Be a Team Player

Teamwork is a crucial ingredient for a healthy organization. It allows individuals to accomplish things we couldn’t do alone. Good teamwork can be seen on the sports field as well as in the community. Just ask Janet Bartos.

Janet is the Executive Director of the Lee County Homeless Coalition. The broad array of groups and individuals who make up the coalition work together to tackle some of the toughest challenges in Southwest Florida. The homeless community is able to succeed because the coalition works together. Very simply, it works as a team.

Earlier this month, for instance, over 500 homeless individuals were shown the support of the community during the 14th Annual Homeless Service Day and Stand Down. The event was held at City of Palms Park in downtown Fort Myers. Homeless individuals were able to receive needed services, pick up essential items and spend time with people who care for them. The homeless service day is too big for any one homeless organization to fund or put together by itself. That is why teamwork was so important.

The ongoing effort to house homeless veterans in Southwest Florida is another example of that kind of teamwork in action. Last April, the local homeless community was invited to join the 100,000 Homes Campaign to house 100,000 homeless veterans nationwide. For our local homeless community, embracing a challenge like that is not as simple as saying “yes.” It means stretching budgets that are already stretched, and re-allocating valuable time towards a new effort. And that means saying “no” to other priorities. It means working as a team – which is exactly what happened.

Our local homeless community dug in, embraced the new program, and committed to working together to house 50 homeless veterans in 90 days. By the time the initial 90-day period ended, 52 homeless veterans had found housing. So, in July, the community committed to housing another 50 by the end of December. This goal was also met, as 85 veterans found housing and 20 more had secured vouchers. The effort to house homeless veterans continues.

Much of this success stems from the culture of teamwork that Janet brings to the cause.

“We have a responsibility to help others,” Janet told me when I asked her what drove the efforts of her and the coalition. “It needs to be done.” Janet’s approach is straight forward, and built around three basic principles.

One, a team has to be willing to change. This seems like a natural for an organization built around the concept of second chances. But it isn’t always that easy. Still, as the veterans program showed, when an opportunity presents itself, the coalition has shown it’s willingness to embrace change.

Two, a team has to have open communication. Last April, when the opportunity to house more veterans emerged, there were lots of conversations. There was hope. There were questions. And there was conflict. The conflict wasn’t about whether to help, but how best to help. Before long, the community worked through how best to fully embrace the opportunity. And formerly homeless veterans found homes.

Think about the communication involved. The amazing team that led the effort, including the Red Cross, the Veterans Administration, American Legion Post 38, the Department of Human Services, the Housing Authority, and numerous others, called each other every other week to identify program glitches and individual barriers to a veteran getting placed into housing. This constant communication helped strengthen every aspect of the operation. It improved the partnership with American Legion Post 38, who was allowing veterans to be with other veterans as they transitioned into their new life. Likewise, it improved the ability of local case managers and leaders in other organizations to plug-in to the effort. This brings us to the third key of a healthy team.

Members of a healthy team need to have appropriate expectations.

The coalition, like many other teams, is made up of various organizations. At any given moment, there are numerous priorities within the group. What Janet has done so well with the coalition is to focus on the team’s culture. In these two cases, that meant embracing the various agendas within the coalition, at the same time as she made sure the fundamental goal of having a successful service day or veterans program was a TEAM priority. Now that is the kind of teamwork that is worth celebrating!

If you would like to know more about the Lee County Homeless Coalition, feel free to visit http://www.leehomeless.org. (Full Disclosure, as most people who read this blog know, I am the Vice Chairman of the Lee County Homeless Coalition’s Board of Directors)

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About Neil Volz

Neil Volz is the author of the book Into the Sun
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