9 Ways to Build (and Rebuild) Culture in a Hybrid World

connection culture purpose team Jan 19, 2023

Advancement leaders around the country are telling us they’re concerned for their team’s well-being.

And that makes sense. Because 2023 is off to a bit of a rocky start.

9,000 flights canceled in a day. Atmospheric river dumping on our coastal friends. Talk of recession. Lots of people moving jobs. Welcoming many new hires without fundraising experience into hybrid work environments.


It’s easy to be uneasy.


Amidst so much change, it’s your work CULTURE that provides an anchor – shelter, support, and inspiration.

In Advancement (and at Generous Change!), we focus a lot on metrics and productivity. And we should. Universities – students – depend on us.

And, if you want to attract and grow and keep top talent today, it is critically important to focus just as fully on building a resilient and supportive culture.


The good news? There is ample data and great practice out there to draw on.

Building culture doesn’t have to cost much (most of the below costs nothing!), and the time invested tends to make people feel better about their jobs rather than overwhelmed.


If you want to explore ways to build a place where people love their work and take radical ownership of their productivity, here are a few ideas.

If you are a skeptic, which trust me, I understand: teams we’ve worked with have told us their culture has turned around in as little as six months. It really can work – even when (as always, everywhere) it is imperfectly pursued!

We start with the obvious: This is a different workplace. Let’s acknowledge that and dive into remaking it on purpose so that it is powerfully thriving.



Belonging is our most basic human need after food and shelter. Our ancestors needed each other to survive – and in all kinds of ways, so do we!

When we survey teams before working with them, just about every single person ranks “know each other better” as a TOP GOAL for every retreat.

Which should come as no surprise. Harvard Business Review, Gallup, Forbes all report that people who have friends at work are not only more likely to be happier and healthier, they are also 7X as likely to be engaged in their job! People who report having friends at work have higher levels of productivity, retention, and job satisfaction than those who don’t.

Belonging is surprisingly easy to build, even (maybe especially) in a hybrid environment. Here are a few things to try, gathered from fundraising shops around the country who are intentionally rebuilding their culture:


  1. Start meetings with icebreakers. These sound silly but that’s the point! They’re fun. And truly help you get to know people in new, real ways.

A few we’ve used:

  • What’s the first thing you thought this morning? Or…
  • If aliens landed on earth, what’s the first thing you would tell them to do? Or…the old faithful…
  • If you could only have one food for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

This can feel like a waste of precious meeting time, but meetings are vastly more productive when people are relaxed and open – and this is a great way to get there fast.

We know one AVP who spends a full third of every all-development meeting this way so that everyone truly gets to know one another. She says that one simple move has dramatically boosted morale.

  1. Stay on camera for video meetings. We get it! Sometimes you’re in the car. In a doctor’s waiting room. Eating. Zoom meetings are weird!

Here’s the thing: being off camera during a zoom meeting is kinda like looking at your phone during an in-person meeting. It sends the message that something else is more important than the other people in the meeting.

Blank zoom boxes don’t build belonging – but your gorgeous face onscreen does! Whenever you can, keep that camera on.

  1. Make team days special. If you are a hybrid team that gets together in the office on particular days, experiment with making those days a little special! We know teams who:
  • Visit campus together to learn something new.
  • Volunteer together once a quarter.
  • Trade teaching each other cool stuff during team meetings (sometimes work related, sometimes not…one time it might be how to deal with a totally unexpected “no” after a major gift ask, one time it might be an incredible new packing trick for your next trip, one time it might be a Cliff Notes version of a great book they just read).
  • One VP we know has made quarterly development meetings into learning retreats – the information that used to get pushed out at those meetings is now just shared in a memo. The time in person is used to really come together, learn new things, solve big problems, reach important agreements.

This does require more forethought and creativity than the typical meeting agenda and…it pays huge dividends. Teams that learn and grow together are much more likely to stay together, so experiment!

  1. Consider purely social gatherings. I used to roll my eyes at these. Couldn’t people get together for a drink or pizza on their own time if they wanted? But I am a total convert, and so are many VPs I’ve spoken to recently. Places they’ve taken their teams:
  • A nearby microbrewery owned by an alum
  • The town’s favorite ice cream shop
  • A taco truck where everybody ate outside.

People really do – now more than ever – just want to hang out. Without a work purpose. Even two times a year makes a real impact. There is nothing like laughing together to create a feeling of genuine belonging.



That whole, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” thing? Never bought it. Work is work. Some of it – even when you DO love your work (and I totally do!) – is no fun and will always feel like work. (I mean, cold calling???)

What helps all of us do big, difficult things we may slightly loathe, is PURPOSE. As in, being on purpose. As a group and individually. And for that, remembering our “Why,” as Simon Sinek says, really matters.

This is an amazing time to revisit your organization’s or team’s core values – explore what they mean to you, and set some intentions for really living them.


  1. Re-Set. Advance. Whatever you call it, and whether it’s an hour or a day, or just a few minutes during every team meeting, take intentional time to revisit your values.
  • Dig into each one and really clarify what that statement means to you as a group. You could explore them all in a half-day retreat or focus on one in each team meeting.
  • Describe how you see that value in action with real-life examples. What is it? What is it not?
  • Set intentions for how you want to embody it in the next month – everyone says how and where they’ll put it in action.

If you don’t already have a set of values that helps you reach higher and do better, then create them!

When we do Strategic Teambuilding retreats, we ask teams:

  • What is every idea, word or phrase that feels like a north star for you and your team?
  • What do you want people to say about you? Donors, campus partners, colleagues?
  • What are you really good at?
  • Who do you want to serve? How?

Answering these questions creatively and fully really pulls teams together – it builds meaningful shared purpose and intention.

  1. Deepen Conviction. One great way to begin or end team meetings, one-on-ones with direct reports or supervisors or deans – just about any meeting! – is to take a moment to reflect out loud about why your job is important, what you’ve done recently that you know really matters, what makes you proud to have been a part of.
  • Did you meet a scholarship student?
  • Hear about inspiring work to cure diabetes?
  • Learn a new leadership technique?

Universities do SUCH amazing work every day and YOU make it possible.

Did you watch a donor cry about the impact they’re making? YOU helped them have that incredible experience.)

At Generous Change, we just added a bullet point to our team check-ins that asks “what inspired you last week?” Remember as often as you can why you do this amazing work!


Okay – you’ve Built Belonging. You’ve Ignited Purpose. It’s time to:


Every group we’ve ever worked with says they need to celebrate more - celebrate more stuff, celebrate more often.

Which makes sense. Because Advancement is a little weird.

We re-set the clock every year, ending with however many millions raised and beginning again at zero. It can be a tad disheartening.

We get a giant gift and are already shrugging it off, nervous about getting the next.

And most of all, the only somewhat visible part of the work tends to be development, while so much amazing work by so many terrific people remains mostly hidden.

If we want to create “sticky” cultures where everyone feels like they’re contributing – and where they want to STAY - we need to celebrate success!


  1. Decide what’s awesome. What do you want to see more of? That’s what you want to reward!
  • Is it collaboration?
  • Ambitious asks (even if declined)?
  • Group efforts like a Discovery Sprint?
  • Trying new things?
  • Failing (because that means you’ve tried something big and new)?

Consider individually and as teams what would signal that you are moving gloriously in the right direction and what steps along that path you want to celebrate. Not just the big gifts, but all the good work it takes to get there.

  1. Decide WHO to celebrate.
  • Did I.T. really step up on a database conversion?
  • Did communications create a winning proposal that wowed a key donor?
  • Did your researcher uncover someone ah-mazing?
  • Did your development coordinator keep you organized and on track and actually get you to file those contact reports??

Who provided key building blocks for the team’s success?

  1. Decide how and when to celebrate. What would make them feel fantastic?
  • Do they like public recognition or private high-fives?
  • Would a cupcake and a card and balloons float their boat, or a gift card for coffee?
  • Would an afternoon off mean the most?

We know teams who have straight-up asked how people want to be celebrated so they know.

Make a plan to celebrate regularly and you will immediately boost morale and make your team more “sticky!”


Those are our 9 Tips. Go forth! Build a culture where people love their work because they remember why they’re doing it. Where success is celebrated so you get more of it.

If you try any of them, we would love to hear how it goes!

If you do amazing things that have helped build and rebuild culture, we’d love to hear about them!

Thank you for all you do to make generous change in the world.