A Powerful Way for Nonprofits To Avoid Collaborative Overload | Beth's Blog

A Powerful Way for Nonprofits To Avoid Collaborative Overload

Facilitation, Meeting Design, Virtual Facilitation

Online collaboration tools and platforms give nonprofits the opportunity for connectivity and collaboration internally as well as with external stakeholders like volunteers and board members. And, that’s a good thing. But it can lead to being overwhelmed or what has been dubbed “Collaborative Overload” or “Collaboration Tech Tool Overload.” This is the burnout from too many emails, meetings, and collaborative tech tools that limits our organization’s ability to get stuff done.

The worse part is that can lead to overwork because we end up working evenings and weekends to do that important focus and strategic thinking work. Or to catch up on all those emails that were sent while we were in back-to-back meetings all day.  And, as more and more nonprofits offer workplace flexibility and remote working opportunities for staff, they are relying more on online collaboration platforms to get work done – including tools like Zoom, Slack, Box, Google Drive, and others.

If your organization has not spent the time to map out work flow norms related to the tools, it can result in a lot of stress, misunderstanding, and a big loss of productivity.  Establishing work flow norms is very different from training people about how to use the tools.  It is about how we do the work together effectively and efficiently. But how exactly do you do this with your nonprofit staff?

One of the best resources I’ve discovered is this blog post from the Lucid Meetings Blog. It describes a step-by-step process called ICC which stands for: Information, Communication, and Collaboration.

The process is simple – any nonprofit team, staff, or even board could facilitate this process in less than hour in three steps. It could be done face-to-face or as a virtual or hybrid meeting.

Step 1:  Brainstorm

Have participants use sticky notes to do a rapid brainstorm answering these questions related to your online collaboration platforms:

  • Information: What kinds of information do you need to share? Is there a centralized task system? A shared calendar? Do you need access to a database? An intranet?
  • Communication: How will you communicate with each other? Some people might prefer having live discussions in-person, over the phone or via video chats, and others might prefer email or instant messaging. What are your expected response times? Do you need to set core hours?
  • Collaboration: How will you know what tasks are being worked on? How will you give each other feedback?

Step 2:  Synthesize

As a group you can cluster the ideas or task someone to synthesize the ideas into a set of work flow norms and expectations.  They can be shared back with participants in a google document for feedback.

Step 3: Use It

As issues come up, revise your work flow norms to see how well you are following through.  One approach is to take a few minutes at the beginning or end of your meeting to reflect on how well you are applying the norms to your work. It is a good idea to update the norms process annually, as you change or add collaboration platforms, or when new staff come on board.

You can download a free copy of the agenda for this process from Lucid Meetings.

I’ll be presenting on the topic of how nonprofits can avoid technology distraction inside their organizations at the NTEN Nonprofit Technology Conference on a session called “How To Conquer Technology Distractions and Burnout and Be Present for Yourself, Your Organization, and Stakeholders” with Carrie Rice and Meico Whitlock. (You can register for the conference here)

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