I am honored to share with you the following blog post written by Mary Kay Chess. Besides being my LPD (Leadership and Personal Development) professor at Bainbridge Graduate Institute, she is also a great organizational leadership consultant, mentor, and trusted friend. In this piece she writes about the power of trust and building a solid team.

We have very diverse interests on our board of twenty hospital CEOs. What new approach to strategic planning is possible?

Our traditional approach to attracting “customers” to our hospital no longer works.  What is required to engage more businesses in purchasing our hospital services?

We are considering different vendors in a competitive process.  How do we get rapid and confidential feedback from a diverse group of potential purchasers?

We discovered that our last strategic plan was created in 2008.  How do we overcome this stagnation and create a dynamic plan – quickly?


Once a month, during the lunch hour on the east coast, executives from around the United States pick up the phone and dial in for an hour conversation. This forum is called, Coffee & Tea Conversations, and it was created for executives of shared services organizations in rural communities.   

In the past, these leaders asked questions of one another during yearly meetings on rural healthcare issues. It became clear that leading loosely aligned organizations of hospital CEOs required more than casual conversations every twelve months.

For the last year, participants of Coffee & Tea Conversations moved puzzles to solutions through facilitated inquiry: iterative approaches to strategic planning emerge, responsive and immediate survey tools emerge, and thoughtful support for CEOs searching for continued funding in complex economic times is offered virtually.   

Participation in the Coffee & Tea Conversations varies as time and demands permit. It is now common for ten leaders from Alaska, Michigan, or New Hampshire to join the facilitator for this monthly conversation.  Why do these extremely harried leaders look forward to this time?  Why is this sixty minutes of value to them? What are they taking away from this brief encounter once a month?

Three major reasons point to why these network leaders continue to grab a cup of coffee and pick up the phone once a month:


  1. Collaboration - Leaders are talking with leaders and able to move rapidly from inquiry to implementation.
  2. Connections – Leaders in rural areas are confronted with the need to create opportunities for real change and they are in the company of others engaged in this social innovation.
  3. Creativity – Leaders can rapidly consider and build on solutions generated in other communities across the country.


This is the work emerging over a year of one-hour monthly calls.  And, the foundation for this work is trust – in the process, in the content surfaced by peers and the facilitator, and in the diverse perspectives from colleagues sharing the same challenges. These leaders and the facilitator share a common purpose – improving services and community connections in rural areas. 

When asked why there was continued engagement in these calls, one leader responded, “This is the only place where the ambiguity and possibility co-exist.” And another, “I leave with practical hope and resiliency.” 


Mary Kay Chess, PhD, designed and implemented this approach to leadership building through facilitated conversations and over coffee (or tea). Dr. Chess, core faculty at BGI, also consults on strategic planning approaches for network boards and coaches executives.