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BD Giving Notes #6 – The ups and downs of building a great team

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A coach once told me that if you have a well-functioning team – by which he meant a group of individuals who not only excel at their job but also work really well together – you should make the most of it because they never last. While the stakes are definitely pretty high if you run a company of thousands of employees, which he was, last week I reflected that the same rule also applies to micro structures like BD Giving.

The months after we received our first large grant and contemplated increasing the size of the team were exhilarating. In addition to our grant making activities, we now had the funding we needed to expand our operations to start engaging a wider array of individuals and organisations, and support collaboration and partnerships across Barking and Dagenham’s social sector. It was fantastic to see the staff enthusiastically collaborating and taking initiatives without me having a direct hand in it and I thought proudly of the journey that we had achieved since the launch of BD Giving, in May 2020.

We were growing and, although we were limited by the funding available, I didn’t think too much about what our natural ‘ceiling’ was. I had this somewhat naive ambition that once someone was in, they would stay with BD Giving, enthused by a fun and flexible work environment and an attractive package.

Of course that turned out to be a fallacy. Employee churn began pretty much as soon as our team grew past five employees. New job opportunities, life events, and other circumstances meant that staff has come and gone just as anywhere else. In fact, our team growth has looked a lot more like a sound wave, with highs and lows, than a linear, let alone exponential growth. And just as my coach suggested, moments where things seemed to be flowing and the team excelled together had a lifespan, and did eventually come to a natural end. And when it did it was down to those remaining in post to pick up things where they had been left off and carry on with the work!

As a Manager I have always seen it as my duty to recruit a diverse team with the right expertise and strong collaboration skills. In my experience running BD Giving, I have come to realise that optimism, grit and unabated curiosity to learn new things are just as important as expertise and/or experience. Just like startups, small charities are inherently agile and staff spends a great deal of time having to deal with situations they have not been trained for, with relatively scarce resources.

I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by such talented collaborators so far and, as we are about to fill in two new positions (Fundraising Officer and Content and Communications Officer), I can’t wait to see how they will affect the dynamics of the team… while it lasts!

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