Study Shows Executive Teams Barely Communicating

October 31, 2018       NPT Staff      

Fewer than one out of five nonprofit executives strongly agree that their executive teams focus on the right work, according to a new report from The Bridgespan Group, and only one-quarter strongly agree that their CEO effectively addresses team dynamics and performance challenges.

Only 17 percent strongly agreed that they had effective meetings and barely 1 in 10 (11 percent) indicated that their executive team communicated well with the rest of the organization, according to results from “Increasing Nonprofit Executive Team Effectiveness.” The results, published by Stanford Social Innovation Review, draw on a diagnostic survey of more than 360 nonprofit executive team respondents, more than five dozen interviews with nonprofit CEOs, coaches and consultants, and Bridgespan’s nearly 20 years of experience working with nonprofits.

Some 36 percent of survey respondents strongly agreed that their executive team members work well together. Interviews with coaches and consultants suggested that many teams underinvest in developing a productive work dynamic, expecting this to happen without intentional effort, according to the report.

CEOs who were most successful in managing executive teams set expectations and defined the team’s work, steered meeting agendas, and supported team members to grow while holding them accountable for performance. CEOs who rated their teams as highly effective structured them in a way that kept the teams at a manageable size while ensuring they were “comprised of people with the necessary perspectives, competencies, and diversity.”

The research reveals that most nonprofits falter when it comes to executive team effectiveness, characterized by productive group interactions, clarity of the team’s role, and capable CEO leadership, said Henry Barmeir, Bridgespan manager and co-author of the report.

From the research, Bridgespan created a sequence of five steps, formulated as questions, that executive teams can implement as a guide to increase their overall effectiveness:

  • Is the CEO effectively managing the executive team?
  • Is the executive team focused on the most important work?
  • Does executive team composition support its ability to do the work
  • Do meeting and communication processes support superior decision and execution?
  • Does the team’s dynamic foster the right conversations and results?

“Executive teams play a critical role in shaping organization-wide decisions and share responsibility for the organization’s results,” Bridgespan partner and co-author Libbie Landles-Cobb said. “Yet we’ve seen surprisingly little research into how effective nonprofit executive teams are today, and what can be done to increase effectiveness. Our study attempts to address this gap,” she said.

For the three-quarters of respondents that did not rate their executive team as highly effective: “Imagine the productivity boost for your organization, and you personally, if the team advanced from good to great,” Kirk Kramer, head of Bridgespan’s leadership practice and co-author of the paper, said via a press release announcing the survey results.

  • Henry Barmeir
  • Increasing Nonprofit Executive Team Effectiveness
  • Kirk Kramer
  • Libbie Landles-Cobb
  • The Bridgespan Group