The Organizer #3 | Management

How do I build a great team? Managers should focus on building teams of people who come together to achieve a specific goal and play well-defined roles.

Groups are the worst, but teams are awesome

I like Voltron better than Transformers. I prefer baseball to golf. I’d rather play in a band than paint.

I’m not alone. Humans love teams. They love sports. They love games. They love performing arts. They love community organizations. Across time, geography, and culture, it’s a known thing about us.

At the same time, most of us don’t love “group work”. You know the scenario. Someone (often a teacher) tells you to complete a task in a group, but the group is selected at random. People aren’t there because of their abilities or complementary skills. As a result, the task feels harder than it should, and the final product is often mediocre.

Teams and groups are not the same thing

The difference between teams and groups is strategy.

Teams are assembled with a reason. Teams have a specific goal. Teams consist of roles (“positions” if you like the sports theme). People with the talent and willingness to play those positions are recruited. Teams are then given the direction, practice, training, and opportunities they need to accomplish their goals.

Teams are the heart and soul of the most influential industries in the world, like entertainment. From sports to music to film to television, celebrated teams create most of what we consume for pleasure.

Setting goals and nurturing teams is the heart of management. In entertainment, we exalt managers. Just think of the prestige that comes with being a director, producer, or team manager.

We could do this more in the nonprofit world. Right now, we rarely talk about — let alone celebrate — management. We tend to ignore team building (“HR”) and operations unless there is a crisis. Management, especially the people part of management, rarely seems as urgent as fundraising or as interesting as cause-work.

It’s bad for organizations and it’s bad for people who do this work. Too often nonprofit managers feel like other people don’t understand what they do, or they feel ill-equipped for everything they are expected to handle.

It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this.

If you do this work, thank you. You are blazing a trail that will one day be recognized and celebrated. Your jersey already hangs on the rafters of my imagination.

Good work is easier to do with a team.

What does this mean? Building a team means that you need to create, name, and assign roles. In HR-speak, we call these “job descriptions”.

Job descriptions are an important part of organizational life. You need them for hiring, performance management, and to protect labour rights.

Job descriptions are more than just one item on a boring “best practices” checklist. Creating job descriptions – specifically the part where you name and define roles – is the best opportunity you have to set people up for greatness.

Why? Because when you think about the different roles that need to be filled and line them up side by side, you get a team.

This is your Voltron. This is your supergroup. This list of roles is how you create impact.

Forget celebrity and brand. Your team is how you change the world.

On a team, people feel seen and understood. They know their efforts are making a difference. Teams share burdens.

When we have direction, recognition, and collaboration, literally anything is possible.

If you’re excited by this, off you go. Have a great week.

If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, hang in there. You don’t have to wait for a hiring process or new strategic plan to strengthen your team. You don’t need to be an executive.

You can strengthen your team for just one project or one event. Heck, you can even bring the team mentality to your next meeting.

> Who is participating?
> What position do they play?
> How does that position contribute to the goal?
> What can others depend on them to do?
> What support can they expect from others?

You don’t need three-page job descriptions, either. Think of a baseball card. All you need is a person’s name, position, their main responsibility and tasks, and any special knowledge or skills they offer. Ten words and you’re done.

If you’re new to this, don’t worry

If you are part of a new initiative, it’s normal to be a little unclear about who you need on your team — it’s okay to have more questions than answers. Focus on the problem to be solved. Search for people who can propose solutions and have the skills to execute their ideas.

Entertainers figured out how to build teams to create magic a very long time ago. Social impact folks? We can absolutely do the same.

How to create job descriptions

Check out HR Intervals, a new website with most of the HR reference material you need to run an organization. It’s made in Canada, but it is general enough to help nonprofits in the USA, UK, and elsewhere. C’est disponible en français.

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