The concepts for building an effective team are really pretty simple, based on practical advice regarding respect and trust. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s always easy. That’s why practice, training, and a solid understanding of group dynamics is also important for having people work together effectively. All groups benefit from intentional team-building, but governance boards especially need strong teams because their function is to shape an organization’s vision. Boards that provide strategic leadership are part of perpetuating excellence within an organization. They can’t do those things well without teamwork.
Understand the Role of Director
Different boards have different functions, and this informs the role people will play on their boards. Especially in the nonprofit world, boards may function as work groups, some are focused solely on fundraising, and others provide oversight. It’s important to understand the distinguishing factors of the role on the board you are serving. Food co-ops with governance boards demand a high level of engagement with big-picture questions on behalf of the co-op’s geographic and cooperative community. “A big part of a food co-op director’s role is to subjugate their individual needs because they are there for the entire ownership,” said Joel Kopischke, board leadership development consultant. Understanding this is part of the role goes a long way toward people working together as a team.
Set Parameters and Expectations
Kopischke has worked with many boards and said that the most necessary team-building activity is to have a shared expectation about the work the group is doing. “Sometimes the reason board members are not getting along is that everyone is thinking they should be doing different things,” Kopischke said. “Boards need to agree on what effective governance looks like.” This can include interpersonal things like preparation, process, how people treat each other, as well as the formal policies the board adopts.
Utilize Cycles of Progress
Every team has cycles of thought and productivity. This concept was famously identified by Bruce Tuckman as forming, storming, norming and performing. When groups come together, people are typically on their best behavior. While figuring out how their team might work, they might have tense discussion or conflict. Once they’ve navigated the potentially difficult stage to find common ground, groups will hit their stride and be productive. The cycle begins again, even if the same people work together, on a different thing.
Kopischke said, “When you go from ‘nice’ to arguing with each other it’s important to understand that this can be a normal part of the cycle of progress.” If you can recognize that, you can stop the frustration by using the skills and tools of leadership through each of these stages to guide the team. “It’s not about getting people to behave, but understanding the stage the group is at,” he said.
Kopischke and Art Sherwood have also added another step in the cycle: transforming. An organization is continually undergoing change, and it’s important to recognize that, too. For example, boards know they have an election cycle, and co-op boards generally change in some way every year. Preparing for that inevitability ensures a more seamless transition between groups and teams.
Having an “I hope this all turns out” or “oh well” attitude doesn’t set a group up for success, either. Kopischke said the strongest teams are those that plan for change and accept the cycles of their development. “The system should work even after people in the room who made the decision are gone. The board needs to survive beyond one team’s involvement,” Kopischke said. “Teams can make the difference in developing a culture strong enough to continue to thrive.”