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Your Team: The Heart of Your Organization
Your organization has big goals and dreams to execute. You need the skills, talents, enthusiasm, and dedication of a strong team of people. With people come lives, families, and obligations that do not magically disappear when work starts. Treating your team members like whole people helps them to thrive and stay engaged at work. Thriving people are the heart of thriving organizations. And engaged employees perform 20% better than disengaged employees. Fostering engagement does not take large budgets, complicated planning, and elaborate perks. It takes listening, experimentation, creativity, and dedication to cultivate a people-centric culture across your organization.
1. Listen and learn.
Nonprofit employees and volunteers are known for their passion and engagement. They want to be on your team. But understanding and listening to them is important to keep them on your team. Organizations spend a lot of time understanding and tracking external stakeholders like clients and donors. How well do you know and understand your internal stakeholders? For example, does your onboarding process include intake forms and sharing activities that facilitate getting to know new team members? Each person has unique motivators, interests, and goals that provide valuable information about creating a positive work experience for them. For instance, some team members morale is improved by public recognition of achievements. Others would prefer private recognition.
Organizations use surveys to measure their impact externally. Are you surveying your team to measure engagement and satisfaction to identify what is working and what needs improvement? Surveys are an important step to understanding the needs and expectations of your team to build a work culture that works for your organization. Implementing change without understanding what needs to change will waste precious time, energy, and resources. When in doubt, ask!
2. Foster collaboration and connection.
A nonprofit’s team is comprised of different stakeholder groups– employees, board members, and volunteers–that all have roles in executing the work. Does your organization have a resource that provides an overview of each team member’s role with a biography and contact information? Is it a comprehensive roster to include your entire team from employees to volunteers? Providing this information and keeping it updated is essential to encouraging collaboration and connectivity across stakeholder groups.
As our world becomes increasingly virtual, it is important to be intentional about creating ways for these groups to connect and interact. Online communication tools like Slack provide comprehensive solutions to facilitate collaboration across these groups. This is especially helpful for engaging volunteer teams that may not have contact with other teams. Consider hosting monthly open workgroup meetings on Zoom that internal stakeholders can attend to problem solve organizational challenges. Attendees can be organized into breakout rooms to discuss the issue while getting to know and interact with different people. This approach to problem-solving can lead to innovative solutions and strengthen relationships.
3. Showcase your team.
You already know that your team is talented and amazing. But do you know what else they shine at and could share? Is your Development Officer also a fitness instructor? Does your volunteer team include amateur photographers? Is a board member a skilled home chef? Do you have avid readers on your team? Perhaps there is an opportunity for Zoom group workouts, photography lessons, virtual cooking lessons, or a book club. Creating opportunities for your team to share other skills and interests creates more engagement and helps provide an internal network of experts and supporters that can treat your team as whole people. Many people are feeling disconnected during the pandemic and creating ways to connect outside of daily work tasks builds relationships, rapport, and engagement.
4. Be creative with benefits.
The pandemic has changed the way we work and live, so it is important that benefits and policies reflect that. Flexible work schedules have become more prevalent as people navigate the changing environment created by the pandemic, but the flexibility could become a lasting benefit that improves your employee’s well-being. Besides flexibility, we are all always wishing for more of one resource that is in limited supply—time. Being creative with time and scheduling can have a massively beneficial impact on your team. For example, examining opportunities like a 32-hour workweek for your employees. This could mean three-day weekends or shorter workdays spread across the course of the week. Your organization may not be able to provide more financial incentives to your team, but with creative scheduling, you can give them the gift of time.
According to Glassdoor, 57% of people report benefits and perks being one of the top considerations when considering a job, so offering benefits that are geared toward supporting optimal team member wellness like paid time off, wellness packages, and flexible work arrangements are important recruitment and retention tools. Considering your board member and volunteer expectations is also important to ensure their time and well-being are respected. Before making changes to your benefits package, make sure to seek feedback and ideas from your team members.
5. Be intentional with appreciation.
A culture of practicing appreciation and sharing gratitude for your team supports high morale. Taking it one step further with intentional activities and recognition is even more impactful. For example, activities such as writing LinkedIn recommendations for your staff, board members, and volunteers are more meaningful than a blanket thank-you communication sent to everyone. Next time you say thank you, consider sending a small gift like a gift card for coffee. Having a morale fund as budget allows for these types of expenses ensures that team recognition stays a priority. Perhaps a team has worked overtime to launch a new project or initiative. Offering time off to decompress from the project provides an acknowledgment of the extra time the team devoted and goes beyond a thank you.
6. Prioritize professional development.
One of the biggest challenges to professional development in the nonprofit sector is having the financial resources and time. One of the advantages of our virtual world is a diverse array of free or inexpensive trainings and learning opportunities. The training does not have to be a formalized training program to be valuable. Resources like TedTalks, blog content, research studies, and white papers provide insightful information and perspectives that can be valuable to your team. Sharing these is a great step, but the next step is to normalize taking time out of the workday for learning and exploration. Then encourage team members to share what they learned to build a professional development catalog of material sourced by your team. Team members can also share while developing presentation skills via events such as Lunch and Learns that can be hosted virtually. Remember that your board and volunteers are also seeking professional development opportunities while having expertise to share so including them in these activities benefits everyone.
7. Set an example.
If you are in a leadership role, do not forget the importance of practicing what you preach. Team members are watching your actions and taking your lead on what the work culture is really like. It is important that messaging and actions are in alignment. If you are encouraging your team to take care of themselves and take time off for well-being, make sure to give yourself the same grace. If you want your team to be open about struggles and challenges so that you can better address them, be open about sharing your own. If you receive feedback and ideas from your team, acknowledge the suggestions and act on them. If your organization offers professional development time, utilize the time, and engage in sharing your experience.
8. Be an engaged team member.
While leadership sets the tone for the work culture, it is the responsibility of all team members to be accountable in supporting a thriving team. When surveys and feedback are requested, provide honest feedback to help your organization understand how to create the best environment for you. When benefits are offered, use them. Just because vacations are cancelled, does not mean that time off for a staycation is not still beneficial. When help is offered, take it. There will be a time when you can return the favor. When learning opportunities are shared, participate. When activities are hosted to connect with fellow team members, join in and engage.
The benefits of having an engaged team are clear. Your organization and community will always win when you focus on thoughtfully and intentionally investing in your team.