Creating Successful Officer Transitions

Written by:
Lisa Ruch, advisor at Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis, and National Council Vice President for Chapter Relations and Expansion

I have found that an officer transition retreat makes a big and very positive difference in the success of the chapter the following year. We choose our officers shortly after our initiation ceremony in April, and we have a get-together with the outgoing and incoming officers before the semester ends in order for everyone to get to know each other. For the past couple of years, we’ve had great success with doing a “scavenger hunt” in teams around the city. The officers take photos and/or make videos as they find each place or object on the hunt, and they have a blast running all over the city. I should mention that one year we had serious thunderstorms all day when we were scheduled to do the scavenger hunt, so we ended up playing board games at the Campus Center. As you know, it’s a good idea to have a backup plan for an outdoor event!

This event is just a prelude to our actual officer transition retreat that we hold the first Sunday after classes start in the fall. This includes student advisors, outgoing officers, and new officers and committee members. We rent a retreat center in the woods that belongs to Indy Parks – it’s nice to get away from campus if you have the funds to do that. It’s important to plan ahead and find a good location, get it reserved, and publicize it to all of the officers so they can get it on their calendars well ahead of time. We meet on campus and carpool to the location. The outgoing officers and student advisors do most of the planning for the retreat. I keep the most dedicated outgoing officers as student advisors for the following year – usually 6-8 of them – and have found their contributions to be invaluable in planning and providing guidance to the new officers throughout the year.

The first thing to do is establish your goals and create a productive agenda based upon what you hope to achieve. Our goals include the following:

  • Team building/Having fun (it’s important to have meaningful team building exercises so the group bonds together.)
  • Awareness of past events and accomplishments
  • Clarification of officer position responsibilities
  • Maintaining effective social media and other communication with members
  • Planning for the year/establishing goals/creating enthusiasm (member meetings, officer meetings, social events, service events)
  • Creation of action plans for each committee
  • Creation of an overall action plan for the year

The day begins with everybody picking up a name tag followed by a get-to know-you activity followed by lunch, and then the work begins. I start with an overview of all of our successes from the previous year (awards, national scholarships, service events, social events, etc.) so that the new officers will know what has been done in the past. Then the student advisors take turns talking about specifics:

  • Use of social media and our website
  • Applying for national scholarships and awards
  • National conferences
  • Maintaining our status with the Division of Student Affairs
  • Visits to first-year seminars in the fall to promote ALD
  • Our Samstrong Dance for St. Jude (our big annual campus-wide event)
  • Annual community service projects

Now that everyone has been sitting for a while, it’s time to get up and get moving. We head outside for a team building activity planned by the student advisors.  We’ve done everything from wrapping teams in plastic wrap and running races to using a very long rope to work together to form an outline of the United States – blindfolded, of course.  There are usually about 40 of us, so whatever we choose has to accommodate a large number of people.

Then it’s back inside for more business. The outgoing officers meet with the new officers to share their experiences and wisdom they’ve gained from the previous year. The committees (social, service, and scrapbooking) all meet with the committee chairs from the previous year to do some brainstorming. The committees also exchange contact information and determine the best times for them to hold their committee meetings. Each team/committee has a giant stick-up pad to record their ideas so we can stick them on the walls and share them toward the end of the day. While the committees meet, the presidents, vice presidents, and student advisors meet to plan the first member meeting and come up with ideas for speakers for each of our monthly member meetings.

Then we head back outside for another activity as well as officer headshots and group photos. This is absolutely the best time to get photos since it’s the one time when everybody is together. We use the photos for our scrapbook and the Flame as well as the PowerPoints and handouts that we create for recruiting purposes and our initiation ceremony.

Once the fun is over, we return inside to share what we’ve accomplished and wrap up the day. The officers and committees share their action plans and receive feedback on them from the whole group. We determine who we’ll ask to be guest speakers at all of our meetings, and we choose a time for officers to meet once a month. We make sure we’re all completely prepared for our many events in late August and early September. Then everybody completes a quick evaluation form, we clean up the place, and everybody heads back to campus. We do all of this in about 5 hours, so we really have to keep it moving. It always turns out to be a very productive and successful day!