Improving Nonprofit Team Culture Through LOVE

It’s not personal, it’s business.

It’s not about you, it’s about our goals.

It’s not about getting along, it’s about getting the job done.

These are all interesting phrases I’ve heard thrown around in the living rooms of leaders…aka…the conference room. These are the phrases leaders like to use to stealthy reveal how much compassion, empathy, and love is not being shown within the four walls of their organization.

Yet, we know that love at the office is always the hottest water cooler conversation especially when it involves the…wait for it…the leader. Love at the office. It’s the thing your favorite Rom Com is made of. Spending hours with the person you’re working on a project with only to look up one day and go “oh…it’s YOU” (insert swoon here). We saw this all the time growing up on the big screen and for many of us, it’s shaped our idea of how LOVE is displayed in the office setting. In secret. Behind the door. Inside the maintenance closet. Under the desk…(okay, I’ll stop…can you tell I’ve watched a few Rom Coms in my day).

However, when you receive your organization’s cultural assessment, you notice a few things no leader likes to see.

“I don’t love working here.”

“I’m not in love with my job.”

“I wish I loved it more.”

You see how LOVE keeps popping up in those evaluation forms. You lean back in your chair, rub your forehead, and wonder “what’s love got to do with this?”

Then, it hits you. LOVE has everything to do with it. Love has everything to do with your organization’s culture, the morale levels, and how others perceive your nonprofit organization’s potential and success.

So, how do you improve your organization or team culture through LOVE?

It might seem far fetched but hang on…we are going somewhere with this. You have to understand how your team members, employees, or fellow colleagues interpret your acts of appreciation.

The 5 Love Languages of Appreciation

Coined by psychologist and family therapist Gary Chapman, The 5 Love Languages outline the premise that we all interpret love in different ways. Due to our genetic makeup and nurturing, how we see love differs greatly from person to person. I know we’ve all been taught to simply say “I love you”, but there are a myriad of ways to say the same three words without ever saying the three words. For some of us, cooking dinner is the three words in action; while for others, a pat on the back is the three words exemplified. People want to be loved in five very unique ways. Now, you may not think Love and Work go hand in hand; but, if you want to be loved at home; then, it’s safe to say you at least want to be appreciated at work. Appreciation translates to love in the work setting.

In Chapman’s best-selling book, The 5 Love Languages, he outlines these 5 unique ways to show love.

  • Acts of service
  • Words of Affirmation
  • Physical Touch
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts

Now, we know for sure that as leaders, we won’t follow Chapman’s 5 languages verbatim. Nonetheless important, we can infer that there is an equal and correlating number of LOVE languages for the workplace.

Love Languages for the Workspace

Acts of Appreciation

Acts of Appreciation in the workplace may look like helping a teammate with their workload or sitting down at the table and listening to the team work through situations. Acts of appreciation are best expressed when you use time as the means for showing LOVE to those who help you execute your organization’s goals. Leaders do not have a great deal of time to simply waste away walking around, but many teammates and employees notice when leaders take time out of their busy schedules to talk, listen, or interact with them.

Words of Praise

Many individuals within organizations aren’t sure if they are making a difference or not, so they need to hear their leaders say it. Yes, you have to verbalize how you feel. Do you remember that Rom Com I mentioned earlier? The two lovers never know each other’s burning desire until one of them looks up and says “I’m in love with you.” Okay….you don’t have to say you’re in love, but you should choose to share words of praise with your team. Whether it’s “great job on your strategic planning presentation” or “you really handled that difficult case well”, you must share praise with those who speak this language.

Freedom to Perform

I say we are all looking for more ways to express our creativity and show up to do our best work at work. Being about to have the physical, mental and emotional freedom to do your job is something that you can make possible as a manager. It might look like working from home or a coffee shop. It might look like going into the “war room together and working through tough problems. It might look like remote work, unlimited paid time off or flex time. And it may look like giving your team to choose how they work and the resources they need to do their job well. It doesn’t matter how it shows up; freedom to perform will 10x productivity for your team members that have this as their language of appreciation.

Quality Time

Ever been in the middle of something at your computer and a team member knocks on your door (or your cubicle) to ask your advice about something they are working on? It’s easy in this moment to try and multitask and tell your team members that you are listening (while you’re busy with your head down, fingers furiously pecking at the keys). If your team member values quality time — this is a huge blow to them. What the want (and need) is undivided attention and uninterrupted time from you. That means no multi-tasking and no distractions.

Receiving Incentives

This is for the team member who gets excited for the white elephant exchange, team competitions and awards and when you remember his/her birthday. There’s something about receiving a non-monetary gifts that are thoughtful and say “ I am thinking about you” that makes a person who has this as their language of appreciation over the moon happy. Whether it’s tickets to their favorite spa to celebrate surpassing a goal or tickets to their favorite soccer team because they’ve been pitching in with more than their fair share of work; as a manager you’ll be their favorite person and it’s all because you paid attention to what makes them tick.

How do I know this works? Because it’s team member tested and manager approved. I’ve used the 5 languages of appreciation with every team I’ve managed over the last 14 years and this has helped create loyalty, curiosity around innovation, teamwork and most importantly; my team showing up as their most authentic selves at work because they believed someone appreciated them.

I’d love to know if you’ve ever tried this with your teams. What kind of success did you need to have and when did you meet the goal you set?

Nonprofit Sustainability

Kishshana Palmer, CFRE
Kishshana Palmer, is a uni-mom, trainer, educator, and professional speaker. She is the founder of Kishshana & Co. and author/blogger for “Secret Lives of Leaders”. When she is not starring in the Life of My Preteen (okay it’s not a real show, but it could be), she is dropping knowledge about leadership and life. Kishshana is the epitome of your classic 90's Queens homegirl and quintessential corner office executive. She is your daily dose of Claire Huxtable with a side of Blanche Devereaux
Kishshana Palmer, CFRE

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