This is a guest blog by Yasmin Glover, who runs The Olive Training and Consultancy and is a fellow member of the Small Charity Friendly Collective. Yasmin supports small charities and social enterprises to become more efficient, purpose-driven, and impactful.
"Internal comms" can often be brushed aside as something only relevant to bigger organisations - or at least, those with enough capacity to dedicate to it. But with increasing demands on our small teams, we can’t afford not to keep them engaged, supported, and working as efficiently as possible.
Remote and hybrid working models have become the norm for many organisations, and whilst they can offer so many positives - among them, more work-life balance for some, greater inclusion, and more flexibility - they often present additional challenges for team dynamics. However, if we are able to address the teething issues experienced during this transition, we can integrate greater choice and options for our people, and remain competitive as these considerations are increasingly front-of-mind for existing and prospective team members.
In this blog, we’ll explore some of the difficulties in creating and maintaining internal cohesion alongside remote working, why it’s important that we persevere, and some practical, tangible tips for how to go about this vital task.
"My organisation feels increasingly fragmented. Why is it so hard for us to feel like one team?"
Spontaneous and chance opportunities for connection and sharing no longer pepper the everyday, and some of us may never even have met our colleagues in person. In a sector which champions community, this distance and lack of personal interaction can feel very jarring. Measures to support staff through the cost of living crisis (such as increased working from home, and flexible hours to enable travel and childcare savings) may exacerbate this phenomenon (but could also present opportunities to overcome - more on that later!).
Increased demand on our services due to national and international pressures can lead to feelings of guilt or conflict when even considering dedicating resource to anything other than direct beneficiary work. This can lead to the training, development, and cohesion of our staff teams being neglected, at the very time they are needed most.
This exceptional demand also results in teams becoming more and more stretched, diminishing the time we are willing to allocate to team building.
Such pressures on time and capacity, as well as the dramatic shifts in ways of working, make it really hard to prioritise internal dynamics.
Why prioritising your team is necessary to delivering for your beneficiaries
In a recent survey by Agenda Consulting and Charities HR Network Group, a third of respondents reported a challenge with maintaining levels of collaboration in their current balance of office and home working, with difficulties connecting within and across teams and increasing silo working.
In a sector which has often struggled with the effects of silo working, if left unattended, remote working threatens to further entrench unhelpful practices. Teams that are at risk of burnout, and unable to work together to find the most effective and sustainable ways to support beneficiaries, are not going to be delivering the highest quality services possible. United, supported teams are.
Prioritising internal development will, therefore:
"We don’t have a lot of resource or time to invest in this. Where can we start?"
1. Acknowledge the problem, and ask for input
Nobody is expecting you to have all the answers, or for the transition to be without hiccups. Many organisations introduced remote and hybrid working as a necessity, and adapted based on immediate circumstances. Making a choice to continue with this approach long-term has more consequences for working practices and organisational culture, and there are lots of different aspects to consider in making it work for the whole team.
As a leader, acknowledging this difficulty with your team and inviting their input may help to ease the tension - they’ll already know what’s not working, and working towards solutions together will help to show they are trusted, and will already start to bring you together.
As a team member, being able to share your own needs in a constructive way with ideas or suggestions will help to fill in the gaps around what is missing in the new model, and get the ball rolling on ways to address these gaps.
You could vote on ideas for connection, and trial the top three as suggested by your team.
Ideas for social connection include:
Ideas for collaboration include:
2. Prioritise and model relationship building practices
Seeing these behaviours modelled at all levels of the organisation signals the acceptability of making time for each other as individuals, and helps to embed them into the organisational culture.
Building relationships with each other so that we connect as people, not just as our roles, can help us to understand each other and work more collaboratively - utilising people’s expertise and tailoring our approaches to them. We mentioned earlier that some measures to support staff through the cost of living crisis may exacerbate the challenges, however others, such as car sharing, or bring-and-share lunches, may actually help.
Other ideas include:
3. Agree clear protocols and expectations
With any change, sharing information and reasoning as much and as early as possible is key, as well as establishing clear processes to support the changes, and clear lines of communication for anyone who is struggling with any aspect. Sharing your hopes and expectations around hybrid working, as well as the challenges you expect to face and reassurances for dealing with them, is a good first step in supporting your team.
On a more day-to-day level, consider everyone’s different communication preferences and assumptions, and different demands on their roles. Some people just want to email, while others are delivering in community settings with rare opportunities to check their emails.
Agree and commit to ways of communicating in different situations to reduce this tension. For example:
"If we need an answer same-day, we will call, leaving a message if they don’t answer, and we will respond to/return phone calls on the same day. If it’s less urgent, we will email with a clear action and deadline, and we agree to check our inboxes at least once a day so we don’t miss things’"
With so many demands on small charities at the moment, it’s easy to understand the overwhelm and ‘firefighting mode’ that many organisations are dealing with. We want to do the best and the most we can for beneficiaries, while juggling our own pressured lives.
Stepping out of the urgency to put in place systems and practices across our team(s) can feel like an indulgence or an impossibility, but is necessary to building effective, sustainable organisations.
When we remember and make time to see each other as people, not just ‘enablers’ to our current task or answers to our problems, we open ourselves up to greater opportunities and ways of working - improving the lives of our own team members, and strengthening our offer to beneficiaries.
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