2024 Nonprofit Trends: Building Your Dream Team

Social TrendSpotter
6 min readJan 4, 2024

One of the most anticipated events of 2024 is the Summer Olympics in Paris. More than 10,000 athletes from around the world will come together in this iconic event in 32 sports and 329 events — with breaking (a.k.a., breakdancing) being the newest. The theme of this year’s Olympics is “games wide open,” which endeavors to evolve some of the Olympic norms (including a more inclusive opening ceremony across multiple venues) and “give us the opportunity to come together, to be proud together, to experience together.”

As we look forward to the 2024 Olympics, it brings to the forefront many images of Olympic moments of the past — when teams came together to win against all odds. Ten years ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Winter Olympics in Sochi and observed first-hand the characteristics of winning teams — a connection to a higher purpose, a spirit of cooperation and an unparalleled sense of team.

In 2024, we are dedicating our Nonprofit Trends post to “Building Your Dream Team.” Noted management guru Patrick Lencioni surprised many business experts when he said, “It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare. … Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. … If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.” This is even more true today — with collaborative work increasing by more than 50% in just the past two decades. In the social sector, we work in teams — not just in our organizations, but also in our communities, which makes being a good team player even more important. But teamwork doesn’t just happen — it is a deliberate choice by all parties involved to support a unified and collective pursuit of a common goal.

This year, we dedicate our 2024 word shifts to ways the social sector can ensure that teamwork is done intentionally and becomes our collective competitive advantage:

Team vs. Group

One of the first things I ascertain when I observe a group during a retreat facilitation is — is it truly a team or a group calling itself a team? Even if it is a group, it has the potential to be transformed into a team, and retreats provide an exceptional opportunity to do this. Every once in a while, those who value efficiency want me to skip bonding experiences, such as icebreakers, improv activities or group exercises, to “get down to business.” I remind them that these activities are not “extras,” but serve as social lubricant to ensure that the real business that gets decided at the retreat will then get executed as a team after the retreat. Play is a wonderful way to improve communication, build cohesion and energize the group — when the stakes are low. So, when the stakes are high, the team has already built trust and can model these behaviors when it counts.

Teams don’t just happen — they are the result of intentionality. The following are some of the attributes that differentiate a group from a team:

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We vs. Me

One of the reasons I went to Duke to get my MBA was their emphasis on team — we even called ourselves “Team Fuqua.” Without question, you can call or email anyone who went to Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, and you will get a return call or email. It is part of our code. Everyone who has gotten into business school has proven themselves as an individual performer. The emphasis on “Team Fuqua” made it clear to me that we had to prove ourselves as team-oriented leaders to reach the next level. This leadership style requires more than people management. It also requires creating an environment where people can connect, bond and work together as a unit — not only when things go right, but also when they go wrong. It requires each team member to commit to resolving conflict and prioritizing the team’s success over individual success.

Influence vs. Authority

As our societal preferences shift away from hierarchy toward shared power structures (especially in the social sector), a leader’s ability to influence others is becoming increasingly important — whether they are in a position of authority or not. Within a team context, influence is determined by several factors, many of which have been well-documented by researcher Robert Cialdini. In my experience, three factors stand out — which I call the “past, present and future trifecta.” First, individuals who are considered team players have built credibility through past results. Other players can depend on them to deliver. Second, individuals have to be fully present and connected to other team members through active listening and engagement. Other players know that this person cares about them and assumes positive intent. Finally, individuals must be so in synch with the team and its members that they can predict and anticipate each other’s actions in any future state. This only happens through practice, feedback loops and repetition. I call it a “positive groupmind,” a notion posited by French sociologist Gustave Le Bon. This is the ultimate form of cohesion. If you watch a championship sports team, you see this play out seamlessly on the field by each player, but it has been honed through 24/7 practice as a team. The same is true of a successful board, executive team or marriage — it takes consistent practice, true connection and repeated results.

Formal Structure vs. Informal Activities

Once it is determined that a team is needed, the key to success is a more formalized and agreed-upon structure to facilitate teamwork. It allows for chaos to shift to collective impact.

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Based on research by Mark Mortensen and Martine Hass at INSTEAD, we have found the following are essential: 1) A Compelling, Clear & Mutually Agreed-Upon Direction that inspires and motivates; 2) A Strong Structure with clear roles, responsibilities and distributed ownership; 3) A Supportive Context that encourages open and honest communication and regular checkpoints, including team meetings, retreats, and professional development; and 4) A Shared Mindset, which includes shared values and sense of belonging to the team.

Accountability vs. Responsibility

At first glance, accountability and responsibility may seem to carry the same meaning. Both are task-oriented, but they differ in their outcome. Responsibility is about completion. Accountability is about results. Many of us walk through our to-do list the same way — checking the box. But too often we stop before ever discovering the results of that work. In a teamwork setting, this is also about checking on the success (or failure) of your work with the team and for the team to hold you accountable to it. It is important to note that the astronauts on Apollo 13 said — “Houston, we have a problem.” In a team context, the problem of one person is the problem of the entire team. In order to shift this mindset, organizations have to move to an “ownership” mentality.

2024 is an opportunity to start fresh and we wholeheartedly agree with Patrick Lencioni that teamwork is the secret sauce for any successful family, organization, community or championship team. We need to cultivate and train our future leaders to not only be strong individual performers, but also exceptional team players. We welcome your feedback and ideas on how you have cultivated your “dream team.” If you missed our nonprofit trend posts from the past 11 years, please check them out!

2023 (Cultural Norms)

2022 (Global Interconnectedness)

2021 (System Thinking)

2020 (Technology)

2019 (Mindset)

2018 (Collaboration)

2017 (Entrepreneurial Thinking in Nonprofits)

2016 (System Change)

2015 (Talent Management)

2014 & 2013 (21st Century Themes)

We look forward to delving further into teamwork in future posts, and, as always, if you loved what you read, share them on social media, pass them along via email and tag us. As investors in positive social change, we are all one big team, and we are proud to be part of your weekly practice to up your game.

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