Three ways to help your teams unite

‘Influencing donors and partners usually isn’t too tricky’ the fundraising director of one charity recently told me, ‘the hardest thing is getting everyone in the charity pulling in the same direction.’

Unfortunately, ‘working in silos’ is all too common. Psychologists shed some light on why it happens in organisations of all kinds through the concept of ‘common identity’.

In one experiment described in the excellent Give and Take by Adam Grant, football fans of one Premiership football club saw a runner slip on a grass bank and fall to the ground screaming in pain. Would they help him?

They found that it depended what T-shirt he was wearing. When he wore a T-shirt from a rival football club, only 30% helped compared to 92% helping when he was wearing a shirt from their own club. This powerful effect happened after the fans had been ‘primed’ to focus on their club identity, by giving written answers to questions like ‘why do you love your team?’

In a second experiment, before seeing the runner slip, the fans had answered questions about why they loved football and what they had in common with other football fans. This time, primed to think of themselves as fans of football rather than fans of their club, when the runner slipped, the number that helped rose from 30% to 70%.

If your team saw a colleague with a sprained ankle I presume they would all help them, but to what extent would they go the extra mile to help them with work when they themselves were busy…or to understand the point of view of a team other than their own?

Given that our charities are more likely to create a great experience for donors if our whole organisation is pulling in the same direction, are there specific ways we can create an environment that primes teams to behave more like the second group of fans?

1.) Make it simple and tangible. Sometimes a charities’ mission can seem abstract, so great leaders work hard to make it meaningful in the everyday. For instance, when Dr David Feinberg led more than 30,000 employees (receptionists and porters as well as doctors and nurses) at UCLA Hospital System to dramatically improve the way patients were treated, a key tactic was one question which was repeated relentlessly. ‘How would I take care of this person if they were my own mother?’ What could your equivalent be in helping every colleague take responsibility for your donor’s / beneficiaries’ experience?

2.) Do the targets help or hinder? Management expert Tom Peters promoted the idea that ‘what gets measured gets done’. Are you certain the way your fundraisers are evaluated increases the chances they will work towards achieving your charity’s mission? The key performance indicators may be well-meaning but could they in any way decrease the chances of intra-team working?

At the NSPCC during the FULL STOP Campaign there was a major change to how performance was measured. Rather than focussing only on their own fundraising target, each person was now measured on three other areas too: how well they contributed to their team; how well they contributed to teams other than their own; and contributing to giving donors a great experience. This shift dramatically increased proactive intra-team support and income.

3.) Environment matters. Where teams sit makes a big difference to how easy it is to get to know people from other teams and to understand their point of view. I know of two charities that have recently made big progress towards a cohesive culture by introducing a hot-desking policy. How could you change your working environment to make cross-team understanding more likely?