How to Turn Your Staff from a Group into a Team

When looking for guidance for staff development, don’t consult a thesaurus.

After all, it says team and group are synonyms. However, according to Joan Garry, the two terms are vastly different and understanding that difference is crucial to bringing together your staff and becoming a more effective unit.

Garry, a nonprofit consultant who teaches nonprofit communication and leadership at the University of Pennsylvania, said a team usually possesses characteristics like trust, collegiality and a shared vision, while a group is a bunch of people and a collection of individuals.

The key to any staff working together, she said, is knowing where you fall on the spectrum.

“Do you need to be a team? Maybe you can be successful in your organization by just being a group,” Garry said. “(These questions) get people really thinking about what is missing from a group that makes a significant difference in developing shared goals and being a more effective nonprofit organization.”

Staff development is a vital part of any nonprofit’s success. Understanding where your team stands, several key skills, and how to start living your organizational values every day can bring your team together to achieve more.

Who is On Top?

Marianne Worthington, the founder of the sustainable teamwork organization Work Warrior, said when she is working with a dysfunctional staff, it starts up top.

Instead of group versus team, she focuses on the difference between a leader and a manager. Leaders are the visionaries in the organization, while the managers are the ones who ensure that vision gets accomplished.

“When people say the team isn’t working together, the whole underlying issue is a lack of management skills within the organization,” Worthington said. “Learning to manage is actually very simple. It’s not easy, but it is simple.”

Worthington outlined five steps to take that will help develop those management skills.

1. Set clear expectations for your team. Make sure everyone knows what you want from them.

2. Accountability. Make sure tasks and goals are getting done. This is possibly the hardest step because it could involve confrontation.

3. Lead by example. Set the standard to make sure your staff doesn’t emulate bad habits.

4. Be fair and consistent. Don’t play favorites with your staff members.

5. Celebrate. You’re doing good work and you should show your appreciation.

Those tools seem simple in writing, but they’re hard to put into practice and make a habit. Worthington said you don’t have to perfect them all, but should strive to do so.

“If you can master three of them, you’ll have a high-performing team,” Worthington said. “If you really work to make sure you are living those five every day you will have a team that does things that you can’t even possibly imagine.”

Put Meat in the Meetings

Sometimes in the business of fulfilling a mission, nonprofit employees get lost in the clutter of the daily work. Garry said to help alleviate any issues they should examine how messages are being delivered. For example, critical feedback should not happen via email. Instead, it needs to happen in person.

Garry said many nonprofit professionals rely on email too much. She said they need to get up from their desk and talk to someone in person and have real conversations.

“Working in a nonprofit, you are working on behalf of humanity,” she said. “To eliminate humanity from your work is crazy.”

The communication review also includes meetings. Worthington said nonprofits should do an inventory for each regular meeting—when is the meeting, what is its purpose, who needs to be there and what is the agenda.

Retreating to Move Forward

One way to bring staff together is to host a retreat. Nonprofits should use these on an annual basis or to help kick off a major project. These events can help build teamwork, common understanding, address issues, and catapult the team as they tackle a new endeavor.

While the day of the event receives the bulk of the attention for planning and details, Garry said plenty of work needs to happen before and after the event. Prior to going to the retreat, have each staff member share how they will write what outcomes they want out of the retreat and what will make it a success for them.

“Bring those voices together so the participants own the retreat,” Garry said.

Afterward, Worthington said the retreat is worthless if it is confined to a single day. The managers should set up an ad hoc committee to take the outcomes and help integrate the action items into everyday life.

“The kicker is you do not leave that retreat or workshop without your next steps,” Worthington said.

Expect the Expectations

One way for your staff to work effectively is to make sure they each understand their role and how that role fits in the big picture.

Garry said she recommends talking with each employee and having a 30-45 minute conversation about them. This will help the manager get to know them as a three-dimensional person and ask each employee what they need to be successful.

She also likes to have the employee do an exercise where they go over their job description and mark it up—cross out what they don’t do, add new responsibilities and update all pertinent areas. Garry said this will show a lot about a staff member’s attitude, if they are carrying their weight and if they need new challenges.

Worthington suggests managers turn the question onto staff and ask them why they matter and why their work matters. The key is to give your staff space to explore the question, and it can lead to some great results.

“If you allow the individual on the other side to start going down that path of why do I matter to the organization, and then they have the realization of why do I matter as a human being,” Worthington said. “It’s the most amazing thing to watch.”

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Lincoln Arneal

Lincoln Arneal was a Senior Editor at Nonprofit Hub who brought loads of real-world nonprofit experience to the team. He was the past executive director of a nonprofit that provided leadership development to junior high and high school students. He looked to bring the insights from his time forming, developing, and running a nonprofit to help others in their quest to do good. Lincoln also had a legal background and had written for various newspapers (covering high school sports) for the past 15 years. He could be followed on Twitter at @NPLNK.

January 11, 2016

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