Making your dream team a reality

by Josh Inwald

Elizabeth Newton, founder and CEO of Allowance for Good, an Evanston-based youth development organization, challenged the conventional wisdom on team building in her workshop, "Building the Dream Team."

From the start, Newton conveyed anecdotes of team building challenges she has faced in her non-profit career, all centered on the surprising theme of personal wellness.  Newton strongly believes that happy leaders are at the core of any effective team.  Speaking directly to the delegates as emerging non-profit executives, she said, “If you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re not taking care of your project and your team, and you’re taking away from your success.”

Newton had specific recommendations for supporting psychological well being in stressful non-profit environments, including setting aside time for reflection, emphasizing vulnerable communication among team members, and surrounding oneself with supportive yet challenging advisors.

To stress the last recommendation, Newton played a video clip and guided a reflection activity to provide real-world context. With the use of a short TedX clip from Tom Wujec, a leadership psychology expert, delegates learned about the importance of honest communication. The reflective activity guided delegates to consider complementary skills in team-building by looking at holes in their personal leadership qualities.

Newton concluded the seminar by looking at how leadership techniques need to be modified when dealing with millennials, a cohort with distinct behavioral and motivational trends. She recommended emphasizing project motivation over financial compensation and flexibility with work hours and environments for delegates managing younger team members. Millennials are more interested in organization motivation than generations past and value flexibility (i.e. working off site, working at off hours).

Delegates were surprised but pleased with her advice. Rob Castellanos, an American delegate from the University of South Carolina, shared, “I expected the focus to be on finding the right people and how to efficiently organize leadership hierarchies, so when Elizabeth started speaking on psychology and complementary personalities I was taken aback.  But reflecting on it, I now realize that this is such an essential aspect of team dynamics, and something that I can’t take for granted.”