Three Simple Steps To Transform Your Team Retreats

October 24, 2018 • 7 minute read • by Saeed

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.”

~Patrick Lencioni

There are many good reasons to conduct a team retreat: to create trust, clarify roles and responsibilities; establish goals and vision, orient new members; reconnect and re-energize team members; and/or address critical issues or opportunities, to name a few. However, bringing the entire team together in person can be a challenge. Greater still is the challenge of engaging them effectively — and to do so, you need to create a focused, meaningful, and enjoyable experience for everyone. Here are some ideas for team retreats that really hit the mark.

Step 1: Pay Attention to Design and Planning

First, identify the purpose and specific outcomes you want from the retreat.

  •  Is it time for strategic or tactical planning?
  • Are you trying to solve an important team or organizational issue?
  • Do you need to re-energize the team?

Second, schedule a planning meeting with your team leaders – you know who they are – to determine the retreat purpose and outcomes; learn what’s most pressing for your team; better understand team dynamics; and assess team engagement, strengths, weaknesses, etc. In addition, discuss timing, duration, location, number of attendees, etc. You don’t need to finalize all the details yet, just enough to develop a draft agenda.

After meeting with your leaders, it’s a good idea to have brief “input” conversations with some or all team members to understand their views, gather topic ideas and get participants excited about the retreat. Input conversations can last anywhere from 20-40 minutes. Some sample input questions include:

  • What do you think is working well with the team?
  • What would you like to see the team do more of, do better or do differently?
  • What do you think the team should stop doing?
  • What are three things the team should focus on over the next 12 months?
  • What is your vision for this team over the next three years?
  • What would help you feel more engaged and useful as a team member?
  • What would help the team work even more effectively together?

Using the information from your team leaders and input conversations, craft an action-focused agenda that incorporates the retreat’s purpose and desired outcomes.

Some things to consider:

  • Avoid status or progress reporting. Instead, have participants review status reports ahead of time and focus sessions on generating ideas, solving problems, making decisions, etc.
  • Structure adequate time for building relationships. Schedule time to eat together, walk together and learn about one another. It’s ideal if you can hold a retreat over two days that includes a social dinner.
  • Build some flexibility into your agenda to accommodate hot topics or deeper dives into important issues.
  • Create discrete sessions with time blocks of one to three hours to help participants digest information, offer natural break points and provide variety. Have each session build upon one another in a logical order based on your goals.
  • As you create the agenda, decide what output you want from each session and plan for how to capture key issues, ideas, resources, outcomes and action steps from each session. This will make documenting the retreat much easier.
  • Schedule ample time (at least 45 minutes) at the end to discuss action items, accountability, takeaways, appreciations and other closing activities.
  • Decide on any supporting materials, resources and preparatory work. Make sure participants have the agenda, materials and instructions at least one week before the retreat. Communicate with team members throughout the planning process to answer questions, remind them about pre-work, help them with logistics, etc.

Step 2: Get Expert Facilitation

While it’s not uncommon for a team member to facilitate a retreat, having outside facilitation helps every participant fully engage in the retreat. Also, an outside facilitator also helps reduce bias or undue influence and may notice and address team issues or dynamics not obvious to participants. Some other good practices for facilitation:

  • Start with a warm-up that gets everyone talking. An easy exercise is to pose a couple of questions that participants discuss with one or two people next to them. It’s good to include one personal and one organizational question.
  • Announce the retreat objectives and outcomes, preview the agenda, cover any logistics and discuss how participants can get the most from their time together.
  • Set expectations up front for how you will facilitate the retreat, such as balancing participation, managing interruptions, encouraging constructive comments, etc.
  • Capture highlights from each session using flipcharts, a note taker, recording device, etc. Some facilitators find it useful to use separate flipcharts for ideas, resources, action steps, “parking lot” or other categories as needed.
  • Check in periodically about participants’ comfort level, questions, concerns, etc. The more transparent you are as a facilitator, the more the participants can relax and trust the process.
  • After a long or complex session, briefly summarize highlights and outcomes. If there is time, ask participants to share their own takeaways from the session.
  • If the discussion veers off the agenda, refer back to the retreat objectives and outcomes. Ask if this conversation supports their overall retreat goals, if the topic supersedes other agenda items or if it can be covered elsewhere.
  • Have plenty of food, beverages, time for breaks and table toys to help quell the “fidgets.” Periodically check people’s energy and take a short break if needed.

 Step Three: Don’t Neglect Outcomes and Next Steps

For a retreat to be worthwhile, participants must know their ideas and decisions will actually go somewhere after the event. It’s equally important for team members to understand their own responsibilities to take actions after the retreat. Here are some ideas for documenting the retreat and creating accountable action steps:

  • After each session, capture key points and outline next steps, responsible parties and time frames. Use action verbs to clarify what needs to be done (write, call, review, schedule, plan, etc.).
  • The final session should be used to summarize all next steps. Discuss how participants will hold themselves and others accountable for taking action. In addition, invite participants to share takeaways, appreciations, personal commitments and other comments.
  • Consider pairing people to accomplish tasks. This helps boost accountability and build team member relationships between meetings.
  • Move away from a “minutes” mindset. Try to organize retreat notes logically rather than strictly chronologically. Participants won’t necessarily remember who said what when so it’s useful to group related ideas and actions together.
  • Suggest ways to incorporate progress checks from the retreat into subsequent staff meetings. For example, if you do a strategic plan, organize future team meeting agendas to parallel strategic goal areas from the plan.

Final Word

Team retreats can be powerful events that help clarify organizational vision, address complex issues and energize a team. With collaborative planning, a steady focus on the desired outcomes, skillful facilitation, and the willingness to hold people accountable, you can transform your team retreat from a necessary evil to the event of the year!

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.  I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

Why would you follow me?

The most compelling reason I can think of is this: I believe what I write and I write what I believe. I see myself as an alchemist of ideas writing at the intersection of personal, professional, and organizational development to help readers be the most effective human being they can be in order to create lasting impact in the world. If we dig together, we’ll find the gold.

©2018 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

The Future of Work is Here and Leaders Need to Adapt NOW!

January 25, 2018 • 6 minute read • by Saeed

“The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed yet.” ~ William Gibson

The world of work is changing fast. Through technology and demographic trends, we are witnessing a movement away from cubicle farms where the physical nature of work was emphasized to decentralized nodes and networks where the virtual reality of work is the new normal.

By 2020, Millennials will constitute 50 percent of the workforce while Baby Boomers continue to work into their 70s and 80s. Yes, the generation that has (wrongly) developed a reputation for too many tattoos, too many piercings and too much entitlement will wield major influence on how work gets done. In truth, they represent the first generation of digital natives and the generation most ready to adapt to the future of work.

Major trends in technology that make remote work increasingly possible and more affordable for companies coupled with a globalized economy will accelerate the movement towards virtual work that out of necessity will be more collaborative and knowledge based.

Simply put, workers will continue to have more choice in how, where, and when they do their work. Therefore, leaders would be smart to adapt now to this new reality by enabling system and networks across their organizations that accommodate the new normal. To prepare for the impact and capitalize on the opportunities introduced by the future of work, leaders must adjust their organizational cultures and models now.

We don’t need to look too far to see this new reality. It is all around us.

The Future is Freelance

Nearly 10 years ago, Daniel Pink foresaw this phenomenon in Free Agent Nation, where he documented perhaps the most significant transformation since Americans left the farm for the factory as he witnessed the abandonment   of the Industrial Revolution’s most enduring legacy, the job, in favor of freelance, independent work.

Technology, market demand, and generational differences have fueled the expansion of the freelance economy and so called ‘gig workers.’ So much so that a new NPR/Marist poll, which surveyed workers across all industries and at all professional levels, found that 1 in 5 jobs in the U.S. is held by a contract worker.

For freelancers, the appeal is obvious—unlimited vacation time, ability to earn more from anywhere, and overall freedom. But there’s also plenty of benefits on the company side, such as reduced costs in recruitment, training and orientation as well as performance management and liability.

 The Future is Autonomous

Take as evidence the rise of results-only work environments, or ROWEs. In a ROWE, employees are allowed to work whenever they want with no set schedules. Employees are also allowed to complete their work however they want, and wherever they want, as long as it gets finished.

ROWEs leverage the powerful innate human desire for autonomy by giving people the freedom to choose when and how they will meet their goals. While ROWEs are still relegated to a handful of Silicon Valley start ups like AirBnB who practice the model with great ehem, results, they are an inevitable wave and future trend in the world of work.

The Future is Flexible

People want and need flexibility. Flexibility signals trust in an employee. According to the 2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey, 84% of Millennial employees report some flexibility at their job:

·        69% have flexible start/end times

·        68% have flexibility or crossover in their role

·        64% have flexible working locations

If the work doesn’t require the employee to be in a physical location, why require it? Remote work is not the same as contract work, of course, but combined, the two definitely represent the future of work.

The Future is Growth and Learning

People want to grow, learn and continually develop. We know from the same Deloitte study cited above for example, that 44% of those employed plan to leave their current role within two years, with lack of professional development as one of the primary reasons. Companies must place a greater emphasis on nurturing and developing their people in order to keep them. At the same time, the learning and development field would do well to demonstrate the value and ROI of such programs to executives. Demonstrating business impact to leadership and ensuring the right metrics are being used is still the holy grail of employee training even though the field has matured tremendously over the years.  Proving value to learners is equally important but so is keeping up with the way learners are evolving at a quicker pace than the learning programs that support them.

The Future is Automated

We live in a digital economy. We also live in a market economy, where supply and demand will ultimately determine the level and type of employment. Technology will eliminate many middle-income jobs or push them down into lower categories but remain complementary to more high skilled knowledge workers. This trend is already happening. If you’re a truck driver concerned with self-driving technology taking your job, you should be. If you are a writer, concerned with artificial intelligence taking yours, you should be too. It already is.

That said, the key to job security in the age of AI isn’t competition, but collaboration. Including collaboration with robots. Most of the automation, will come down to human–machine combinations.

The Future is Collaborative

Digital technology is having a profound effect on the workplace. The days when the office was the hub of productivity are over.  Communication, collaboration and connectivity are being transformed by technology, which has enabled remote work but also collaboration across organizational and geographical boundaries. Traditional face-to-face meetings are becoming obsolete while collaboration software is becoming omni-present. This will change team dynamics as well as procedures and policies. Team productivity will receive even more attention than personal productivity and visual communications will take on an even more important role.

The Future is Designer

If you want to keep your people — especially your stars — it’s time to pay more attention to how you design their work. Most companies design job descriptions and then slot people into them. This trend will be reversed. Companies will continue to compete for talented people and when they find them, they will create jobs around them.

Take as evidence a recent study by Wharton’s Adam Grant and members of Facebook’s HR of workers who remained at the social networking company and those who quit their jobs despite the perks of working at FB. The study revealed that when managers tailored a job to a given employee’s passions, talents and priorities, rather than try to slot them into a preconceived role, they ended up with more satisfied engaged workers who they retained longer.

The Future is Purposeful

People want purpose. This is especially true of Millennials, who have a different set of expectations from their employment and are attracted to careers that give them a sense of purpose. Just last week Laurence D. Fink, founder and chief executive of the investment firm BlackRock sent a letter to business leaders that their companies need to do more than make profits — they need to contribute to society as well if they want to receive the support of BlackRock. This is a seismic shift in the business world.

A final Word

The bottom line is that work in the future will be more networked, more mobile, more team based, more project based, more de-centralized, more collaborative, more real time and more fluid. The new reality will require better and different structures, models, policies, and procedures to more effectively help people communicate, collaborate and network. Therefore, leaders must begin to think of themselves as network architects increasingly experiment and role model their openness and flexibility to the new ways of working. Done well, the future of work offers the most exciting revolution since the industrial age in how employees will be motivated and engaged to impact the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profits. Oh yes, and purpose. As the old expression goes: “When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: 1) Those who made it happen, 2) those who let it happen and 3) those who wonder what happened.”

Which kind are you?

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate that you are reading my post. If you found it helpful, I invite you to follow me on LinkedIn or subscribe to read exclusive content on my BLOG.

Why would you follow me?

I write personal and professional development articles to help readers be the most effective human being they can be; in short, to help you find your inner awesomeness. By liking, commenting, sharing, and following, you are encouraging me to keep going. It is my direct feedback loop that tells me that I am providing value to you.

I also love connecting with new people and seeing what others are up to in the world.

Last thing, if you liked this post, consider checking out my other recent posts for inspiration and concrete actions steps to become more effective at work and life.



©2018 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

The 5 EQ Traits that Separate Good Leaders from Great Ones

December 1, 2017 • 4 minute read • by Saeed

“What separates people…is not the presence or absence of difficulty, but how they deal with the inevitable difficulties of life.” ~ James C. Collins, Good to Great


If you’ve worked with good leaders and with great leaders, you’ve noticed a difference – an array of skills that sets them apart and is based on their people management skills. What you’ve noticed but may not have been able to label, is their emotional intelligence skills. At the end of this article, I’ll provide you with an exercise to show you what I mean.

Studies have demonstrated that the ability to understand your effect on others and manage yourself accordingly accounts for nearly 90 percent of career success when IQ and technical skills are roughly similar. In other words, it is the difference between good and great leadership.

Good leaders have technical chops, set strategy and execute and make smart decisions. They problem solve effectively and know how to use company resources.

Great leaders surround themselves with great people and they know how to motivate and keep them. Truly great leaders identify, understand and manage their own emotions. They are also able to do that with others in a way that  influences team morale and productivity. Great leadership starts with self-awareness and knowing your own leadership style. Here is how great leaders do what they do:

1.      Self Awareness – This means a clear understanding of your own strengths and weakness. It is also a willingness to triple down on strengths and weaken weaknesses. It means being emotionally balanced and resilient. It means independence and self reliance and it means seeking and responding positively to constructive criticism.

2.      Social Skills – The ability to develop and maintain social relationships is everything. Socially intelligent leadership includes effective communication skills and conflict resolutions skills. It means a participatory management style and the ability to get others to buy into your vision. It’s the ability to develop and motivate teams and to provide and receive constructive feedback. If in real estate its location, location, location; at work, it’s relationships, relationships, relationships.

3.      Self-Motivation – This means the ability to works consistently towards goals while maintaining high standards for work and performance. It means having ambition and strong inner drive and knowing how to tap into that in others. It means being optimistic and resilient. Again, doing this in good times is a sign of good leadership. Doing this during times of strife, is a sign of great leadership.

4.      Empathy – This, of course, is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. What it looks like is having respect of others and listening with true intent. I cover empathy and leadership extensively in my article Emotionally Empathetic Leaders Excel at Everything.

5.      Self-Regulation – This means you do not make rash or emotional decisions or compromise your values and beliefs to win battles. You remain calm and in control in the face of adversity and challenge. You are adaptable and flexible in different situations, including challenges and crises. Above all, it means you are committed to assuming responsibility for your actions. How important is taking responsibility for your actions? The famed psychologist Viktor Frankl wrote that “Freedom is only part of the story and half the truth…. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplanted by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.”


Despite conventional thinking, emotional intelligence is not a soft skill.  In fact a bevy of research and best-selling books on the topic suggest the opposite: that emotional intelligence (EI) is a stronger predictor of success which helps us think creatively about how best to leverage our technical skills.

As an exercise, I ask my coaching clients to list the characteristics of a great mentor or role model and to classify each characteristic into one of three groups: IQ, technical skills, or emotional intelligence. Almost invariably, the majority of characteristics fall into the EI bucket.

You might like to try the same exercise at home. I’d be curious to hear about your results.

Good luck.

Wait, before you go…

I really appreciate that you are reading my post. If you found it helpful, I invite you to follow me on LinkedIn or subscribe to read exclusive content on my BLOG.

Why would you follow me?

I write personal and professional development articles to help readers be the most effective human being they can be; in short, to help you find your inner awesomeness. By liking, commenting, sharing, and following, you are encouraging me to keep going. It is my direct feedback loop that tells me that I am providing value to you.

I also love connecting with new people and seeing what others are up to in the world.

Last thing, if you liked this post, consider checking out my other recent posts for inspiration and concrete actions steps to become more effective at work and life.



©2017 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

World Wide Web or Wild Wild West? How Russian Operatives Hijacked American Democracy and Exploited Billion Dollar Tech on a Shoestring

“We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the U.S. public believes is false.” ~William J. Casey

All day today and yesterday, representatives from Facebook, Twitter, and Google testified before the Senate and House Intelligence Committees on the extent of Russia’s campaign to disrupt the 2016 U.S. presidential election by spreading fake news and propaganda on their sites.

They were raked over the coals and the problem is worse than previously reported.

Facebook now says that 126 million people in the U.S. may have seen posts from Russian-backed agents.

Google says over 1,000 Kremlin-linked ads were uploaded to its YouTube service.

Twitter says over 130,000 messages were tweeted.

Sophisticated in their scope and tactics, the ads used carefully targeted  messages on hot-button topics geared toward specific audiences to sow confusion, anger and discord. Targeted ads on divisive issues such as race and gun ownership were dispensed with the savvy of a digital ad agency.

Organizing Hate

But even more disturbingly, the campaign went beyond ads and actually organized opposing rallies across the street from each other. This was just one of the stories at the center of the testimony today.

Apparently, last May, Russian trolls organized a simultaneous protest and counter-protest in Texas. The first protest, called “Stop The Islamization of Texas,” was organized by a Facebook group with more than 250,000 followers called Heart of Texas. As it turns out, a counter-protest on the same day, at the same time, and at the same location was also organized by Russian operatives, this time using another Facebook group called United Muslims of America, which had more than 328,000 followers. What neither knew was that Russian trolls were behind the creation of the Facebook groups and the protests; encouraging both sides to battle on the streets of Texas.

Russia’s activities in the digital world, pitted Americans on the street in the real world. The kicker? The nefarious campaign cost a total of $200!!

“I don’t think you get it…You have a huge problem on your hands. … You bear the responsibility. You created these platforms and now they are being misused…What we are talking about is a cataclysmic change what we are talking about is the beginning of cyber warfare.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to tech giants testifying before Congress about Russian interference in U.S. elections.

 Extreme Sophistication

The sophistication used by the Russian operatives is astounding and shows a deep understanding of how these platforms work. One ad cited a real October 2016 news story — about a gunman’s battle with Boston police officers and used it to attack Hillary Clinton as anti-police. It received 761 clicks. Another, called for Clinton’s removal from the ballot, citing “dynastic succession of the Clinton family” as a breach of the constitution.  Others piggybacked on a real pro or anti-Trump rallies.

The beneficiary of this disinformation campaign, one U.S. President Donald Trump, has been largely silent on the issue. While much of this activity was aimed at aiding Trump, more disturbingly, there are other indications that it was intended to sow general divisions among Americans.

“People are buying ads on your platform with rubles—they’re political ads,” Franken interrupted. “You put billions of data points together all the time. That’s what I hear that these platforms do; they’re the most sophisticated things invented by man, ever. Google has all knowledge that man has ever developed. You can’t put together rubles with a political ad and go like, ‘Hmm, those two data points spell out something bad?”

Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today investigating Russian interference on social-media platforms during the 2016 election.

A Warning Unheeded

On November 19, 2016, nine days after Mark Zuckerberg dismissed as “crazy” the idea that fake news played a key role in the U.S. election, then President Barack Obama pulled the wet-behind-the-ears tech billionaire aside and made a personal plea to Zuckerberg to take the threat of fake news and political disinformation seriously. He didn’t. It is now clear that Facebook, Google, and Twitter were manipulated, and through them, so were the American people.

Social media is all about getting attention and engagement. With the right attention, you can convert the people who see your content into dedicated fans or dedicated fanatics who will promote your stuff to others who believe what they believe. Since these outlets trade on attention and engagement, they are loathe to kick of users who foster it. Their very business model depends on increased attention, increased engagement, and increased growth.

This is a time of broader reckoning for the tech giants and for the American people. But it is no longer just about their profits or even freedom of the World Wide Web, which is really the Wild Wild West. It is the very soul of our democracy. Russians wanted to pit us against each other. You could argue, given the climate in our country (and the result of the election), that they succeeded.

Avoiding regulation is endemic to Silicon Valley. But if YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are the equivalent of ABC, NBC, and CBS, should they not be subject to the same regulatory mandates? Should our democracy not be protected?

Sound out below.

3 Ways To Disrupt the Nonprofit Sector

September 7, 2017 •  6 minute read • by Saeed

“If you’re in the luckiest one per cent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 per cent.”

― Warren Buffet

Get this: the IRS approves tax exemption for new community benefit groups every 10-15 minutes!

Over  50,000 new nonprofits are recognized by the IRS as tax exempt organizations EACH YEAR.

That amounts to nearly 2 million nonprofit organizations in the United States.

Most nonprofits are small. More than 73 percent of public charities report annual expenses of less than $500,000. Less than 4 percent had expenses greater than $10 million.

In every vertical there are hundreds or thousands of nonprofits with similar names and missions competing for donors, activists, publicity and brand awareness, and followers on social media.

If nonprofits are going to truly solve the world’s toughest social issues and obtain the necessary resources to do it right, they need to examine how the sector can evolve to create more innovative and effective organizations.

Disruption #1: Harness the Power of Technology

The social sector is still very much in the nascent stages of what could be a significant transformation in harnessing the power of technology. The convening power of the Internet, rapid advances in technology, and the reduced costs of launching new applications in today’s wired world means that nonprofit organizations have an ever increasing array of tools to reach constituents with their key messages. But to take advantage of these advances, today’s nonprofits must race to adapt their business models to achieve their intended purpose with greater impact. For today’s nonprofit organization, the new digital landscape provides a multitude of opportunities to recreate yesterday’s broken business models while creating meaningful and sustainable long-term scalable impact.

However, the adoption rate of the social sector to leverage and harness the power of these new tools is still painfully slow and funders are not helping. The funding climate for nonprofits is still such that little attention is paid by funders to basic infrastructure needs. Nonprofits fluctuate between tracking a lot, or hardly anything at all. it appears that the social sector, which has traditionally had a low-tech/high touch sense of itself, is slower to adopt and optimize these enabling new technologies to communicate, collaborate, connect, build capacity, and build communities of learning and practice.

Disruption #2: Think More Like a For Profit

By no means do I want to suggest that a nonprofit is similar to a for-profit or that practices within the for-profit sector should be adopted wholesale. Still, the nonprofit sector is painfully inefficient. There is a reason for this. Where in the profit based corporate entity is motivated by delivering shareholder value, the public  benefit corporation is driven by its commitment to service. In the for profit model, there is built in incentives towards productivity and efficiency. Such incentives are practically non-existent in the non-profit sector.

Furthermore, in places like Silicon Valley, it’s almost a right of passage to test new ideas quickly, fail fast and fail forward. And there is a lot to be learned from failing. How does failing fast work in the nonprofit world, particularly when it’s donors or foundations money? The nonprofit sector is allergic to failure and that predilection leads to less risk taking and therefore less innovation.

Disruption #3: Change Funding Mechanisms

Grants and donations are the traditional funding mechanism but they are increasingly harder to obtain. Further complicating matters, funders can also be incredibly slow in approving grant proposals with their due diligence process. Once approved, they may restrict funds not allowing for flexibility to direct funds towards general operating costs or they may limit the funds nonprofits need directed at critical infrastructure instead requiring funds to be directed towards programming. Nonprofits are loathe to push back on unreasonable expectations  at the risk of losing funders.

Stronger sustainable funding mechanisms are needed as a holistic approach to fundraising that moves beyond traditional tactics such as securing grants or tapping a few wealthy corporate or personal patrons.

Some nonprofits are learning to become self-reliant (and therefore self-sustainable). For example, they offer trainings to members or peer organizations for a fee to generate income. Just as in the private sector, a thorough business plan, market analysis, and consideration of what you have to offer and who might be willing to pay for it are core elements of instituting a fee-for-service model.

Crowdfunding, originally used by entrepreneurs as a way to attract small-sized investments to for-profit ventures, is now widely available to nonprofits as well.

Nonprofits can also take advantage of economies of scale through shared services and back office support models that have added benefits of efficiency and better use of resources. Clearly however, more innovation (and disruption) is needed.

In Summary

  1. As a community, the social sector (nonprofits and their funders) should be self-reflective in asking ourselves some critical questions:
  2. What are ways we (as funders) might be unintentionally adding to the problem?
  3. Are we allowing leaders to do their work, or forcing them unnecessary administrative burden upon them?
  4. Are we building infrastructure or demanding services without the prerequisite capacity needed to deliver these services?
  5. Are our processes forcing nonprofits to compete with one another instead of collaborating?
  6. Are we too narrowly focused on a single issue when so many societal issues are interrelated?
  7. When we use the word “partnership” with our grantees, are we ignoring the inherent power differential in the funder-grantee relationship?
  8. Do we take enough risks? Have we failed enough to say that we do?

Finally, I’d love to hear from you. What are your ideas for disrupting the nonprofit sector?

10 Easy Ways to Unplug (And Why You Must)

May 5, 2017 • 5 minute read • by Saeed

“Quiet the mind and the soul will speak.” ~ Unknown

Companies have strategic plans so why not you?

Here is the brutal truth about modern day life:  On a typical day, you are air traffic control for dozens of conversations, meetings, decisions, tasks, and thoughts that fly through your head seeking refuge or resolution. Unless you’re an a-emotional Mr. Spock type, that’s a recipe for burnout and disaster. That’s a recipe for an impending crash.

If life has become an exhausting and giant game of wackamole, know that it will take its toll. Stress causes deterioration in everything ranging from your relationships to your hairline. To make matters worse, modern technology has created unprecedented convenience but also co-dependence. We are tethered to technology in ways that cause, not alleviate anxiety.

Elon Musk wants to give us all relief from the congested streets above, through underground traffic tunnels below. Finding refuge and relief from the daily congestion of life is a good metaphor for the need to unplug.

Here is the brutal truth about change: The secret to change is in whether or not the new behavior or habit is sustainable. Life is a matter of making progress in small steps, not giant leaps. Tiny steps are sustainable and they add up to a net positive cumulative result.

So before you’re no longer resembling something human, go analogue and go small in order to go big.

  1. Meditate

Start your day this way. The benefits of a meditation practice have been scientifically proven. It’s not esoteric. It’s just exercise for the mind. Don’t stress about meditation. Just think of it as five or ten minutes a day to simply witness your thoughts and experience first-hand how noisy it is up there. Practice focus. Learn about your mind.

  1. Sit and listen

Find it hard to meditate? Take a smaller step. Close your eyes and sit and listen to all the sounds nearby. Don’t think anything just notice. Then slowly move your perception out farther and farther picking up sounds just outside, traffic maybe, and then a train off in the distance. See how far you can tune in. This exercise will open up pathways in your thinking and quiet the noise that’s around you. It’s also the preamble to a solid meditation practice.

  1. Do some yoga (or skip the posing and just stretch)

I know you’re tired of hearing about yoga but there is a reason that yoga philosophy has lasted thousands of years and has countless disciples. Numerous studies have documented the potent health benefits of yoga on a myriad of ailments. Yoga has many parts to it – meditation, breathing, stretching and strengthening. How can it not be good for you?

  1. Take ‘nano’ vacactions

How many times have you been on a long vacation only to find yourself working in the middle of it? Research has found that frequent short breaks are better than long vacations. So try using your accumulated time off in bursts instead of spending it as a big wad. You’ll be happier and more productive. The bonus of short vacs is that it’s also easier to unplug your  computer, phone, TV, toddler and so on.

  1. Get your art on

This is catharsis through art. Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be good. Set up an area in your office with paint and canvas or crayons and paper if you have to – the idea is to unplug and do something creative – try not to be bound to electronics.  Think it sounds silly? Try watching a preschooler drawing. Watch how they are lost in the moment. This is an ideal medium for escape from the daily grind.

  1. Journal

Get in the habit of free flow journaling. Do it once in the morning and once at night for 5 minutes. In the morning, write down what you’re looking forward to. What challenges do you anticipate? How do you see yourself dealing with them? In the evening, do a retrospective of your day. What worked? What could have gone better? What lessons did you learn?  You will soon notice many new insights into how you can be more effective and you will have a document of your improvements.

  1. Take a hike

Are you not amazed at the healing power of nature? A forest full of eucalyptus – smell it. Salt water ocean breeze – feel it. The trickle of a stream – hear it. It’s all good for you. It’s your natural environment. It’s where you belong. It’s healing. Trust me.

  1. Take a walk

Can’t hike? Exercise of any kind boosts endorphins and promotes good health. Have you given yourself an impossible exercise routine? That’s why you are not doing it. Try walking for 30 minutes each day instead. It’s actually all you need to do.

  1. Release tension through progressive muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is one of my favorite techniques that you can do in a meeting or from your desk. Start with your toes and work your way up tightening and relaxing each muscle as you go until you get to your face. Do it every day at some point during the day. Your body will thank you for releasing all that tension.

  1. Build a good sleep habit

End your day this way. Busy people just neglect their sleep but maintaining a regular sleep-wake schedule is paramount to good health. Don’t eat a large meal before you go to bed, have a relaxing bath, and cut down on caffeine because your behaviors during the day can impact how you sleep at night. Most importantly, unplug your phone, your computer and your TV. Screen time stimulates the brain and makes it harder to relax and wind down before bed. Healthy sleep habits are the cornerstone of a healthy and relaxed mind that can cope effectively with the inevitable stressors life throws your way.

Live long. Prosper.

Good luck.

©2017 – All Content and photography by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

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Tethered to Technology: Smartphone Stress and Digital Anxiety

April 18, 2017 • 5 minute read • by Saeed

I was recently on a trip to Marrakech. The last time I was there was 20 years ago. My sister asked me what had changed? The only change I could see was a Smartphone in every Moroccan hand and heads constantly buried in them.

We’ve developed an insatiable appetite for new digital media. Facebook, Apple, Google and a host of other Silicon Valley behemoths are all too happy to supply a constant stream of new apps and devices to feed our obsession.

Apple has sold over a billion iPhones since its launch in 2007 and Google now claims to process over 40,000 search queries every second worldwide. That’s 3.5 billion searches per day or 1.2 trillion searches per year. At last count, Facebook had over 1.7 billion monthly active users. That’s larger than the population of India (1.252 billion) or China (1.357 billion).

The New Normal

For millennials, the on-the-go connectivity is simply the way life has always been.

Their phones have always been smart.

The Internet has always been on.

Content has always been on a constant stream.

They’ve likely never waited in line at the bank, rarely waited for letters to arrive by mail, and seldom had their musical choices limited to the radio or what can fit on a mass-marketed CD.

They’ve always been able to choose humane, green, fair trade, organic, and employee owned. Their shopping has always been aligned with their core values and facilitated online.

For the rest of us, this is the new normal and our digital life is here to stay. Technology has ingrained and ingratiated itself into our daily lives. So, it’s reasonable to wonder about its real world impact.

An Assault on Focus

If technology has eroded your ability to focus, you are not alone. If your mind is constantly wandering, wanting to get on the internet, scanning ahead, or needing to check in with your virtual world every few seconds, you are not alone. And you are not alone if you want to do just about anything except focus your attention on one thing for a long period of time.

Technology has not only changed the way we communicate and socialize, it’s changed our brains. The nature of brain neuroplasticity is that it is responsive to the new stimulations caused by technology. Technology changes the way we think, act, learn, make choices and interact with each another. It has added convenience, yes. But it has also increased our dependency and is chipping away daily at our ability to concentrate.

Connection Anxiety

Smartphones alone bring an unprecedented level of convenience but also codependence to our lives. Instead of separation anxiety, we have developed ‘connection’ anxiety. Smartphones tether us to our colleagues, bosses, friends, and relatives.

A recent study showed that when used for work-related communications they disturb our ability to psychologically disengage from the stress of the job. This makes us vulnerable to work-related exhaustion. Increased productivity because we stay connected to work in the evening hours is achieved at the cost of our mental health. In another study, researchers found that heavy Smartphone users they separated from their phones showed increased anxiety after only 10 minutes and that anxiety continued to increase across the hour long study.

The Emoji Society

In the 21st century, our real and virtual worlds overlap. They comingle, cohabitate, and collide in a digital world that uses 21st century tools to mediate our interaction.  But what are the consequences of having tools that are always on and that blur the boundaries between virtual and real friends or personal and professional communication?

Instead of face-to-face communication, what are the consequences when we send photos, video, or other multimedia representations of our self, to convey friendliness, build intimacy, or express strong emotions?

The average American sends 96 emojis per day! What happens when emojis take over our communication and when our sentences are reduced to 140 characters to fit into an online text box?

Technology will continue to redefine how we interact with our digital ecosystem. But at what cost? I  would love to hear what you think. Let me know by sounding off in the comments below.

  1. Is the new technology isolating people or augmenting existing social relationships?
  2. Is it enhancing or deteriorating the state of our interpersonal communication?