Effective Non-Profit Interdepartmental Partnering (829 words)

Ed Rigsbee, top speaker on Membership Growth

Developing Strategic Alliances

Divisive in the world of non-profits are the employee and executive adverse reactions to anything entrepreneurial. This operating philosophy must be buried with the other relics of the Twentieth Century if Twenty-First Century non-profits are to thrive. The natural outcropping of this (should be) dead paradigm is silo mentality.

Are you having challenges with internal departments unwilling to collaborate? Do you believe this lack of cooperation is costing your organization time, resources, and money? Here is an idea that I’m sure will serve all leaders of today’s non-profits: put your suspected “Lords of Lesser Corners” under the microscope and call them out—privately, of course.

Do you have “Lords of Lesser Corners” in your organization? Be honest now…I’m not trying to be mean however, let’s call things by their proper name. These “Lords” are persons with some amount of authority but are emotionally small people. They are in constant fear of their jobs and area of influence. They lead by Draconian methodology. Their standard method of operation is protectionism. They live their non-profit organizational lives in constant fear and other erroneous beliefs.

Are these “Lords” bad people? Generally not, but they have a huge need for updated education in organizational success and personal success. “Lords of Lesser Corners” can be identified by their unwillingness to change, progress, and embrace new opportunities.

Exploring the Cost of Devastation

The disarray these Lords bestow upon your organization is omnipresent. The protectionism is so insidiously woven into the fabric of their silo’s culture that it is like a cancer in need of chemotherapy. Are you dealing with these challenges?

  • The very bright talent leaves.
  • The deadwood lingers.
  • The bottlenecks are everywhere.
  • Interdepartmental relationships are severed.
  • Interdepartmental sabotage is rampant.
  • Internal customer deadlines are ignored.
  • The organization is completely constipated.

What’s a Chief Staff Executive to Do?

Before you can scan the landscape, you first have to take off the blinders and be completely honest about your situation. You can no longer play ostrich with you’re your head in the sand. Take a close look at your “Lords of Lesser Corners” and explore this question deeply, “Do they add any value to the organization?” Consider the following:

  • Do they possess a talent so specialized that they are impossible to replace?
  • Are they so loved by large segments of your membership that their departure would cause a retention problem?
  • Are you so understaffed that you are willing to retain those that impede?
  • Is it just too much trouble to make a change?
  • Are they a family member?
  • Are they blackmailing you?
  • Do you have the will to lead well?

Strategy for Successful Retention

  • Re-educate the “Lord” as to your expectations of how they operate in the organization. This is the best option. If you can help your Lords to better understand their place in the greater scheme of things, they might consider a behavior change. For internal partnering to be successful, every manager/director must understand how their department’s behavior, performance, and cooperation affect all the other departments and ultimately, the members’ experience.
  • Re-organize your company’s silos and relocate the “Lord” in a section where they will do less damage through their provincial thinking. This is the easiest path but least effective. Your “Lords,” if not re-educated, can and will still spread their darkness.
  • Realize you, the Chief Staff Executive, might be part of the problem for allowing the isolative behavior to continue. You may not realize it but through your non-action, you have been rewarding the behavior you do not want. Ultimately, whatever happens in your organization generally emanates from your management style and behavior.
  • Adjust your departmental director review process to also include their accountability for the whole organization’s effectiveness and success in serving members.

Tools, Skills & Motivation

Relationship management tools will be at the foundation for improvement in interdepartmental partnering. One effective tool is to associate salary, bonus, or incentive pay for managers and department directors with interdepartmental relationship improvement. You can use a number of 360-style measuring instruments—an application you might already own—for measuring improvement. Connect pay to improvement and you’ll be pleased with the results.

An additional collaboration tool is to develop a staff committee (a representative from every department) of “Interdepartmental Collaboration,” answering directly to the Chief Staff Executive. I use the term collaboration as it conjures a different and more beneficial vision in the minds of most, from that of cooperation. This committee will be charged with, and rewarded for, the quality of interdepartmental collaboration.

While it is completely true that the Chief Staff Executive sets the culture for any non-profit—this person cannot be everywhere all the time. Your collaboration committee might just save the careers of your “Lords of Lesser Corners” by helping the “Lords” to better understand how they can contribute to the success of your organization as a whole, and not just their department.

The key to safeguarding your organization’s future…is to research, embrace, and maximize…your member ROI.