Dismantling a “Put Your Head Down and Get it Done” Mindset
How CRC staff went from feeling overburdened and isolated to supported and connected.
The Community Resource Center had unintentionally fostered a “put your head down and get it done” work environment in which staff consistently took on more work/projects than they could address. Staff didn’t feel comfortable sharing workloads or going to others for help. They found that their personal wellness and ability to build strong relationships were suffering as a result.
Thinking with SEE
The Community Resource Center realized that an environment where staff pushed themselves too hard not only reduced staff’s individual effectiveness by consuming their energy and generating stress, but also made the organization less efficient as a whole. In addition, they realized that a culture that led to isolation from others often obscured one’s work from the larger organizational goals; people lost track of how their participation and commitment were contributing overall, and thus lost the SEE tenet ofmeaningful action.
The Small Experiment
CRC created six working groups with 5-6 people on each. Each group had full-time staff, board members, and junior employees, all from different programs in the nonprofit in order to mix backgrounds, capabilities, and project interests. Some examples of the committees’ purposes (which evolved over the first year after feedback) are inclusivity, marketing, tech & training, and fun. The working groups meet once a month, and they occasionally rotate who sits on which committee to encourage variety.
Community Resource Center found the working groups to be very successful and an effective strategy to help staff weigh their priorities. Being a part of a working group made staff feel more comfortable voicing when they needed help or were over-stretched and increased their effectiveness. Due to the participatory nature, they also improved meaningful action by creating a space to share ideas, acknowledge contributions, and remind one another of the nonprofit’s goals. Groups supported open communication, knocked down barriers between employees, and made room for fun time. Overall, CRC found they had increased their adaptability as a team, created new connections, and improved resiliency.
Experiment for Yourself
Ask staff members where they feel most stretched; why they take on new projects; if they feel comfortable reaching out to others for help; and where they face the most confusion. Use this information to address ways to prevent staff from feeling pressured into taking on new projects and to create interventions (such as working groups, casual meetings, or anything suited to your organization) that will break down the barriers between staff. By making the work environment more open and caring about staff wellness, such interventions accomplish much more than simply discussing prioritization. They foster a shared understanding of ways to balance work, life, and wellness at the office; this increased well-being will in itself improve people’s ability to prioritize.