Mission Possible: A Productive Team

by Paul Diaz, Vice President of Policy, Public Interest Registry

The Three Ps

Mission-based organizations often start with one or two people with a cause and a deeply felt desire to help. Over time, as the organization grows, the founders often realize they can’t do everything themselves. Finances may dictate that your team be small (at least initially) and your organizational structure may look different than others in your field or community. But all winning non-profit teams share certain qualities—what we call the Three Ps of a Productive Team: Passion, Perspective, and Processes—that make them more efficient and effective at carrying out their missions.


Creating a non-profit, or good for the world, business is a passion project. So, when you assemble your team, passion should be a top priority. According to this piece on www.bridgespan.org, any good hiring process “takes thoughtful planning. But for non-profit organizations, which often face time and money constraints and whose staff are highly driven by passion and commitment to a cause, the planning process takes on new meaning.” How do you build and nurture a team that cares about your mission the way you do? The Harvard Business Review (HBR), www.hbr.org, says that “a passionate employee is someone who pays attention to the whats and the hows of the company’s strategies and tactics, someone who is involved and curious and who constantly questions what the company is doing and their own role in making it successful. And they do that not because someone ordered them to, but because they want to.” 

Finding employees who care about your cause is one thing. Keeping them engaged is another. Classy.org suggests that keeping a close proximity to donors helps. Classy’s survey of non-profit professionals found that “satisfaction rates are highest among those who work closely with fundraising, with 92% saying they are satisfied in their current roles,” according to this article on resilient teams. 


“This high level of satisfaction may be because these individuals often see the impact of their work, are constantly reminded of their mission, and receive positive reinforcement by seeing the generosity of donors,” the piece suggests. “Tap into these elements and remind yourself and members of your team why you got involved in your organization. Volunteer or plan a trip to the field or take turns meeting with beneficiaries to learn about and share their stories.” 

Putting together a mission-based team requires you to “think differently” than you would if you were recruiting for a for-profit company. According to this piece on www.donorbox.org, cultivating a perspective that includes agility is key. “Agile nonprofits focus on delivering results in self-managed teams. In those teams, the hierarchy is not as present as in traditional models of management. There is also a big focus on transparency and an emphasis on frequent, short conversations. Immediate feedback is preferred instead of long meetings,” the Donorbox article explains.

In fact, creating an organizational perspective that values feedback, as well as listening, is a good way to ensure your success. “Creating an open, feedback-oriented company culture requires people to be able to give and receive feedback about any aspect of organizational life. However, this feedback should be given and received clearly, productively, empathetically, and with sensitivity,” according to the Donorbox piece. And, while your crew may be so passionate about the cause that they want to shout it from the rooftops, the best first step may be to listen carefully to your stakeholders. The same Donorbox article posits: “Successful nonprofits continuously and consistently take time to listen. They listen to their beneficiaries, they listen to their Board, they listen to their staff, to their volunteers and to other organizations.”


Excitement about your mission and open-mindedness will set your team on the right path. But to truly serve your mission, you need solid processes in place, specifically when it comes to internal communications and meetings. Strong practices in these areas are essential for creating productive and winning non-profit teams, according to SSIR: “Meetings are the lynchpin of putting this all together,” says Pat Lencioni, an organizational health and leadership best-selling author. “They’re the place where everything else comes to life, and where you demonstrate whether you are an effective team or not.” However, “Only 17 percent of SSIR survey respondents strongly agreed that they have effective meetings, and only 11 percent said they communicate well with the rest of the organization.” What’s the secret to effective meetings? Adherence to the following practices will increase productivity in your team: having a clear agenda, giving attendees enough notice to plan their attendance, and offering any preparatory materials, notes, or slides in advance.  

It’s also important to hold different types of meetings to advance the various goals of your non-profit team, and that employees leave with a clear understanding of next steps. “Regular weekly or bi-weekly check-ins are effective for sharing updates and addressing immediate issues. Teams often need longer, less frequent planning meetings to wrestle with important decisions or dive deep on ongoing issues such as developing talent or budgeting,” says SSIR. “The timing and cadence of these different types of meetings should be planned around the organization’s calendar, including talent reviews, budgeting cycles, and board meetings.” Productive teams end their meetings with consensus around implementation and a follow-up plan.

Lastly, the leader of a successful non-profit or good for the world business makes sure to create touch points for employees. This piece by Nicki Roth on www.bridgespan.org suggests taking what she calls an “outside-in approach,” in which the leader listens to her team, and communicates with each member regularly outside of whole team check-ins. “A great team is the sum of all of its moving parts,” says Roth. “Focusing on ways to build those parts outside of routine meetings will eventually lead to a group of people who look forward to working together and getting things done.” 

Helen Keller said: “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” Remember this as you practice the Three Ps of a Productive Team. The effort you make in creating a passionate team with diverse perspectives and effective processes will be well worth it. As John C. Maxwell says, “Teamwork makes the dream work!”

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