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On Team Culture: Critical Lessons Business Leaders can Learn from non-profits (Part 4)

Updated: May 6

In this 4-part series, we explore four critical areas of operation where business leaders could learn a great deal from innovative nonprofit leaders. In part 4 of the series, we’re talking about team culture and staff well-being.

The pandemic is revealing what companies and organizations truly value, and employees are learning how much (and if) they are valued by their employers.

Organizations recognize the incredible stress and resulting trauma that their staff have faced over the past year and continue to endure as a result of the pandemic, by putting their people first. This article has some amazing examples from leaders in the EPIC xChange program of what some well-managed non-profits are doing to centre their staff teams’ wellness and expand their focus on employee well-being. Many non-profits are doing this well.

Unfortunately, we have also seen plenty of companies and organizations stumble, and in some cases fall down entirely when it comes to team culture responses to the pandemic. We need to put people first. This is not only just the right thing to do, it can also mean greater impact, productivity and creativity in the workplace.

So let’s talk about ingredients that contribute to healthy workplaces.

Team Culture

  • Ask people what they need: Empowering teams to bring more of themselves to work means greater autonomy and less stress. It also means a more positive, transparent, and safer working environment. Ask employees what they need to best do their jobs, and check in on how they are doing to give them space to express their individual, changing needs. Sounds simple but most don’t ask these simple questions on an individual level. When employees are respected on a fundamental human level it is more likely they’ll be honest and open about what they need, and how they need it. This kind of environment flips traditional power structures and oppressive rules that don't need to be there and centres the humanity of each individual. Innovative and well-managed non-profits have learned that putting people first actually leads to greater impact, more funds raised, and ultimately happier teams.

  • Lead by example: as we go through this collective traumatic moment in different ways we need to acknowledge that it is okay to not be okay and different people will struggle in different ways. The best non-profit managers and leaders not only allow people to rest but also are honest about when they are struggling. The more we pretend to be invincible when we are really struggling the harder it is to get the help we really need. Being real with our teams can feel scary, but it can also lead to more trusting and authentic relationships. This can only work if supported authentically from senior management as this creates space and permission for people at all levels of the organization to step forward. Also, if you are in a position of power consider reducing workload if your team is burnt out. Sometimes we just need to evaluate where the team is at and take our foot off the gas a bit to make everyone perform at higher levels. The best teams actually listen and adjust.

  • Build a learning culture: In the non-profit sector we so often learn by doing. Our stretched resources mean that we have to build internal capacity within our organization. Our teams are open to learning, comfortable with a role that is often both vertically and horizontally integrated and learn new skills and strategies regularly. Non-profits are masters of building the plane while flying it.

Good non-profits understand the power of self-reflection and adaptation. By centering people in our work and in the ways we work, the resulting environment becomes healthier. Workplace culture is enhanced, not dragged down by, deeper connections, the inversion of traditional power structures, and employees who feel empowered and valued. Focussing on the creation of healthy work cultures can result in happier, longer-lasting employees, life enhancing careers, greater productivity, and the knowledge that your people are coming to a place they care about (and that cares about them!) every day.

This blog is a collaborative piece by EPIC team members Michael Prosserman and Tina de los Santos

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