Getting in the Zone: Team Development

by Jenna Bantjes

Here at FTS, we’ve been talking a lot internally about health, wellness, efficiency, and balance. We’ve been making strides to recognize and celebrate each other’s personal and professional accomplishments. More of us are working remotely, adjusting to life changes, and exploring our work and lifestyles. At the end of the day, we recognize that it’s not the quantity of work that matters, it’s the quality.

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Today, we sit down with Kelly Powell, Chief Operating Officer, to hear about working like a project manager, utilizing time to the max, and the importance of making and breaking routine.

Hi Kelly! Let’s start out by talking a bit about your role. As COO, what does that mean for you?

In my role as chief operating officer, I am equally responsible for successful business operations and services and delivery. On the one hand, I’m making sure that things are running smoothly across all areas of the business operations; from the physical plant, to HR, to finance, to our insurance and benefits. On the other, my main responsibility is in how we deliver our services and making sure that our teams are functioning at their highest ability because they’re well supported and have everything they need to be successful.

It’s a big job that touches just about all areas of the company. It could be overwhelming, but I’m really a project manager at heart. I approach the things that I need to get done from a project manager’s perspective. What is the goal and what might be the steps to achieve it? What is our timeline, what does success look like? I love projects and I love clients. Right now, my client is Fresh Tilled Soil and my role is to make sure that Fresh Tilled Soil is successful and meeting its great potential.

Do you have any organizational techniques that you follow or tools that you use to break down your tasks?

A lot of what I do is team based, so I need to be able to easily share my thinking about what we’re doing or how we’re approaching a project.

Somebody used a term recently that I think applies to me. She said, “I’m a social thinker.” It means that we do our best work and have our best energy in tackling a difficult problem with other people or with another person. That’s really how I like to work.

Not everybody wants to be solving a problem in a pair, though, and I know that I have more of an extroverted nature. If I’m scheduling somebody’s time, I want to make sure that it’s very productive time. I want to have an agenda, I want the other person to be very clear on what we’re trying to accomplish. Having a goal for the meeting and clear next steps coming out of it is very important to me, to honor the people that I’m doing my social thinking with!

As our team is growing, not just in numbers but in number of locations, it’s interesting to hear how people are managing time; not just their own, but also with others. As a team spreads out physically, you really have to be more cognizant about connecting with your teammates, getting what you need out of a meeting, and not wasting anyone else’s time. On the flip side, scheduling time to work and think alone is equally as important.

I completely agree. I love being in the office and having a wonderful place to come to work every day, but I need about one day a week to get away from the distractions, to focus on planning, researching, and developing initiatives.

2016 is all around team development. We’re rolling out a new program that’s going to provide guidelines for professional development and a better understanding of individual career paths. Having a little quiet at-home time has helped me stay productive and make steady progress on implementation.

I understand that you’re also a fan of organizing events outside of the office. Correct?

Cooking dinner and drinking wine and hanging out with friends? Yes, that’s one of my favorite things to do!

How does that influence the rest of your week? Is that kind of a break for you?

It’s something I really look forward to. People coming over and enjoying an evening of just kicking back and having a great meal, lighting the fire, talking about what we’re all up to, what we’re reading, this very interesting election cycle, all of that. My husband and I find if we don’t make the effort, so much time can go by and we don’t see the people that mean a lot to us. I love doing things that keep us together.

I know you have a place in New Hampshire, and you’ve been known to work from there as well. Does that have any rejuvenating effect on your work or your life? Do you bring people there?

It’s all of those things. It’s just a summer place—we open it up on Memorial Day and close Columbus Day—which makes it very special in its scarcity! It’s a place where I get to do nothing but listen to the lake, or garden, or read an entire book in a weekend. I can really just separate from my work life in a way that’s rejuvenating and makes all parts of my life better.

Routine obviously helps with consistency, organization, planning and all of the practical components of life, but the flip side—especially in our line of work—is inspiration and thinking from outside perspective. It’s finding that balance of establishing a routine, but then intentionally breaking it. That’s what brings variety and new perspective.

I couldn’t have said it better. Just being able to get in a car on a Thursday night, drive for 75 minutes and step out into the woods, the night sounds, the frogs and peepers and coyotes in the distance. It’s very magical, and changing the setting really shifts everything. It shifts how I am in the world. It’s just the weekend, but it’s enough to really recharge and come back fresh.

Tell me a bit about your routine.

If this year is all about team development, last year was about incrementally improving and tightening up all of our processes and seeing cumulative improvements everywhere. As we consistently apply these small improvements, we continue to see results. Really positive outcomes across the board, from team happiness and productivity to client retention and profitability.

I brought something of this mindset to my personal life: What are some incremental improvements that I can make personally to help me be stronger, better?

I started with a couple of simple rules: exercise for 30 minutes everyday and balance out my diet.

Combining more exercise with healthier eating—what a novel concept! Well, for me, it was new. And now here I am, getting healthy and strong from the inside, out. Better energy and ability to focus. Unless you’re feeling strong and taking care of yourself first, you’re not going to be able to manage under the demands of the kind of work that we do. It’s really had a wonderful impact on every aspect of my life.

If tomorrow, you got to work on your dream project, what would that be?

I have to say, I am, right now, in the midst of my dream project. To be able to work with the incredible team at Fresh Tilled Soil with the goal of raising our game across the entire company, and improving the structure and the processes to allow people to do their very best work, this is the most gratifying work.

About Jenna Bantjes

A graduate of the Art Institute of Boston (and the winner of its annual Graphic Design Exhibition), Jenna joined us through our apprentice program. Before...