TPF Immersion: Gather & Grow 2022

Bridging Experiential Learning to Living and Breathing a Plan

Posted on May 20, 2022 by Michael Zimmerman, TPF Fellow 2021/22

For-profits, nonprofits, governmental agencies, and many other societal entities are tasked with a mission. Whether it’s to make money, strive for a cause, render a service, or another purpose, the mission will always entail an operation. Operations involve strategic thinking to deliver on a mission. Models for operational strategy and implementation are plentiful and vary organization by organization. I’ve had the opportunity to work with many organizations, each with a different model and method that serves them. One operational model and approach which merits sharing is The Patterson Foundation’s (TPF) “living and breathing of a plan.” Whether working on a framework for an initiative or a specific program, series, or event within an initiative, each will have a final step: to live and breathe the plan.

Living and breathing a plan goes beyond dotting every “i” and crossing every “t.” It is a thorough walk-through of every aspect and detail. For efficient examining and reviewing, TPF outlines the timeline, people’s responsibilities, programming, logistics, and more on a Run of Show document. This invites all involved to identify and resolve any hiccups or errors ahead of implementation. By walking through the Run of Show, the team can envision the plan in action to pursue excellence when implemented. The living and breathing of a plan is critical to its success, and thus why this approach is paramount to operations at TPF.

Conversely, I realized one of my strengths was my ability to learn experientially. In the past, I have planned events, parlor meetings, breakfasts, galas, and conferences. The teams on which I worked were thoughtful in their methods and approaches to ensuring excellence. However thorough our planning was, we almost always encountered surprises during the event. Through these surprise encounters, we learned from experience what to do for future events, anticipating the surprises before they occur. Our events would improve year after year as we finessed details, pivoted as new opportunities emerged, and evolved as a result.

I recently had the opportunity to work on TPF’s Gather and Grow Immersion 2022. In a gathering of the TPF family spanning diverse initiatives, we convened to connect, learn about one another, and share knowledge and experiences. Through a day of diverse programming fostering wide participation, we built connective tissue and strengthened interpersonal relationships. Different from my experiences spearheading events with organizations prior, the scale of living and breathing the event versus experiential learning during the event was weighted more towards the side of living and breathing—meaning we anticipated more of the course of the program before the event and experienced fewer surprises during the event. Through the experience, I came to discover how the rehearsal of the event via the Run of Show could be thoroughly walked through. At every turn, our team asked questions, proposed new and different ideas, and pushed boundaries of how this would look and feel until it felt comfortable and complete. I recognized an opportunity to build muscles to strengthen my abilities to engage a team in the planning of events and the most pivotal part, the living and breathing of a plan before it happens. Nonetheless, an endeavor like TPF’s Gather and Grow Immersion 2022 comes with its own challenges – planning an event in a new place with a new program requiring new ideas to pursue excellence in uncharted waters.

Learning in the heat of the moment through experiential learning is important. Planning ahead and living and breathing the plan is also essential. Both approaches can help a team plan for success. The new tools learned at TPF combined with the tools learned over the years through past professional experiences, will serve me as I endeavor to plan programming and events with excellence and thoughtfulness in the future.


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