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Strategies for Team Development in the Non-Profit Context


The 21st century has seen rapid organisational growth (often through mergers and ‘swallowing’ competition), organisational re-structuring (particularly decentralisation of decision-making), and greater emphasis on partnership working and technological changes (vast improvements in information and communications technology) (Britton, 2015). Teams play a pivotal role in addressing and adapting to organisational change and in strategy towards organisational restructuring.

A team is a group of people with similar abilities, aptitude, competencies and aspirations working towards a common goal. Team development is the process of enabling the people in your team or various teams in an organisation and empowering them to work productively to fulfil the organisation's goals. Team development contributes both towards self-development and organisational growth (Fapohunda, 2013).

Employees are the assets of every organisation, especially in the non-profit context where staff are faced with limited resources and funds. The success of a non-profit organisation is greatly influenced by the quality of its people. A culture of success is significantly tied to high performing teams. A well developed team can be very fulfilling to employees and can make great accomplishments.

Steps for Team Development in the Non-Profit Context

  • Clearly defined team goals

  • Identification of hindrances for team goals

  • Implementation of various strategies for overcoming the identified challenges

  • Enabling the achievement of goals

Stages of Team Development in the Non-Profit Context

Team development evolves through five stages each with its special challenges as propounded by Tuckman (1975).

  • The first stage of team building is forming, which is the stage at which a group of people come together to accomplish a shared purpose.

  • Next is the storming stage, which comprises disagreements about mission, vision, and approaches. This is where team members start getting to know each other. This stage can be characterised by strained relationships and conflicts.

  • Then comes the norming stage where the team has consciously or unconsciously formed working relationships that enables progress towards the team’s objective.

  • The fourth is the performing stage in which relationships, team processes and team effectiveness in working on its objective sync to bring a successfully functioning team.

  • The final stage is the transforming stage where the team is performing well and the members feel they are part of a successful team. Team members reach the team’s mission and set new goals.

Challenges for Team Development in the Non-Profit Context

Investing Adequate Financial Resources

Many non-profit organisations identify a lack of ‘unrestricted’ funds as one of the main barriers to organisational learning and development. As it is difficult to raise funds for ‘non-programmatic’ work, organisational learning and development, a strong base for team development, is usually strapped for cash.

Creating a Space for Learning and Development

In many over-worked and under-resourced non-profit organisations, the most commonly identified unmet need concerning organisation learning and development is ‘creating the space for learning’ (Britton, 2015).

Studies on Team Effectiveness in Community-Based Development

Study 1: Yeboah-Antwi et al. Measuring teamwork and taskwork of community-based “teams” delivering life-saving health interventions in rural Zambia: a qualitative study. BMC Medical Research Methodology 2013 13:84.

A community-based project in rural Zambia founded in 2008 teamed community health workers and traditional birth attendants, supported by neighbourhood health committees, to provide essential new born and continuous curative care for children 0-59 months. This paper describes the process of developing a measure of teamwork for community-based health teams in rural Zambia.

This community-based project shows the feasibility and effectiveness of collaborating community health workers and traditional birth attendants to provide integrated community new-born care. The rationale for collaboration was to close the gap in the continuum of care and increase the likelihood of team effectiveness.

From group sessions and sorting sessions with three neighbourhood health committees and traditional birth attendants:

  • 17 factors identified by participants were considered relevant for measuring teamwork in the rural setting.

  • To explain team performance , 20 factors were identified and assigned into three sub-groups: personal, community-related and service-related.

  • Seventeen factors identified by participants were selected to measure team work.

  • These factors were further categorised as processes or dimensions of team-work and this constituted the team work construct.

processes and factors of teamwork
factors for measuring the determinants of teamwork

Study 2: Bidwell Simon & Ross Jean (2001) An International Literature Search and Review of Rural Teamwork and Teambuilding Centre for Rural Health : Christchurch, New Zealand.

This study investigates health care teamwork in a rural setting and the influence of a rural setting on the effectiveness of teamwork. It stresses the importance of inter-disciplinary teamwork in rural contexts, and argues that inter-disciplinary teamwork involves a greater sharing of goals, values and competencies. The study concludes that:

  • There is a need for inter-disciplinary teamwork in rural areas.

  • There should be broad and inter-sectoral memberships, including community organisations like law enforcement, local government, schools, community volunteers and so on.

  • Collaboration addresses the issues of scanty resources which hamper team performance.

  • Inter-disciplinary team training is effective in enhancing the performance of teams in rural contexts.

Strategies for Team Development in the Non-Profit Context

As the needs of non-profit organisations and the conditions of the community environment often vary, approaches to team development must be flexible and customised for each organisation's circumstances. A one-size-fits-all model is unlikely to yield effective results.

Team Development Philosophy

The first phase of effective team development is to design an appropriate team development philosophy. This demands an understanding of team development, types of teams, the purpose of teams and team development strategies (Jerry W. Gilley1, 2010).

A Clear Mission and Vision

A clear vision and mission statement of an organisation is a good starting point for assessing the capacity and needs of the organisation, and thus strategic planning. They not only affect the programmes and services offered by the organisation, but also influence the components of capacity building and team development strategies. For example, the vision and mission of an organisation will attract and retain leaders who share similar goals. Leaders in turn will influence the setting, maintenance or redirection of the mission (Vita & Fleming, 2001).


Resources are an essential and critical component of an effective team development strategy. Financial resources can affect the recruitment of human resources and acquisition of physical space which are vital aspects of team development. There should be consistent monitoring, evaluation and feedback to ensure that the organisation is getting the most from its scarce resources (Vita & Fleming, 2001).

Learning Before, During and After (LBDA) (Collison and Parcell, 2001)

The Learning Before, During and After (LBDA) model is a knowledge management method with an explicit learning purpose that can be applied to any activity. The main aim of LBDA is to avoid the reinvention of existing knowledge by creating knowledge ‘assets’ which can be accessed by anyone in the organisation.

  • Learning before is facilitated by a shared understanding of who knows by a process called “Peer Assist”, a meeting or workshop where people with experience and knowledge about an issue are invited to share that knowledge with the team facing a particular challenge.

  • Learning during is done by a system of after-action reviews (AARs), where the team is brought together after a specific event or a project to discuss what happened, why it happened and how to thrive on strengths and work on weaknesses.

  • Learning after captures the learning reviews resulting in the agreement of specific actionable recommendations (SARs). (Collison and Parcell, 2001)

Learning Workshops

Based on the learning review part of the LBDA model, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) UK established a formal way of capturing learning through learning workshops. Learning workshops have shown great success in capturing learning from time-limited cross-functional teams brought together for specific projects. Learning workshops are used as an alternative to formally writing up lessons learned from projects (Britton, 2015).

Communities of Practice

Communities of practice are working fellowships of individuals either within an organisation or across several organisations which are brought together by shared interests and tasks, such as community outreach, fundraising etc. Communities of practice come together to share know-how, improve the competencies of each member, develop and evaluate good practices, foster innovative ideas and support collaboration towards a common goal. They may meet face-to-face at regular intervals or virtually (Britton, 2015).

Action Learning

Action learning establishes mechanisms for using an action learning approach, and involves the creation of small groups of about 5-8 people. Members may be from the same organisation or several organisations, and groups may be self-managing or have a facilitator. Members work on a framework for learning and agree on the number of meetings, where, for how long, etc. They also decide on how to evaluate progress. Members meet to discuss issues or problems that each individual is experiencing at work. Groups members begin by establishing ground rules, shaping perceptions about the issue, supporting members and reviewing progress (Britton, 2015).

Learning Teams

A popular strategy, particularly in large NGOs, is to establish smaller learning and development teams to coordinate and support learning across the organisation. The learning and development team leader will oversee the organisation's processes for assessment, learning from, and improving the organisation’s programme activities. In small organisations that cannot invest in a specific learning and development team, organisational learning is often allocated to an individual programme learning adviser. In very small organisations, an individual with other responsibilities may be expected to lead organisational learning (Britton, 2015).

Creating Space for Learning

Everyone needs a space to reflect on their work and get exposure to new ideas. Space for learning can be understood in two ways. Firstly, space is needed for both individual and collective learning. Secondly, space is needed for both formal and informal learning. Space for learning may be provided formally through human resources like induction, supervision, appraisal, individual mentoring arrangements and knowledge exchange. Space for group learning can be created with trainings, workshops, conferences, and meetings. Informal learning space can be created by introducing no-travel time, home weeks, reflection- time, providing physical space for informal networking, discussion forums, newsletters, and intranets. Many non-profit organisations have identified the importance of learning spaces and have identified places and times in the organisation’s calendar and management processes where learning can have the greatest impact (Britton, 2015).

Create Smart Goals

Smart goals are the new mantra of team development and effectiveness. Goals should be shared, specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely. Effective goals inspire the team to action by giving them intrinsic motivation to complete their tasks. All expectations must be clearly stated and understood by team members. Team members should support the creation of specific team goals. Carr (1992) affirms that team goals should be specific enough to give the team clear directions, and that goals should state the ends, rather than the means. This gives teams the freedom to work out how best to achieve their goals (Martin, 2019).

Team Bonding

Teams are more likely to develop and perform well when the team works in cohesion. This is because good teamwork creates synergy – where the combined effect of the team is greater than the sum of individual efforts. Working well together as a team can create a space for individual perspectives, diverse ideas and experiences, skills to solve complex problems and strategies that may go beyond the scope of any one individual. Team bonding can be facilitated through team outings, social calendars, celebrating personal and team achievements, personal milestones, special days and team lunches, etc.

Effective Leadership

All teams need a capable, fair and visionary leader who can manage internal and external relations and orient teams towards their goals. Teams need a quality leader to assist team members when problems and conflicts occur (Levi, 2007). A progressive leader should work towards creating organisational environments that trigger growth, performance and development. A good leader should create a culture of trust, support and safety and, by doing so, one can minimise ‘social loafing’, which is present when individuals avoid or contribute less than their optimal effort (Gibson, 2009; Vita & Fleming, 2001).

Collaborative Culture

Dysfunctional teams exist within a dysfunctional culture. High performing teams are quite the opposite: the leader is more a facilitator than a controller. Provide necessary collaborative tools for the team to make decisions, solve problems and create a plan. By removing himself or herself as the decision-maker, the leader creates the foundation for a highly functional, high-performing team (Martin, 2019).


Feedback should be fair, objective, progressive and rewarding. Good work and performance should be appreciated and rewarded. There should be established procedures for rewards like awards, letters of appreciations, and certificates as it is important to make team members feel valued and appreciated to boost performance and achievement. Establish clear channels of communication. Give team members the opportunity to express their views and ideas, and establish methods for feedback, such as periodic feedback sessions for individuals and the team.


Developing an effective team involves effort, time, planning, resources and impactful strategy. It requires nurturing, mentoring, coaching and facilitating. Done correctly, one can create a team that becomes an asset to the organisation. Great teams can attract and retain the right people and individuals who can go on to become great leaders. This is essential for non-profit organisations to thrive and succeed in the long run.


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BIDWELL Simon & ROSS Jean (2001) An International Literature Search and Review of Rural Teamwork and Teambuilding Centre for Rural Health : Christchurch, New Zealand.

Britton, B. (2005). Organisational Learning in NGOs: Creating the Motive, Means and Opportunity [Ebook]. The international NGO Training and Research Centre.

De Vite, C., & Fleming, C. (2001). Building Capacity in Non Profit organizations [Ebook]. The Urban Institute.

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Yeboah-Antwi et al.: Measuring teamwork and taskwork of community-based “teams” delivering life-saving health interventions in rural Zambia: a qualitative study. BMC Medical Research Methodology 2013 13:84.


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