that even after an exhausting day, that at 4:30pm with an hour and a half before dinner, about half the group carpooled a mile and a half down the road to Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek preserve State Park trail head. We hiked into the scrub and had a very nice time sharing our combined knowledge of the environment in the waning light of the day.

Half the board members hiked Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park before dinner on Saturday afternoon. It was a lovely walk in the scrub habitat.
We examine the feathery seed of Garberia heterophylla. It's a threatened Florida endemic occurring only in
central Florida and is one of the few shrubs in the Asteraceae family.

We were not the only ones strolling around the scrub...
While some of us were hiking, Shirley Denton tutored some chapter reps
in the use of the website. Work, work, work...
After dinner, we sat around a campfire and swapped more stories. At one point in the evening I sat next to Rebecca and asked her why we had spent all those hours on five items that we already do "really, really well?" She said that when groups are at this "inflection point" that if they spend their time working on the stuff they do badly and let the stuff that they do well slip away, that they could fail to grow. So as a result of all this effort, we will end up with a strong plan of action to improve our five most important items on our agenda. I also asked her what she thought of our performance as a group. She said that if you judge the session by decibel level it was a roaring success and if you judged it by how engaged people were, then it was also a success.
Sunday morning hike along the birding trail next to the conference center.

Going over the talking points. Each group presented its findings.


The next morning some of us went for hikes around the trails to enjoy the sunrise before packing up and having breakfast. Our session began at 8am. Then it was back to work again on five different topics. This time we voted on five topics that we should be doing really well if we want to forward our mission.

Everyone gathers around to see what the other groups had come up with. In this exercise, sometimes the lists grew longer.

With all of our experience from the day before, we were creating solutions by 11am. Now after all this time working on things we do or should do really well, Rebecca and Ellen finally unveiled their suggestions for what needs to happen for the Society to move forward. They organized and gathered all of our post-it notes with our working lists. They will compile our findings and will be working with the Society through May to help with the implementation of some of the plans for reorganization. Steve will be posting a letter to all the members in the Sabal Minor with more specifics. Stay tuned.

On Sunday, we gathered for this group photo...
L-R, Back row: Jon Moore, Julie Wert, David Martin, Ginny Stibolt, Steve Woodmansee, Lauren McFarland, Cindy Liberton, Dave Feagles, Jon Pospisil, Jeannie Broadhead, Gene Kelly, Jim McCuen, Juliet Rynear, Matt King, Al Squires
L-R, standing middle row: Cammie Donaldson, Richard Brownescomb, Neta Villalobos-Bell, Sandi Saurers, Kim Zarillo, Julie Becker, Barbara Jackson, Debra Klein, Kellie Westervelt, Sonya Guidry
L-R, seated: Brenda Mills, Ellen Bristol and Rebecca Staton-Reinstein (consultants, Bristol Strategy Group), Martha Steuart, Miki Renner, Jackie Rolly, Carol Sullivan, Ina Crawford.
L-R, seated on the floor: Devon Higginbotham, Linda Schneider, Shirley Denton, Scott Davis

And so…

For me after seeing how hard everyone worked and how enthusiastic everyone is about the Society, I'm optimistic that FNPS will be able to thrive and grow into the future. I expect that the Society with all the energy and enthusiasm of its members will continue to make a real difference for Florida and her native ecosystems.


sue dingwell said…
Kudos to all those who care so much, work so hard, share prodigious talents, and give so generously to a cause that benefits Florida's entire ecosytem, people included, whether they know it or not. Shining stars, all!
Hobo Botanist said…
Thanks Ginnie, and thanks to all who participated. We are far from finished, but the course is set, and the first steps are always the most difficult. I am proud to be a member of FNPS -- Steve
Unknown said…
Phew! That's a relief. ;) Geez, I sure hope you're proud. Wish I could have been there. It would have been infinitely more rewarding than cleaning up after an incontinent dog that seemed/seems fixed on biting me. T.m.i. - I know. Sounds like it was fertile ground for sowing new ideas and the change in latitude tweaked everyone's perspective enough to see some different stars.
Ginny Stibolt said…
Thanks Sue and Steve. It was an inspiring weekend.
KayKay said…
Hmm, good job! This is really something!

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