How to develop a successful team culture

Third Sector Promotion Battersea Dogs & Cats Home

Paul McKenzie from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, says the secret lies in finding the best people and making sure they enjoy and feel rewarded in their work.

The Battersea Dogs & Cats Home philanthropy & partnerships team
The Battersea Dogs & Cats Home philanthropy & partnerships team

What drives individuals to work together as a team? Can work really be ‘fun’? Paul McKenzie, head of philanthropy and partnerships at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, says the secret lies in finding the best people and making sure they enjoy and feel rewarded in their work.

Be excited about each hire

No matter what fundraising strategy you have, you need good people to deliver it. Many organisations make the mistake of hiring the best of a bad bunch. Next time you interview someone, ask yourself: "Would I be excited about this person if they came to work here tomorrow?" If not, don’t hire them. 

Over the last few years I’ve built a team of 17 - I’m as excited about each one now as I was when I first brought them in. Take the time to pick the right people - it will pay off in the end.

People hearing good things

To help get those good people, it is important they are hearing good things about your organisation and being excited about working for you. But to achieve this you have to create a good impression before they even think about working for you. Our team members gladly spread the message that we’re ‘a good place to work’ to potential employees. We share our insights and best practice at events and informal coffee meetings with other charities, for example.

Make employees feel valued

You know you’ve got a good team culture when you look around and believe everyone in the team is great, or at least can be. Each individual is clear on what their role is and how it impacts on the charity’s work, no matter how much money they bring in. 

We devise bottom-up objectives whereby employees establish what their objectives and targets are, and what success looks like. We encourage cross team projects so people learn from each other. And we ask everyone for their feedback at the start of the year - we then create an action plan and tackle one issue at a time. As a result, people feel listened to and valued.

Everyone is responsible for an organisation’s team culture and it’s important they are all aware of this. Don’t just sit and wait for a better working environment - be part of it. Having said that, senior leaders need to create a focus for it and have a big role in making it happen.

If you recruit the right people in the first place, you will have people who naturally take responsibility. They will be excited about team culture and willingly champion it.

Make work fun

Fun creates a stronger working environment overall, which is why we work hard to make work fun. We even allocate time in director meetings to discuss ‘fun’ and we have quarterly ‘fun time’ in the diary, from speed networking to Halloween office makeovers and Christmas away-days. 

Last Christmas, we did thank yous for all the teams in Battersea including writing a thank you song for our IT department and then singing it to them whilst wearing dog masks. The smiles on everyone’s faces said it all. Work can be stressful but if you create a workplace that takes its results seriously, but perhaps doesn't always take itself seriously, it can be a far more productive and happier place.

A health warning on all of these things is that one person’s fun is another’s torture. So work hard to understand your team and find a balance for everyone. It’s tough!

Invest in staff development

Not having enough time or money for developing your staff is not an excuse. We believe that a person’s career development comprises 70% learning on the job, 20% mentoring and 10% training. 

Many people focus too much on training but good one-to-one coaching from your manager is far more beneficial. We do a lot of spotlight sessions where people talk about their own roles and areas of expertise. We often find that mentors learn even more than mentees. 

Put the cause on your doorstep

People often comment we’re a great place to work because ‘the cause is on your doorstep’. We’re lucky because our cause is right in front of us - we have dogs right here in the office. We can see the buildings our money is being used to build. 

Whether you’re a local, national or international charity, you have to find a way for people to feel close to the cause and the difference they make. You need to find your equivalent of a dog in the office. So, help put the cause in front of your teams, because you will not only change their working life, but you will change what they feel they achieve personally every day.

Celebrate success

It’s important to motivate your team by focusing on what they have done well. We have a ‘board of glory’ - when anyone gets money through the door we ring a bell and write it on the board. 

I give people time to tell me about their success - high fives create momentum and make people feel they are recognised and appreciated, even if they’ve only raised a small amount. 

Never give up

It can take a long time to develop the right team culture. You might feel like you’re spending a long time on recruitment without finding the right people. Sometimes your biggest asset - people - can provide vital peer support, but they can also be barriers when they are reluctant to change the way they work. 

It takes time and patience to achieve incremental change. You have to picture where you’re heading towards and never give up. If you keep pushing forwards you will eventually get there. 

Also, once you think you are there, you must work hard to stay there. We know from experience that it is easy to lose focus and let things slip. Revisit these key subjects over and over, so you always keep an eye on where you are.


  1. Great people
  2. Fun and celebration
  3. Strong leadership
  4. Clear strategy
  5. Clear on how people make a difference and connect to the cause

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