Finding the Right Mix: Building Teams as a Social Enterprise

Finding the right team members with the right kind of skills and a lot of chemistry to boot is not easy for any organization, but it can be particularly stressful for a social enterprise and for startups. Social enterprises compete against for-profit companies for top talent and usually cannot offer the same sized paycheck, but in a lot of ways they demand even more from their teams than the big corporates. To be a valuable team member in a social enterprise you need to bring a lot of passion to the table combined with high-level business skills. Experience has shown that finding the right mix of professionalism, social consciousness and drive is very difficult to find. So how do you make sure you not only get the best possible people on your team, but that they will also be able to work together efficiently?

The answer to that question lies in training. Social entrepreneurs often need to make a trade-off between business skills and the socially driven individuals and need to fill in the gaps with extensive training. Depending on the stage the company is in and what the immediate need is, companies may decide to hire a non for profit expert and train him or her on the basic business skills they need or vice versa. Most social enterprises find it easier to train their teams on topics such as finance and computer skills than to move someone from a purely for-profit way of thinking towards a more socially oriented mindset. However, that is not to say that business minds have no place in social enterprises; quite the contrary.

We all like to surround ourselves with people who are either like us or have qualities we would like to possess ourselves. In the case of a social enterprise startup – or any other kind of startup for that matter – that often means the founder surrounds him or herself with people who have a similar skill set and way of thinking about the world and, consequently, the problems they are facing. While there is nothing wrong with that approach, a mindful leader will recognize the gaps in its team and go beyond the team comfort zone to find people with complementary skills, but completely different perspectives. Some of the most amazing breakthroughs on ground happened when a team of social experts asked the finance department for their opinion and vice versa.

One of the easiest ways to develop that kind of rapport between different team members and gain a valuable insight into different perspectives is brainstorming. While almost all companies brainstorm, not a lot of them do it right. Sallyann della Casa, Founder of Growing Leaders Foundation, teaches inter-department brainstorming to all the corporates she works with. The same goes for social enterprises. Even though they might be too small to have a variety of departments, chances are team members come from a variety of backgrounds and even cultures, which all guarantee a wider range of possible solutions.

Building an efficient team is never easy, but making sure all of the team members not only tolerate but also respect and value each other’s point of view is a good start. In the life of a startup there is no one else you spend as much time with as your team. It is well worth investing time and money into your social enterprise family.

Tena is a social impact consultant passionate about applying her skills to help start ups in the developing world. She is the co-founder of The Sustainability Platform, Head of Media at C3-Consult and Coach for a Cause and Dubai+Acumen chapter leader. She also holds various workshops on the theory of change and social business basics. Tena’s main interests include women empowerment, economic inclusion and community development, as well as social impact measurement. She is an international board member of two South Asian NGOs and core team member of Social Enterprise Week, an annual social enterprise conference held in Dubai.

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