On Becoming a Leader is a biweekly advice column in which Allison Fine, an author, consultant, and expert on nonprofit leadership and strategy, answers your questions about nonprofit careers and leadership. Have a question? Ask Ms. Fine using this form.
Q: I am wondering what tips you would offer executives in philanthropy and fundraising who co-manage a group of gift officers and oversee policies together. This is the first time for me co-managing a set of functions with another senior executive, and while we manage a distinct set of individuals, their job functions are essentially the same across the board. So there is a lot of decision making by consensus. I wonder if there is any standard advice or resources you would point to that could help make this a smoother transition for me. Thanks. — Bill
A: Hi, Bill. Thanks for your candid question. Co- anything with anyone is always difficult. It’s particularly difficult if you were used to doing the job solo. Moving from a command-and-control system to a flatter, more networked system (which is where I hope your organization is headed) can be difficult to wrap your head around. When people and processes are shifting around, it is important to focus on trying to make your world as simple as possible. In his book Insanely Simple, Ken Segall describes simplicity as “the love child of two of the most powerful forces in business: brains and common sense.” As you probably know, this is not easy to achieve in business! Nonetheless, it is important to get your team to focus on the essence of your work rather than drift into complexity.
Start with a core set of principles. You may have these organizationally, and perhaps all you have to do is pull them out and review them as a group. However, if your organization is like so many others, you probably don’t have them. It’s not the vision statement or the mission statement; it is a small set of principles (say, five or fewer) that drive your work every day. Perhaps they are that we value people over transactions. Or we respect the talents of all of our team members. Or that we focus on learning instead of blaming. It is important that you do this with your team and come to a consensus on your top few principles. I love the ones that the Container Store lives by.
Next, your team needs to map out its flow of work. Who does what when? Who is responsible for the work (makes sure it gets done), and who is accountable for the work (makes sure it gets done right)? Consider what software you have for tracking the work and ensure that it keeps everyone in the loop. But any software will only be as good as the current data you are putting into it. You may have a good handle on fundraising software, Bill, but, in case you are interested, here is a good overview of available products and their functionality
And, finally, Bill, once the silos are gone, it is critically important that transparency becomes the natural default setting. Staff need to know what is going on and be invited to weigh in. (But it’s terribly important to make it clear what the limits are of their input.) You need to co-manage the group, but staff needs to co-own it with you. Again, having software or an app to facilitate internal communications, such as Yammer or Basecamp, is critically important, but it only works with a full commitment from senior staff to be in conversation with the team as an ongoing way of working together.
I hope these tips help, Bill. Yours can be a difficult transition, but if you keep talking to your team about what’s working and what isn’t, you will figure this out.