Posted December 10, 2010 by Jeff Pelletier 

Instant Replay: Student Officer Transition Hot Topics Round-Table

On Dec. 8, 23 institutions joined the ACUI Hot Topics Round-Table regarding student officer transition. Jeff Pelletier, The Ohio State University, led the discussion, offering insight into his institution’s processes; others joining the webinar shared their own perspectives and posed questions.

Officer transition is one of the most important, yet often overlooked, elements of student leadership. Too often outgoing leaders put transition on the back burner as they focus on what lies next for them, whether that is graduation, a new leadership position, or just moving on to the next phase of their involvement. Many incoming officers assume that they will learn what they need to know about their role just by jumping in with both feet. As student organization advisors, it’s important that we set the tone for transition, taking on a more active role to ensure it takes place beyond the simple passing down of a binder, along with a pat on the back for good luck. Many participants in the webinar were also the staff members providing support to other student organization advisors on their campus; they came away with ideas for potential training topics they can offer to help advisors navigate the transition of their respective organizations.

Student organization life cycle
Utilizing Bruce Tuckman’s model of group development (forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning), webinar participants were able to recognize that as one group of officers moves out and another moves in, the group initiates a smaller cycle of storming, norming, and performing within the larger life-cycle of the organization. Advisors may have become more hands off as the previous officers learned their roles and responsibilities and will need to provide more guidance and advice as the new group of officers settle into their respective roles.

Student organization advisors represent the continuity of the organization from one administration to the next. Therefore, it is important that they are involved with transition activities to help bridge the gap between old and new leaders, as well as offering the long-range perspective that may not yet be present in a student executive board.

Transition activities may start before elections even take place. This article discusses some of the strategies advisors and student officers might employ in ensuring a smooth succession to the next board. While written from the perspective of a Greek fraternity, all student organizations could use one of more of the suggestions listed. On many campuses, groups may be required to hold elections prior to budgeting season, so that the new group of officers (those responsible for the spending and/or the auditing of funds) are involved in the process from the first step, rather than jumping in mid-stream.

Leadership questionnaires and transition worksheets (for both incoming and outgoing officers) were also presented during the webinar. It is important to focus on the outgoing officers’ style and transition as well since the incoming officers may have a different style than their predecessor, which presents as many challenges as opportunities to the organization. Transition of the outgoing officers is also important, particularly as they let go of a position that may have been very important to them personally.

Keys to a successful transition
During discussion, questions were raised about how to facilitate effective transition, what should be included in a workshop or retreat focusing on transition, and how to ensure that transition actually takes place, beyond just being discussed. Participants kept coming back to the notion that the advisor needs to be involved throughout this process, encouraging active transition to take place. In some cases, the advisor may need to instigate discussion in order to ensure new officers are being acclimated and educated. Even when determining what methods will work best as old officers mentor new leaders through the transition, advisors will need to actively participate during the process.

The following checklist, while by no means exhaustive, can serve as a starting point:

  • Choose the format – workshop, retreat, or even a series of discussion topics during executive meetings throughout the semester or quarter
  • Discuss personal styles – leadership, personality, teamwork
  • Facilitate reflection and discussion of transitional issues for both incoming and outgoing officers
  • Prepare and pass down binders, checklists, key documents, job descriptions, contact lists, financial records
  • Discuss achievements and accomplishments during the previous year
  • Discuss goals for the upcoming year and even beyond
  • Set up meetings with university officials and other key stakeholders to introduce new officers
  • Attend any university mandated/recommended training sessions early in the term for the new officers
  • Choose an appropriate method to celebrate the achievements of the past group, welcome the new group, and start the new year on a positive note

Many of the resources shared during this webinar may be found through the Student Organization Advisors Community of Practice’s document exchange. You can also join in the discussion on the Community of Practice’s forum.

Jeff Pelletier

Jeff Pelletier is the Director, Ohio Union Operations & Events at The Ohio State University.

Jeff oversees building operations including event production, audio-visual, shipping and receiving, and office administration in the Ohio Union. He earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Boston College, a master’s in higher education and student affairs from Ohio State, and is completing a master’s in business operational excellence also from Ohio State. He has been a volunteer forACUI at the regional and international level since 2003, currently serving on the Board of Trustees. Jeff is active on social media, developing his digital identity alongside the students, colleagues, and mentors who aren’t bored with his posts and updates. When not tweeting, Jeff is often seen running the streets of Columbus training for the next half-marathon or 5K.


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