What makes a great team? Lessons from an unusual source

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My work as a strategic consultant and team coach takes me into many organizations working with leadership and operational teams. I have worked in global banks, the health and education sectors, hi-tech industry, the retail and manufacturing sector across the globe.   I have coached hi-performing and low performing teams and truly dysfunctional teams. However on a recent project I discovered a truly exceptional team.

A Hospice Fund Raising Team Fundraising for a hospice is a strange task; How do you motivate people to give to something many of us do not want to think about? I asked the Team Leader Kevin these questions who laughed and said “ “Relentlessly raising large sums of money for an organisation that specialises in death and dying. Hardly the next Virgin TV commercial is it?” The key message when fundraising for a Hospice is to emphasise compassion and caring at the most vulnerable time, the end of our life. As we all know someone close who has died, this message is well received.   The real challenge this Hospice teams faces are the contradictory and polarity of emotional states they need to be in. To be a fundraiser you need extrovert and creative hi-energy, Fundraising teams like sales teams generally, operate in the basic assumption of Fight-flight (Bion 1961).   This means that they operate with a fight to win mentality, they have to meet targets, and be better than competing charities. When they get a large donation or hit a target, its high fives, they feel good. Most fundraising and sales teams work in fight-flight mode all the time, however in the Hospice team they have to do something that is really difficult, and switch off fight-flight mode to also show compassion, caring and real sensitivity, as they are constantly dealing with relatives who have recently lost someone very close. Kevin tells another story:

I remember my first day working for St Nicholas Hospice Care well. A two week induction timetable had been handed to me to spend time with the various departments to learn more about the care we provide, and the needs we face together. Half way through the day, I was asked to go to reception to handle a donation. As I approached the reception desk, there was a middle aged man clutching a plastic supermarket carrier bag with what looked like an A4 frame in it. We shook hands, he introduced himself as Bill, and off we went into a small quiet room to talk. Bill’s wife had died on our inpatient unit the previous week, and he had come in to hand over the in memory donations to us from her funeral. After handing me the donations, Bill opened the carrier bag and showed me a beautiful A4 framed picture of his wife on their wedding day. The lady in the photo looked like a 1950’s film star in a stunning black and white picture. Bill beamed with pride as he showed it to me, and then began to cry quite uncontrollably.   Although I’d experienced emotional situations before in my fundraising career, for some reason this really got me. Perhaps it was because I (or maybe more accurately, my wife) was planning our own wedding at the time. I could relate to the huge sense of loss this must have been for Bill, and how he would face life without his wife. I also felt the warmth and gratitude Bill had for the part the hospice played in helping his wife die with dignity.

I met with the whole fundraising team to facilitate a session to give them space to reflect on their work. I was really impressed by their emotional maturity and emotional intelligence. They were constantly moved to tears by the experience of receiving donations from loved ones left behind. They talked to large groups about the work of the hospice and their fundraising activities knowing that they had to be upbeat to raise funds, but totally sensitive to the audience whom death would be very close. This team was energetic, very creative, hugely successful raising 70% of the hospice budget year upon year. I asked them how they dealt with the sadness and pain they soaked up in their day to day work and they revealed how they were constantly supporting each other, laughing together and being sensitive and supporting each other when it got tough. This team was special, dynamic and sensitive, they experienced on a daily basis through feedback and tears the good work the hospice did, and this energised them.

Leadership Lessons I worked with Kevin and his team to summarise their strengths, and these key areas below are lessons for all team leaders.

  • Camaraderie. Each team member has an individual target to achieve, but they huddle together to reach the wider goals truly working as one team
  • Creativity. It isn’t all about tombola’s and summer fetes, although they still have their place. Digital media, innovative and quirky events tailored for specific audiences, regular interaction with supporters is crucial to inspire a community to keep on giving.
  • Autonomy. The team has the ability to make choices without being controlled heavily. Minimum red tape.
  • Empathy. We aren’t all about the money. I get referred to as the Head of Sales by the personnel director, but there aren’t many sales people I know that reduce people to tears when they make a sale.
  • Connected to the wider mission

It’s a complicated role to juggle, fundraisers are the face of the organisation, ambassadors, and often signposting people to family support services; counselling, bereavement courses for children, clinical expertise, community nursing, day therapy. An understanding and deeper appreciation of these services is essential…as well as the knack of being able to raise a serious amount of money.

Coaching Lessons I have coached and consulted to this Hospice for two years, working with the Nurses, Drs, managers and support workers. The fundraising team is an inspiration that other teams can learn from, and when coaching team leaders myself, I focus on their clarity of purpose, how they live the values, and look for the ability to be open and share emotional challenges and celebrate success. This Fundraising team excels in all of these areas.

To donate to St Nicholas Hospice Care contact Kevin at Kevin.clements@stnh.org.uk or Tel: 01284 715595