Earthworms’ Castings

With Jean Ponzi

The Best Team Ever

I’ve been working at the Missouri Botanical Garden for over fifteen years with two amazing, inspiring, wonderful women.

This official anniversary was in November, and the glow persists. Actually, we have worked together longer – for twenty years – because our team formed before we transplanted into the Garden. But who’s counting petals on the sunflowers?

We are Deborah Frank, the Garden’s Sustainability Vice President; Glenda Abney, Director of the Garden’s EarthWays Center; and myself, the Garden’s Green Resources Manager (aka Green Cheese).

We’ve crossed paths almost every one of the most recent 5,200+ days of our lives. On many of them, we’ve had our heads (and hearts and best problem-solving skills) linked together in a synergy that blurs where any corner of our trio leaves off and the other ones align.

We know and value each other’s strengths. And we work-around our skimpier capabilities, appreciating that everybody has some. Our working climate encourages growth and change.

For example, I have influenced Deb (a principled by-the-book-er by nature) to Ask Forgiveness rather than Permission. Complementing that, Deb has transformed both Glenda and me – and everyone, to some extent, who’s ever worked on the EarthWays team – with her deeply embedded guiding ethic that You Give the Other Person the Benefit of the Doubt. Glenda, who is productively detail-oriented to the Nth degree, can lead work toward a bigger picture when viewing through our combined perspectives.

In today’s professional popular-culture parlance, we are each other’s Work Wives, who know (and respect, and love, and bear with the foibles of) our real-life husbands, Don, Kevin and Dale. Women who work as intensely as we do – in the Sustainability Space where the overarching task is to get our fellow humans to do things like waste less, consider and modify our impacts, and (frankly) give even a rat’s patoot about the natural world – need a spousal level of mutual support to keep at this business, day-to-day.

I treasure that we laugh, a lot. Early on, Glenda would use the term “the big dogs” to describe anybody’s bosses. When we needed to confer about tough stuff, we called those sessions Dog Meetings. I believe it was me who first described our process as Sniffing Butt. We could bring dogs to work at the time, so we knew that was accurate. Funny breeds endurance!

When, in 2000, our whole non-profit enterprise became part of the Garden, our little leadership team had to integrate into a world-class institutional environment. Deb was EarthWays’ Director at that time, and Glenda and I were Program Managers. We tipped seniority geometry onto its side and defined ourselves as a Flying Wedge, transforming hierarchy into the kind of got-your-back function that makes Canada Geese one of nature’s collaborative icons: one individual always leads, but who that path-maker is can re-configure as needed, to keep the flock sustainably, wholly, renewably energized and moving.

In my quarter-century-plus Green career, I’ve had the privilege of interacting with many kinds of working groups: in elementary, middle and high schools; colleges and universities; municipal governments; businesses of all kinds; and that most diversely challenging milieu, the general public. I’ve collaborated with all manner of teams, populating one-third of my life. I’ve meshed and butted heads with the superb and dysfunctional.

So even on the bum days, for sure on the best, I know I am so blessed to work – to be making a difference where we serve, while truly fulfilling my purpose in life – as one angle of the flying wedge of the Best Team Ever.

Jean Ponzi also works the Sustainability Space as host of the weekly KDHX Earthworms podcasts, conversing with Green leaders from all walks of life. Pick ‘em up at Earthworms.kdhXtra.org, or through iTunes.