Tagged ‘nonprofit management‘

When Loner Meets Team

People who used to be called ‘loners’ are now introverts. Lately, there has been a blossoming of insight and information about introverts and a fair amount of appreciation for what introverts bring to the world. Susan Cain dissects the introvert’s world and how introverts affect the world in her book, The Power of Introverts.

But while we’re busy celebrating the introverts among us (or being greatly relieved because the world finally recognizes our value as introverts), the work world is still very much about collaboration and team work.

Teamwork can be very challenging for the introvert. Not because s/he doesn’t value collaboration but because teamwork often requires attitudes and approaches foreign to the introvert. If we remember this distinction between introverts and extroverts, it will be helpful to thinking about the teamwork challenge: extroverts refuel/get their energy from being with people; introverts do the same by withdrawing from interaction. Conversely, an extrovert can find the team experience to be exhilarating while the introvert find it exhausting.

The upshot of this difference may mean that the introvert’s contribution to a project’s success is less obvious. Not wanting to be in a group work environment may be interpreted as resistance or laziness. Being reticent to speak may be seen as lack of investment in the project’s success. Going off on one’s own to complete a project component might be viewed as arrogance.

Diversity manifests in many ways and not all of them are immediately obvious. Managers would do well to educate themselves about the differences between extroverts and introverts and reflect on their impact on the work environment, especially around the topic of teamwork. At the same time, a good manager probably wants to determine where s/he falls on the extrovert/introvert spectrum and think through how that might influence her/his assessment of the performance of colleagues and those they supervise.

Reading Susan Cain’s book would be a good first step. The next step is putting that new thinking into action in the workplace.

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The Difference between a Discussion and a Facilitated Discussion: Part 1

The nonprofit world loves meetings. An issue comes up. We need a meeting. A plan needs to be developed. We need a meeting.

We move as a group.

Personally, I think this is a good thing. Most projects will be made better if more people participate in the discussion.

But the key word is participate.

How many group discussions have you attended this month where two or three people do all the talking and the rest of the folks might as well be potted plants? It’s more than one, isn’t it? Two, three, dozens?

Generally a group discussion will follow an agenda. Most people think that an agenda is enough to keep a discussion ‘on track’ and keep participants from wandering off or circling back. An agenda may accomplish that goal but it won’t produce the type of results possible with a facilitated discussion.

Among the shortcomings of a regular group discussion is that a few people will dominate and others will coast. Unless an issue is of critical importance to a participant, he/she will wait for someone else to speak up and lead. That someone else invariably becomes the opinion leader for the group. If there are a couple of folks who speak up, they steer the discussion. In the absence of countervailing forces (other points of view), they set the group’s direction. But because not all were heard from and not all ideas put on the table, enthusiasm for next steps is weak, ownership is shallow, and progress is negligible.

Another problem with agenda-driven, non-facilitated group discussions is that they are topic-focused and not outcome-focused. When the group decides that an agenda topic has been covered (usually because no one has anything else to say), the next topic is tackled until each agenda item has gathered its share of opinions. “Does anyone have anything else to add?” is a question usually met with silence. “Ok, then, let’s go to the next item.”

People will leave a group discussion like this one feeling as if they have done their duty. They attended the meeting and maybe put in their two cents. Scratch that one off the calendar and go to the next gathering of the potted plants.

They probably won’t feel like they’ve made progress, built something, laid the foundation for a larger effort. That’s what would come from a facilitated discussion.

More about facilitated discussions in Part Two of this series.





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When All You See Is Red: What to Do When Your Organization Hits the Wall

Last week’s post talked about the tension between mission and money for nonprofit organizations.  My thesis was that mission is important but cannot flourish without sound money management.  Any nonprofit organization director who doesn’t understand that is kidding him or herself.  Financial management is not a pesky little detail of nonprofit life; it is central. 

#1 Rule: Keep the money straight.

So what happens when the money has not been kept straight?  One of two things happen:  either the situation is ignored, minimized and marginalized OR the situation is the impetus for new, better financial practices.

Like a smoker ignoring his hacking cough, glossing over nonprofit financial problems only leads to a worse situation.  Financial problems, like cancer, do not cure themselves.  But like cancer treatment, the cure for nonprofit financial problems is not easy or painless.

Steps to a cure (or at least rehabilitation):

1.  Professional diagnosis:  Because non-profit organizations are often small and mission-driven, they rely heavily on volunteers with limited time and, often, limited expertise. When the board of directors first begins to see a pattern of financial problems, that is the time to seek a professional opinion from someone outside the organization.  Virtually every community has nonprofit management technical assistance, this is the time to seek it out.

2. Management accountability:  The organization’s executive director and board of directors have to take ownership of the problem, accept responsibility for past practices, and make a commitment to improvement.  I subscribe to the school of thought that nearly every problem that can be named and claimed can be solved.  Unfortunately, it is very often the case that a nonprofit’s finances are a mess because the executive director has limited financial skills and a propensity toward denial.  Often, a board of directors, itself with limited time/skill, will aid and abet the director’s minimization of the problem.  Solutions cannot happen in this environment.  Accountability is a fundamental requirement of change.

3. Treatment compliance:  Getting out of serious financial difficulty is very hard even with the best professional advice.  Generally, a nonprofit in serious financial trouble needs to: a) develop a detailed remediation plan in consultation with the best advice available; b) fully implement the plan, doing the hard things like laying off staff, consolidating operations, reducing benefits and any number of other onerous things; c) communicate with funding sources so they get firsthand information about both the situation and the plan; and d) establish clear performance/accountability checks so the organizations stays on an improvement course.

 Is all this trouble worth it?  That depends. 

How valuable is your mission?

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What Harvard Taught Me About M.O.M.’s

Several years ago, I attended a two-week community development seminar at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.  It was an extraordinary experience, walking to class across the Harvard campus, watching and hearing the rowers on the Charles River, meeting with my study group to review that day’s ‘case’ and then spending the day in class as probably the smartest people I ever met dissected the case to illustrate critical points in community development.  The case study is a principal means of instruction at Harvard.  It’s very engaging and incredibly effective.  Having a real story used to illustrate abstract principles makes all the difference. 

One of the abstract principles we addressed frequently was leadership.  What constitutes leadership?  How does one become a leader?  How do leaders affrect communities?

It came down to this in the view of our speaker.  Great community change resulted from the single minded, tireless efforts of a M.O.M.  Of course, all of us actual Moms in the audience quickly nodded in agreement but the speaker wasn’t talking about us.  He was recalling Peter Drucker’s statement in Adventures of a Bystander, “Whenever anything is being accomplished, it is being done, I have learned, by a monomaniac with a mission.”

One writer described M.O.M.’s this way:  “A good champion is passionate about their cause or change.  He or she is a staunch, zealous fanatic.  A great champion is emotional, irrational, irreverent, impatient, and unreasonable.  He or she wants the change – no matter how big – to happen this week, this month, or certainly by the end of this quarter.  To an impassioned change champion (M.O.M.), the sky is often falling and the situation is desperately urgent.” (Jim Clemmer, Nurturing Change Champions, ManagerWise, 2001)

What’s making me think about M.O.M.’s?  Frankly, it was the death of Joan Lawrence, director of Our Space and the person who was probably, nearly single-handedly responsible for the development of the peer specialist movement in Milwaukee and was the prime mover behind the Crisis Resource Center.  Relentless, intense, undeterred, and unwilling to negotiate much of the time, Joan made enemies and turned a lot of people off.  But she changed the landscape of mental health services in Milwaukee for the better in a big way.  Joan really was the epitome of a M.O.M.

I know a couple of other M.O.M.’s.  Married to one of them – Howard Snyder.  Howard’s single-minded focus on the need to keep and improve the public library on Villard Avenue resulted in our granddaughter having an amazingly cheery, friendly, well-resourced, and NEW library on that same street.  She sits next to dozens of young people, families, and older adults as they swarm into the library on Saturday mornings.  It’s amazing.  Before the library, he zeroed in rehabbing an abandoned firestation, started NOVA (Northwest Opportunities Vocational Academy), an MPS partnership school, in collaboration with area industrialists, and moved his nonprofit into the massive DRS Naval Controls Division plant in order to build a workforce alliance that would employ neighborhood people in defense jobs.  When he turns his sights on something, we know that’s going to be IT for focus for the next several years.

Terri Strodthoff, founder of the Alma Center, would go on the M.O.M. list.  A bigger believer in the capacity of men involved in domestic violence would be impossible to find.  Rich Oulahan, prime mover of Esperanza Unida into a model of worker training that continues today, is another one on the list;  his death left a huge legacy for Milwaukee’s southside and the whole community.

There is something so different about M.O.M.’s.  Often hard to tolerate, their intensity can drive some people away from their cause.  But their single-minded devotion and relentlessness gets results that organizations absorbed in strategic planning and rational decision-making can’t achieve.  M.O.M.’s are willing to be unreasonable and undeterred in pursuit of a dream for the community. That is precious and rare and we need to appreciate M.O.M.’s when we have one in our midst.

And that’s what Harvard taught me about M.O.M.’s.


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