Stay Strong: Six Workouts to Boost Organizational Fitness

In Leadership, Sustainability by Karen Buck

Advice for taking care of your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health is everywhere you turn right now. And with good reason! In times of great uncertainty and stress, working to stay strong and healthy is one of the most important things you can do. Unless your organization or agency is on the frontline of managing the current crisis*, it is also important to boost your organization’s fitness.

As long-time organizational fitness experts, we’ve observed hundreds of clients as they actively manage or recover from extraordinary challenges. The organizations and agencies that navigate such events best, and even emerge from them stronger than they were beforehand, are those that put a premium on organizational fitness in the middle of the maelstrom.

Here are six ‘workouts’ based on the best practices of those organizations. We hope you’ll find one or two that can help you maintain and strengthen your organizational fitness.

Workout #1: Build Your Core Strength

Your organization’s core muscles are the elements that are essential to making an impact towards your mission—your most vital programs, services, people, systems, etc. The ‘must haves,’ not the ‘nice to haves.’

First, define which muscles make up your organization’s core and commit to focusing on them. Then, hit they gym! Look for ways to improve the quality or impact of these core elements or opportunities to streamline operations or increase access for those you serve. And pay attention to alignment. If these core elements are truly essential to achieving your mission, then the amount of financial, human, or technological capacity devoted to them should reflect that.

Workout #2: Increase Your Flexibility

To complement your core strength, work on your organization’s flexibility. Places where an organization lacks flexibility become more apparent under times of stress. So, this is a good time to review practices, procedures, and systems and identify organizational sticking points.

Look for processes that consistently take longer than you’d like or challenges that come up over and over again. Some examples:

  • Decisions that are postponed for months until the next board meeting
  • Time wasted struggling to use tools or technology with insufficient training
  • Community outreach efforts that are redundant or never quite connect

How can you organize or manage these differently to increase your flexibility? Identify your most painful sticking point and get stretching.

Workout #3: Rehabilitate Weaker Muscles

Every organization has important tasks that keep getting pushed off to some later date. Maybe it’s updating your website, cleaning up the database, refreshing a program, or defining how your organization can be more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. Whatever it is, putting such things off for too long weakens your organization.

Luckily, a good rehabilitation workout can work wonders. Rehab can be challenging (if it were easy, you would have done it already!). Remember, the key to rehab is doing small things consistently, and only adding more to the workout as you gain strength.

Workout #4: Unite Your Team

Your organization’s strength depends on your team. This workout focuses on taking team unity and effectiveness to the next level. Don’t just coordinate, integrate! Find ways to move beyond sharing informational updates and examine how everyone’s efforts fit together. Are there opportunities to better leverage team members’ strengths and assets? How can you increase everyone’s connection to shared vision and goals? Any effort that helps the team be more cohesive and effective also strengthens your organization’s overall health and sustainability.

Workout #5: Connect with Your Fans

Individual health requires supportive relationships – and so does organizational health! Your fans (your organization’s members, volunteers, partners, supporters, clients, etc.) are constituents. Like a constituent element, they are integral to your wholeness and you can’t exist without them.

Make time to honor and nurture these relationships. Reach out, check in, be empathetic. Learn more about your existing fans and consider ways to grow your fan base. Again, stronger, more connected relationships = stronger organizations.

Workout #6: Hydrate

New workouts can be draining, so double down on the basics. Keep up with schedules, respond to emails and inquiries, do good work, and attend to the details. Also, make sure that you and your team have a safe, satisfying work environment and support one another. And always – celebrate your successes. You are doing critically important work and deserve to savor your wins.

* In which case, thank you for all you are doing! Stay strong, stay healthy.