Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Lessons from the Field

I recently finished an 18 month consulting project working with 37 nonprofits under a federal capacity building grant and the Northland Foundation.    In that short timeline, 18 strategic plans got facilitated,  12 organizations did board development and we created templates for succession planning, marketing,board development, scenario planning and even a nonprofit chart of accounts for Quickbooks.

One of the side services offered was executive coaching to a dozen or so nonprofit executive directors during times of transition.  Some were new, some faced significant budget cuts and others were restructuring their organizations.  The key themes for me was the whole issue of management teams and how little there is in the nonprofit world about how to build, sustain and manage a team especially in that crucial organizational life cycle between growth and established organization.  

The concept of team charters, management team workplans, change management to address cultural issues and delegation of management roles was new to many seasoned executive directors.  The whole focus on how to develop management bench strength to support strong internal systems and future growth was lacking in many of the nonprofit organizations.

I am used to the business and venture development world where management teams are key and all of the "common wisdom" supports the entrepreneur that builds those internal management teams.   The same level of interest, research and common wisdom does not seem to exist when it comes to nonprofit leadeship and management teams.  Many consider nonprofits too small to develop teams, others think it is the finance director and the development director.  There appears to be little "common wisdom" about how a nonprofit director should go about building and developing their team.
I watched and coached nonprofit Executives as they struggled to learn about how to really use their management team, how to develop a management team charter, and what they would delegate to the team rather than to individuals.  Some teams had so much baggage out of past communication issues that trust, healthy debate and commitment were out the window.  Other teams floundered with lots of meetings that eventually became less and less of a priority for anyone. I spend a good bit of my time coaching these execs on their management teams.  It left me wondering what are best practices for a nonprofit and how do boards and funders help directors find the resources to make sure they have a team.

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