WHEDCo -- Women's Housing and Economic Development Corporation Community Resource Exchange
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Our Services: Case Studies: WHEDCo -- Women's Housing and Economic Development Corporation

WHEDCo -- Women's Housing and Economic Development Corporation

Services Provided:  Team Building

Our Successes:

  • Provided daylong Team Building retreat to senior members at Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation (WHEDCo).
  • Executive Director reports that session left her staffers “energized” and re-inspired in the organization’s mission.
  • Over the years, CRE also has provided WHEDCo with board development, fundraising help and leadership training.

The term “team building” might conjure up images of forced retreats featuring scavenger hunts, outdoor “adventures” and gimmicky “morale-boosting” exercises of varying levels of corporate silliness.

None of that was what Nancy Biberman, -executive director of the Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation (WHEDCo), had in mind when she brought her senior staff together for a team building session. And that certainly wasn’t what Community Resource Exchange (CRE) provided.

Founded in 1991, WHEDCo, then a staff of two, originally focused on housing and economic development in the impoverished Morrisania neighborhood in the Bronx. Within a few years, WHEDCo launched Urban Horizons, 132-units of dignified, affordable housing and office and program space for delivering comprehensive community and family services for low-income women and their families.

Over the years, WHEDCo hasexpanded their affordable housing, social services and economic development  work not only throughout the Bronx, but today, throughout New York City.

WHEDCo recently developed and is now renting up  Intervale Green in the South Bronx, the largest affordable multi-family ENERGY STAR-certified building in the country. All told, WHEDCo now serves more than 15,000 individuals a year through its various programs. From its  origins as a staff of two, WHEDCo has grown to more than 100 full-time employees and about  50 part-timers.

With that type of sustained growth and success why did Nancy Biberman seek out team building?  Her answer is that no organization can sustain itself, much less grow, unless everyone is on the same page.

“I think it’s a good idea for organizations periodically to sort of step back from what they’re doing and ask themselves some basic questions about where they are and where they’re going,  The demands of our work often preclude time for thoughtful reflection.,” she said.

It is common for organizations (or companies) to have multiple departments often operating in isolation from each other..For example, the work of housing finance and development is very different from the work of a Head Start program.  Because of the differences in the nature of each department’s work,  “we don’t always talk  across the departmental divides. That failure to communicate (which is never intentional) can lead to the whole becoming less than the sum  of its parts.”

To engage senior staff in cross-department discussion and planning , Biberman contacted CRE and organized a day retreat of team building for her 20 senior managers.

The spot picked for the session was a beautiful, old house in New Rochelle on the Long Island Sound, not far from WHEDCo’s base of operations in the Bronx where most of its staff lives. Two meals broke up the daylong discussions. The only set rule heading in was that everyone was asked to turn off their cell phones or Blackberries or other electronic communication devices so there could be complete concentration to the job at hand, Biberman says.

Then the CRE consultant took over.

No one was asked to fall backwards and trust their coworkers to catch them or climb a rope as a group. Instead, CRE’s exercises focused on providing a platform so the managers from WHEDCo’s various programs could simply talk to each other. “Explain what you do? How does that tie into the organization’s overall mission? “What are you hopes for this organization?”

“It’s not often that we make the time and create the space to talk to each other about how these different endeavors are connected to our mission.  Or, if something we’re doing is not apparently connected to our core mission, why are we doing it?” Biberman says.

 The CRE consultant had WHEDCo break into groups and continued with similar “visioning exercises” about their work within the organization and WHEDCo’s future three and six years down the road before bringing everyone back together and comparing people’s thoughts. .

 “It was interesting for us to see the similarities but also the differences,” Biberman says. “Why does one person see it this way and another that way…There were many revelations that were personal: professional but personal.”

Soon a dialogue emerged that could never have happened in the office, Biberman says. Afterward, the CRE consultant memorialized some of the key revelations in a short, summation   each participant could refer back to.

“At the end of the day we all felt inspired by what we had done,” Biberman says. “It was energizing. We felt connected to each other in a way we hadn’t before. But it wasn’t a therapy session. We dealt with practical matters that were specific to our organization. ‘How do we work, what are we doing well, what are we not doing well?’ It gave us a shared vision from which we were able to develop plans. From this shared vision we developed    more specific annual goals and articulated   particular steps we would to take to achieve those objectives.”

The team building session was one of several projects WHEDCo has worked on with CRE , Biberman says. CRE also provided WHEDCo with board training, fundraising and leadership training. Every successive collaboration with CRE, Biberman says, has made them a little better as an organization.

 “Honestly, I wouldn’t use anybody else,” she says. “There are other consultants who work with nonprofits in New York but CRE is far and away the best.  Working with CRE I am confident that I’m getting the most expert and informed advice. They don’t tell you what to do but they lay out an array of possibilities that inevitably lead you in the best direction..”

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