January 10, 2018

Building Best-in-Class Executive Teams in the Nonprofit Sector

This research project conducted by The Bridgespan Group aims to close the knowledge gap in what it takes to build an effective nonprofit executive team.

Running a nonprofit organization is a team sport. Even an all-star CEO or ED can't succeed by him or herself any more than an all-star basketball player can win with teammates watching from the sidelines. In our work with hundreds of nonprofits, we have seen how executive teams can make or break an organization.

Despite this reality, the sector faces a knowledge gap around nonprofit executive teams. Leadership consultants and literature in the for-profit sector have long offered insights into what makes an effective executive team, but this thinking hasn't been translated into the nonprofit context, with our different economics, ethos, and "bottom line" of impact. Instead, the nonprofit sector has focused on developing and supporting individual senior leaders—a critical activity to be sure but not sufficient for optimal organizational improvement.

Our latest project—the Executive Team Diagnostic—aims to address this gap. The diagnostic can help you pinpoint areas for improvement and more deeply explore what it takes to be an effective nonprofit executive team.

The diagnostic is built on our work, which revealed three key attributes that contribute to being an effective nonprofit executive team:

  • Clarity on the executive team's roles, responsibilities, and composition
  • Good working dynamic within the executive team
  • Capable CEO/ED leadership of the executive team

In addition to learning more about your own organization, taking this 10-minute diagnostic also will help us advance our own insights. Questions we're tackling include: How should a nonprofit executive team think about its key responsibilities? Who should sit on the executive team, and when is a broader "leadership team" needed as a complement? How should values such as equity and passion for mission inform the way executive teams run meetings, resolve conflict, make decisions, and communicate internally?

We'll keep you up to date with future blogs and articles as we answer each of these questions. Ultimately, we plan to build a comprehensive understanding of what makes executive teams effective in the nonprofit sector and to develop tools, templates, and guidance to help nonprofit executive teams reach their highest levels of performance.

In the meantime, we encourage you to take the Executive Team Diagnostic to build an agenda for strengthening your team this year. You can also reach out to leadership@bridgespan.org any time to share stories or questions about executive teams. How are you working to improve your executive team? Where have you been successful? What challenges lie ahead?


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