Thursday, October 22, 2015

Lessons From an Action Team

I have a connection with some folks at a local nonprofit who assembled a small team to boost the nonprofit's brand, message and visibility.  All the members of the team are giving of their time and expertise on a pro bono basis.  On paper, it sounds like the U.S. Olympics basketball team: a group of stars.  In practice, I have learned, it's not working out at all.

There are good lessons to be learned for any small enterprise that consults with multiple experts to solve its business challenges.  Here are those I picked up from that nonprofit's "dream team."

1) An action team needs to understand its mission and vision.  Or in military terminology, what is the mission and what defines victory.  This team was assembled with no clear understanding of what it was expected to accomplish and what the endpoint might be.  Worse, stakeholders internal to the nonprofit had a radically different understanding of what the team members were to do (be "gophers") than the panelists (offer ideas).

2) An action team needs a defined leader who is empowered to constructively channel discussions into actions.  There is a theoretical chair to the nonprofit's panel, but is someone who is passive and is not empowered to lead.  Hence it is "free for all" and not effective.

3) An action team needs to match complementary skills.  This poor panel boasts no less than five members in seven who are marketing consultants, all with differing perspectives and strong wills.  The real danger is that the nonprofit's leaders are pulled in differing directions.  Imagine you are in hospital and five doctors loom over you, all with different prognoses.  You can't act on all five's advice and someone, if not all five, stand to have the least effective "cure."  My own sense would be to either assign each party one very specific task based on their key strengths, or eliminate all but one to be the definitive diagnostician.

The nonprofit's panel is well stocked with people who love the nonprofit and believe they know the right course of action.  They are, however, likely set up for failure.  There won't likely be consensus action and the nonprofit will keep doing what it has been doing.  Not a good outcome.

Bottom line:  When creating a support action team to solve a problem, set it up for success.  Select people whose skills complement one another, select a clear leader, and make clear the team's mission and vision.  Don't settle for chaos.

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