What happens when a colleague and team member gets promoted, and becomes the one in charge? It can certainly present challenges, but it can also lead to a more united and productive team. Just ask Sarah Waddle, State Director, AARP Indiana and Vida Aventura client. 


Meet the Client

Sarah Waddle

AARP is a national nonprofit, nonpartisan association with a membership of over 40 million. Its mission is to empower people to choose how they live as they age. Under Sarah’s direction, the Indiana state office is responsible for progressing the mission locally, focusing on advocacy, education and outreach.

The Workplace Challenge

Previous to her current role, Sarah served for over 10 years as AARP associate state director for advocacy. When she was named state director in 2016, she transitioned from being a part of an eight-person team, to being the one leading it. 

In addition, at 37 years old, she was the youngest ever to be named to that position. With that came some added insecurities, especially since she knew that some might feel she wasn’t experienced enough for the job. 

“It created a strange dynamic,” she says. “My working relationships went from being between teammates and peers, to being between a manager and staff. I knew it was going to be a challenging transition.”

There was also some healing to do. Before Sarah was promoted, the position of state director was vacant for almost a year, and the process of losing a leader, remaining in temporary limbo, and then adjusting to a colleague-turned-boss took a toll on everyone. That’s when it was time to get help. 

“I knew we needed to gel as a team again and establish new norms,” Sarah says. “And personally, I needed some guidance on effective leadership and navigating those relationships from a new perspective.” That’s when she reached out to Vida Aventura’s Deseri Garcia for help. 

The Plan

When Sarah first contacted Vida Aventura, she was looking specifically for someone to lead team building exercises at the annual team retreat. After an initial meet and greet, Deseri was added to the agenda as a session leader. “Everyone was so excited after that initial experience, we retained Deseri for further work and budgeted it in our state plan,” says Sarah. This included:

    • Quarterly team sessions 
    • Staff development opportunities
    • Personal development plans and accountability
    • Optional one-on-one coaching sessions

The Process

As a result of its partnership with Vida Aventura, AARP Indiana has flourished with positive outcomes, and enhanced the ability to meet and overcome challenges with noticeable improvements.

Outcomes. The AARP Indiana team has established healthy team norms, and as vacant positions are filled with new team members, a solid foundation now provides the platform from which to jump. “Expectations are clearly spelled out – right in front of us,” Sarah says. “And Des helps us build customized sessions throughout the year to continuously reinforce them.”

Addressing Challenges. While regular training sessions focus on a number of common team building themes, Deseri also guides participants in addressing specific challenges. This includes things like improving communication, dealing with conflict, and successfully facing unexpected speed bumps that come up along the way. 

Noticeable Improvements. “It helps for people to meet with someone who is unbiased,” says Sarah. “As an outside influence, Deseri keeps us in check and holds us accountable for development plans and personal goals.” Her team is highly functional and healthy as a result, to the point where other states have inquired about AARP Indiana’s model. “They appreciate where we are as a team,” she says, “both in contrast to where we were years ago, and compared to other offices facing similar challenges with team dynamics.” 

Powerful Results

Team building activities once a year can make for a great annual retreat, but consistent training that includes both individual and group work leads to consistent improvement and meaningful change. 

Personal Growth. On a personal level, Sarah has become more confident in her leadership skills. “I addressed my insecurities in terms of my age when I became state director, and I learned how to tell my story,” she says. “I also learned how to make sure our work in Indiana was being noticed for positive reasons.” Being challenged through Deseri’s leadership coaching helped Sarah elevate her credibility as a leader, which ultimately helped her gain needed exposure for the team. 

Team Unity and Productivity. From a team perspective, Vida Aventura provided the groundwork for individuals to give feedback productively and have difficult conversations. “This saves time, resources and heartache because we aren’t spending lots of time on conflict or unproductive tasks,” says Sarah. “Deseri gave us the tools to manage projects effectively, focus on goals and spend energy on what really matters.” 



The main reason Sarah recommends working with an executive and team building coach like Deseri is that it makes you do the work. “You have to be ready to do what it takes to get results,” she says. “It’s not just a one-off team building session. It’s a package that allows us to continuously develop, and Des is always able to bring back previous lessons we’ve learned and build on them, so the work remains relevant and in front of us.” 


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