GO West! AIGA Leadership Retreat Recap: Part 1

Every year AIGA hosts a Leadership Retreat that brings representatives from all 66 chapters together to learn, collaborate, and inspire each other. Each chapter can send a limited number of board members to the retreat. Last year I enjoyed following the retreat via the #aigaretreat twitter stream. I could sense the excitement, and was eager for the board to return and share the experience with the chapter. Little did I know then, that this year I would be the one tweeting and sharing my experience at the retreat. I feel so honored and am so grateful that I was selected to attend this year’s retreat in Salt Lake City, along with Matt Munoz, Jonathan Opp, Joe Schram, Laura Hamlyn, and Kristin Fowler. It truly was an amazing experience. It’s incredible being among so many creatives — the energy, excitement, and exchange of ideas — is so inspiring. There’s no better way to fuel your creativity.

While I cannot share the actual experience of attending the retreat with our community, I can share some of what I learned. The retreat spanned three days, May 31 – June 2, and was held at the beautiful Grand America Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City. It was a great setting, with the Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountains providing a spectacular background, the pubic art installations, and the super wide and walkable streets. We enjoyed the city as much we did the retreat. We arrived Wednesday afternoon and did a little exploring before the opening night party hosted by the Salt Lake City chapter and Super Top Secret, the studio behind the branding of the retreat. It was a great space and a fun evening. Joe, Jonathan, Matt, and Laura were able to catch up with friends they made at previous retreats, while Kristin and I began making new friends.

AIGA Retreat 2012 Day 1

The retreat officially began Thursday afternoon with an opening session where our MCs Kevin Perry and Dawn Zidonis explained the focus of this retreat is “Design for Social Value”.

During his opening remarks, AIGA president, Doug Powell encouraged us to reach out to the national board, as it is important for informing their work. He went on to say that AIGA is in the midst of a profound change. A decade of work at retreats has led to this change, the Mandate for 2014. We need to continually make a case for this change and are introducing new tools to help us do so.

Following Doug’s presentation, Jane Brady discussed the partnership between Adobe and AIGA announced that the Breakthroughs Web Series will start again on June 20.  The first session is “Design Research: Get to Know Your Users.” Upcoming sessions will include: wireframe/prototyping, Emotional Design, Responsive Design. (Archives of previous sessions are online at www.aiga.org/webinars-breakthroughs)

The next speaker was AIGA Executive Director Ric Grefe who gave the State of the Association address. He spoke on how AIGA will become more agile, responsive, and relevant. He said “there is trust between members and the association, and we are stewards of that trust, making us stronger as we move ahead.” Highlights of his presentation include:

  • AIGA is in motion and moving forward.
  • We are unique because of the chapters and the activities we have
  • Larger chapters can learn from smaller chapters
  • The National perspective is to reinforce the chapter perspective
  • The next few years will be dramatic for redefining the association, developed in close collaboration with chapters, the Mandate for 2014 challenges AIGA to change to address the social media and web impact
  • The reasons why people join AIGA are to join a community and to get information. Social media and the web have changed the way we communicate and plays a huge role

AIGA will reposition the AIGA brand to communicate the changes in order to attract new members. National Board member, Jamie Koval gave an update on the positioning & communication plan.

The positioning statement: (an informal modification of AIGA’s current official mission statement)
AIGA is a global community of advocates for design that exists to advance designers as a strategic advantage, vital cultural force, and a professional craft.

We will focus on three areas of engagement:

  • Head (design & business, design thinking, Design Business Ethics, Sponsor Partners )
  • Heart (our passion for the craft and Design for Good, giving back)
  • Hand (the craft)

The three year transition plan includes

  • Redefining: Setting the context for change
  • Engaging: Build a dynamic relationship of national activities
  • Launching: Delivering experiences that redefine the organization

ONEAIGA is not defined by national or chapter, but by what we are all doing collectively at the national, chapter, and individual level. The combination of all we do is AIGA. Strong chapters build a stronger AIGA. AIGA is aims to serve the needs of its members. The national role is to strengthen and complement. AIGA needs to be inclusive & accessible., and it will be a voice for advocacy. AIGA will launch initiatives that are national in scope and that translate to the chapter level. Initiatives will include:

  • Program content
  • Design as strategy
  • Professional practice
  • Leadership
  • Social engagement
  • Multicultural
  • Global perspective
  • Design thinking
  • Strategy

Following the general session, attendees broke up to attend various break out sessions where leaders from other chapters gave presentations on topics that they had expertise in. I attended the Mentoring 101 session and picked up some ideas for starting a Mentor program for our chapter. Other session topics included: Student Programming, Advice for Better Advisers, Getting Social, The New Sponsorship Model, Growth through Member Engagement, Engaged at 50, and Design for Good Poster Initiative. Each group requested a volunteer to take notes, which were later uploaded to the National work room to share with all chapters. I volunteered to be our groups scribe, since I knew I would be taking copious notes anyway.

Following the breakout sessions we all reconvened in the Grand Salon for another general session that included a presentation on Effective Board Leadership by Amy Lukas & Phyllis Hovkett of Pathway Associates.

They likened building a board to building a house, needing a strong foundation, craftsmen and a strategic plan for how to proceed. They defined three pillars of effective board leadership…

  • Shared understanding of how to engage members and the values of the organization
  • A clear sense of roles and responsibilities
  • Mutual trust

…and outlined the two key roles of board members

  • Support the mission. A commitment to advancing design as a professional craft, strategic tool, and vital cultural force.
  • Provide proper financial oversight. Understand and know financial situation.

They explained that the process of building a board is cyclical:
Identify →  cultivate & recruit →  orient & engage → educate →  evaluate →

Indentify people with passion, active, fits a specific growth need, fills affiliate gaps, interest in involvement, bandwidth (aren’t over extending themselves), compliments the culture of the board, has the skill sets needed.

Cultivate & Recruit Do we get along with them, do they fit in? Conversations, participation, formal process to validate identified prospects.

Orient & Engage Meet and walk through plan/roles/duties, have an agreement-write it down, ask what do they want to learn/do.

Educate hold mini training sessions during meetings.

Evaluate Self-evaluation of board 1 or 2 times a year.

Other take-aways from this presentation include:

Building trust is an important aspect of effective board leadership

  • Members of a great team trust one another on a fundamental emotional level
  • Teams that trust one another are not afraid to engage in passionate dialogue
  • Ensure that all ideas and opinions are put on the table for robust conversation to achieve a genuine buy-in
  • Commit to decisions and standards of performance and hold one another accountable
  • Focus on what is best for the team

Have a board committee agreement:
Respect people’s time and skills. Board members are not staff, they are volunteers.

They buy WHY you do it, not what you do.

After a long and informative afternoon we were all ready to have some fun and mingle. At every retreat an opening reception icebreaker event is held after that day’s sessions. The icebreaker activity this year was a sticker exchange. Prior to the retreat, each chapter designed a sticker to represent their chapter. Our goal was to fill up a postcard by finding specific stickers, such as a sticker from a chapter on an island, or a chapter with all male or all female attendees. This was such a fun event and really a great way to meet our fellow retreat attendees. We had so much fun searching out stickers that we kept on collecting after filling up our cards. Sadly, I didn’t get every sticker, but I got a lot of ’em. After the party we headed out to our new favorite local pub, Squatter’s Pub. We had eaten there the night before and enjoyed it so much, we went again, this time with members of the Virginia chapter. Word must of got out that Squatter’s was the place to be, because when we walked in the place was pretty much filled with AIGA members!

AIGA retreat 2012 chapter stickers




By Amy Lyons
Published June 12, 2012