Picture the people on your work team. Does this sound familiar?

Mike likes to organize office lunch outings, but Sue would rather skip lunch to finish her work early—which gets her labeled a snob. Mary doesn’t give much feedback in meetings because she doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, while Tom is always brutally honest.

Teams are inherently dysfunctional, but we don’t have to accept this. By applying Both/And thinking to some of the most common tensions teams face, you can build a fundraising staff that’s all-in on fulfilling your mission.  

When Tension Is a Good Thing

We each bring various experiences and expectations to work with us. And many times, we bump heads with our teammates as a result. These aren’t either/or situations; they’re an opportunity for Both/And thinking.

When you have tension, you often have two things that feel like opposites. Both/And thinking look at how you can expand one with the other.

When you see tension building in your team, flip the script and look at it through a Both/And lens. The five tensions we’re focusing on here come from Tim Arnold’s new book, Next-Level Teamwork: The 5 Tensions to Manage for High-Performance Teams

1. Building Trust: Tasks vs. Relationships

To foster trust, you must find the balance between focusing on tasks and nurturing relationships. It takes both — your team members must trust that they are doing good work and that their teammates are fully engaged and committed.

First, the task focus. Each person on your team needs to answer these questions:

  1. What is my piece in this puzzle, and do I have what I need to deliver on that?
  2. Do I believe that my teammates are committed to delivering on their pieces?
  3. At any time, can we assess whether we’re winning or losing?

Now, nurturing relationships doesn’t mean ropes courses and trust falls. It’s about getting to know each other beyond job descriptions.

  • Start meetings with a small icebreaker, like a simple question to answer. The rest of the meeting will be more effective.
  • Have a weekly “Share the Love” session where team members recognize each other for their work.
  • If your team is hybrid or remote, try to bring everyone together in person once or twice a year.

 2. Increasing Engagement: Structure vs. Flexibility

We expect more flexibility than ever in how, when, and where we work. But we still have to make the non-negotiables — the structure — in our organization clear so team members approach their job with the proper expectations.

Try this activity: Ask a series of questions about office operations. Team members should answer yes or no. Questions might include:

  • Is it okay to be 10 minutes late to work if I make up the time at the end of the day?
  • Is it okay to text a team member after work with a work question?
  • Is it okay to copy all relevant team members on emails to a top donor?

You might be surprised at how responses vary. You’ll see clearly where you need structure and where you can be more flexible.

Striking a good balance means you can leverage each person’s skill set, learning style, and unique approach. At the same time, employees will see just how they fit into your organization’s structure, which encourages them to engage more.

3. Having Conversations: Truth vs. Tact

Communication is essential in teamwork. Truly effective communication is both truthful and tactful.

Truthful means team members have the psychological safety to be candid and honest with each other. They don’t feel the need to edit their thoughts. However, embracing truth and candor isn’t a free pass to be hurtful.

By neglecting tact, your teammates will feel defensive, embarrassed, or ashamed. But tact without truth is extreme politeness. You’ll fail to deliver much-needed feedback.

You must be both fully truthful and fully tactful. These tips can help:

  • Consider the costs: By speaking up, you may hurt a coworker’s feelings. But by not speaking up, the nonprofit doesn’t get your full value.
  • Anticipate some discomfort: Your heart may start pounding, and you may feel anxious. But knowing what to expect can help you get through it.
  • Make space for others: Discipline yourself to let someone else be the first and last person to speak in a meeting.
  • Ask open questions: For instance, don’t ask if someone agrees with you. Instead, ask what their take is or what concerns they have.

 4. Aligning Your Team: Collaboration vs. Independence

During the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations shifted toward more independent work. And while that has been a largely positive experience, we’re now seeing that teams are missing out on the energy that comes with collaboration. We need both, but it must be in a balance that’s right for your specific team.

Consider sports teams:

  • On a relay team, everyone has their role. It’s a lot of independent work with little collaboration beyond the baton handoff.
  • Hockey teams are constantly in collaboration. Individuals may have bouts of independence when controlling the puck, but the entire team is in this together.
  • Each member of a gymnastics team competes against each other and works toward individual goals. But they’re also working toward a win for their team overall.

Again, the type of team that you are in will dictate how much collaboration and independent work you need.

5. Unleashing Ownership: Empowerment vs. Accountability

If you want team members to be fully engaged, you must empower them. They need a sense of purpose, so give them work that they enjoy, are good at, and can own. Of course, empowerment only works with accountability.

Accountability means that you’re responsible, but it’s also a relationship. A leader who’s empowering their team members should pay attention to the learning styles and factors that drive each person’s success. Then, in the name of accountability, the leader should give encouragement, praise, and constructive criticism. As a result, you have employees who are fully engaged because they have a sense of mastery and autonomy.

It’s important to remember that training and development are not micromanagement. As a leader, you are responsible and ensure that you and your team members approach your work with clear expectations.

Don’t Shy Away from Tension — Embrace It

No team is perfect, and mastering the Both/And aspects of these five tensions takes consistent work. The good news is that your work can begin now.

Again, think of your team, but now with these tensions in mind. What are some simple but deliberate steps you can take to ensure you’re all moving in the same direction? By harnessing the power of Both/And thinking and embracing tension within your team, you can take your fundraising efforts to new heights.

Tim Arnold’s new book, Next-Level Teamwork: The 5 Tensions to Manage for High-Performance Teams, is available on Amazon or at timarnold.ca/books. You can also connect with Arnold at timarnold.ca or leadersforleaders.ca.

This article is based on an episode of the Go Beyond Fundraising podcast hosted by Pursuant. Listen to the full episode now. For more about Tim Arnold, check out this article and our previous conversation with him.

Take your fundraising to new heights.