Do you know this feeling of things (people!) moving too slow? That you ask yourself, why can’t the team finish this task in a week? What are they doing with their time? Are they serious enough? Are you concerned about productivity of your nonprofit team? Here are some things to look at.


Reality check

Before we dive further into what you can look at, take a moment to look at yourself. Maybe you are measuring your team against yourself and your standards. While perhaps your team is younger and has less experience than you. Or perhaps the environment in which the work is done has changed more than you are aware of since you did these things yourself. Or maybe you are not seeing everything. Perhaps the issue is not productivity but visibility. Or maybe they are productive, and you are seeing it, but you feel they are not prioritizing correctly.


Look at yourself first and see if you can find the starting point of where your expectations and the team member’s delivery might diverge.



Now, let’s look at different expectations that might be at play. And where they may be written down and explicitly agreed on. If you find that any of those documents is missing or perhaps not clear enough, start by working with the team on improving or creating these documents.


for the job

Your team may consist of paid staff or volunteers. Whatever the case may be, you will need to be clear on expectations on both sides.


A job description forms the starting point: what is the role about? What does the position bring to the organization? What are the main areas of work and related responsibilities and results? What experience and knowledge do you expect the person to bring? All this is laid out in a job description which is shared in your recruitment process and helps you find the best suited individual for the role.


Responsibilities you expect volunteers to carry may be different from what you would expect from a paid staff member. So, the content of a volunteer ‘job’ description may be lighter in a way. But you still need to have a description of the responsibilities and results for your volunteer.


around the team member

In the recruitment process you can create a common understanding of the job description. And you can work out further details of expectations in the contract stipulations. This can include specific expectations (wishes) by the new team member, too. Don’t forget that expectations are a two-way street!


for all team members

You refer to your personnel guide and code of conduct in the contract, so that these more general expectations of all team members are part of the individual agreement, too. These documents include expectations around working hours, how to take leave and behaviour in the office. But also on how each team member upholds the organization’s values.



So these things are the basics you should have in place to be able to monitor and assess individual performance (see my article on performance assessment in your nonprofit here) against the agreed responsibilities and results, general rules in the organization and general principles as outlined in the code of conduct.


But what about today?

One of the downsides of traditional performance assessment once or twice per year is that they are so rare. A lot happens in between these conversations, and it is much better to address that on the spot, whether for a compliment or a tip. (See also: my article on performance assessment in your nonprofit here)


Know what everyone is working on and doing

To give hands on, in the right moment feedback, you must be aware what your team members are working on and doing right now. And you must have an idea of how that is going, too. How they are moving towards set targets and results.


One way of being more on top of things is having regular talks with individual team members. The big downside is, in my view, that these one-on-ones seem to make the monitoring the responsibility of the team manager. Whereas in my view the manager should be there in case someone needs help (or a compliment), but not as the day-to-day watchman/woman.


Make it a team responsibility

My recommendation is to make planning and monitoring progress a team responsibility. Let the team create a timeline for completing certain tasks and achieving specific results and impact toward the overall goals that are set by the project or the organization. Let the team decide how they will keep track of progress. And let them help each other out in case of setbacks. (And, very important also: let them plan celebrations!)


Once they have made the team’s plan you can review it and comment if something crucial is missing. But make sure you don’t take over ownership of the plan!


Wall of achievement

One of the tools you can offer the team is a wall. That can be a physical wall in your office if you have one and if everyone is based there. It could also be an online wall on Miro, Padlet or similar. (Or you can have a physical and a virtual wall, if you work in part remote or are based in different locations)


Three focus areas for one week

Ask everyone to write down three main focus areas for the week on different paper cards. What will they achieve this week? Let them post that on the wall.

Once everyone is done, the team can check that everything that is needed for achieving the overall timeline goals for the week is there.

If not, the team can discuss what to add to whose plate and which of this persons’ original cards to take out (so that no one has more than three focus areas for one week – remember, answering emails may not be a focus area but may still take up time).


What does the wall look like?

Your wall needs to have the following columns:

  • Focus areas to do
  • Focus areas underway
  • Focus areas success
  • Focus areas lessons learned (success factors and tips)


How to use the wall during the week

Team members will move their cards to Underway or Success as applicable during the week. For the fourth column new cards can be written as needed. In case a focus area is not yet successful the card stays at Underway.


How to close the loop on the past week

Plan time to reflect together right at the end of the week, for instance on Thursday afternoon or Friday afternoon, depending on when your weekend starts.


Discuss the overall picture and location of each card. Identify what is needed to move cards from Underway to Success. Try to understand about why that could not be done within the week.


How to open a loop to a new week

Straight after this session, ask the team members to write their cards for the next week. This is a real closure of the week together and also allows for a focused and intentional start right after the weekend.


At the same time, this practice will put responsibility where it belongs – with the team. And you will get better insight into how your team members prioritize their to do’s and how effective and efficient they work.


Reality check – II

It may seem to you that some team members could have done more. But maybe through the look-back on the wall you learn about some setbacks or dependencies that made it hard for one person to complete their tasks in the week.


Please note

The Wall of achievement requires a basic level of trust in your team. If you do not have that, I recommend not using this method.


My key tips

  • Check if your expectations are realistic (self-check).
  • Check if you have made your expectations explicit in documents that new team members have signed.
  • Let the team be the owner of the plans and of the monitoring.
  • Making prioritization and planning – as well as progress – visible for everyone will help foster accountability within the team. And it will also help the team find out where bottlenecks are.


Want to know more and ask questions?

If you want to discuss this more – jump into the Facebook group and get input from a wide range of peers and from myself!

Here is how you can join my free Facebook group

You can join my free Facebook group how to become a professional and resilient nonprofit with Suzanne Bakker here. This group is a safe space for open exchange and discussion on potentially sensitive topics like boards, nonprofit management, fundraising, etc.