The great divide, as it is often thought of in non-profit workplaces, is the disconnect that can exist between employees providing direct service and those working in administrative roles or on a development team. I spent much of my career working in an organization where the program staff were located in the community and the administrative staff worked from a downtown office space. This experience resulted in my assumption that if everyone was co-located, all issues related to this unspoken divide would be resolved. I thought that the disconnect and, at times, clear tension that existed was more a function of the fact that we didn’t spend enough time together, and nothing else. After working intimately with other non-profits over the past several years, I’ve come to realize that it’s not just about geography but really about a deeper issue rooted in misunderstanding and mistrust.
Social service organizations of all types seem to struggle with this issue, which is unfortunate. Presumably, everyone is on board because they care about the mission and values of the organization (in addition to the paycheck!) and because they want to make an impact, whether that’s by providing direct service or bringing in the funding that allows those services to continue. When we are in the throes of a stressful time or dealing with inadequate resources, it can be easy to forget that we are in a partnership – that programs cannot be run without funds or that clients won’t be served well without the proper service delivery in place.
I may be naïve in thinking this, but I truly believe that folks working in all areas of an organization can be intentional about leveraging their shared mission and purpose and that by being reminded of that from time to time can allow for grace and understanding in these stressful environments. Perhaps allowing for, and encouraging, job shadowing and sharing of tasks can help staff members feel more connected to their co-workers and understand the specific challenges of one another’s roles. I know the groans and eye rolling that comes with the announcement that an ice breaker or team building activity is coming, but they exist for a reason. They can work! Sometimes we need to take a step back from the urgent stuff and focus on culture, morale and relationship building so that the actual work can be effective.