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PBM 101: Engaging in challenge to improve outcomes

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PBM 101: Engaging in challenge to improve outcomes

In this Principle Based Management 101 series, we’re unpacking mental models, ideas, and tools you can use to level up your work.

This article was previously published by Stand Together Foundation.


Principle Based Management™ provides a holistic approach to making decisions, solving problems, and creating value for individuals in your community, team members in your organization, and society at large. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​It is rooted in proven principles that have fueled the ongoing success of Stand Together and our partners. In this Principle Based Management 101 series, we’re unpacking mental models, ideas, and tools that you can use to reach the next level in your work.

In our introduction to the Knowledge Processes Dimension, we identified that empowering your team members with the right information is critical if you want to hit your organization’s most ambitious goals. We also discussed a counterintuitive strategy: using the challenge process to improve the quality of your knowledge and insights.

Cultivating a respectful and productive challenge culture can be difficult to foster in any organization. In this article, we’ll explain the benefits of the challenge process, share ideas to cultivate it at your organization, and provide examples of how the challenge process may come to life in the context of managing a nonprofit.

Why the challenge process is essential

Teams are, by definition, groups of individuals with unique skills, interests, and knowledge. On their own, no single team member has all the necessary expertise or talent to accomplish your organization’s goals. That’s why many organizations embrace positive concepts like “collaboration” or “teamwork” to drive their missions forward.

The challenge process isn’t in opposition to those concepts. In fact, we see challenge as a tool to make collaboration and teamwork even more effective. Blind agreement often results in less effective strategies, fewer discoveries, and worse performance over time. On the other hand, effective and respectful challenge from everyone can improve idea generation, and decisions at every level of your organization. It moves employees from a passive posture into a proactive posture. By empowering your team to challenge decisions, share different perspectives, and shape your organization’s strategy, you can make their work more fulfilling and improve your nonprofit’s outcomes.

How to develop a successful challenge culture

Creating a healthy challenge culture can’t happen overnight. It requires a foundation of humility, trust, and constructive feedback. Below are some important prerequisites that can improve the challenge culture at your organization:

  • A clear vision and objectives
  • Objective feedback processes
  • Clear decision rights and accountability
  • Empowering employees to speak up, regardless of role or authority
  • Soliciting and providing timely feedback on decisions (i.e. before it’s too late to change anything)
  • Responding positively when others share new information, even if it contradicts leaders’ assumptions
  • Recognizing that decisions don’t necessarily require consensus

Bringing the challenge process to life

As you continually invest in a healthy challenge culture, here are a few examples of some indications of progress or the challenge process “coming to life” in your organization:

  • Seeking outside expertise
  • Re-evaluating organizational strategy on a regular basis, even when it seems to be working
  • Team members raising concerns about integrity or compliance
  • Supervisors providing constructive feedback about how to improve performance
  • Supervisors asking for constructive feedback about their own performance
  • Team members noticing societal changes and asking questions about the organization’s perspective
  • Asking an employee who has been silent during a meeting if they have ideas to contribute
  • Team members feeling confident to respectfully disagree or share a different perspective


Learn more about Principle Based Management and how it can help you transform your results.

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