As we all know, non-profit organisations operate in a demanding landscape – so cultivating a high support, high challenge environment is vital to alleviate some of that pressure. 

I’ve written this blog because I wanted to delve a bit deeper into the benefits of such an environment, looking at practical strategies for leaders, and (as always) highlight the significance of building resilience within non-profit teams. You know by now I’m passionate about this subject!

Continuous change and a fast-paced non-profit sector requires a new kind of leadership: leaders with the emotional and intellectual ability to create a vivid image of the future, with the passion to work hard to deliver, and with the interpersonal skills to take people with them.

So, cultivating a high support, high challenge environment is just one way leaders can begin to create a truly meaningful impact within the industry, the team, the organisation, and themselves.

Let’s get into it!

Benefits of a High Support, High Challenge Environment

A high support, high challenge environment combines two essential elements to create team empowerment and resilience. 

High support ensures that team members feel valued, appreciated, and empowered to reach their potential. 

High challenge takes teams outside of their comfort zones safely (high-support), encouraging continuous growth and innovation. 


As a leader, your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to cultivate an environment where strong relationships are built on trust, and where open communication thrives. 

Setting collaborative ambitious goals inspires motivation and encourages individuals to work together to reach them. Embracing challenges cultivates a culture of adaptability and resilience, where ‘failures’ are seen as opportunities for learning and improvement. 


When team members feel supported, valued, and trusted, they gain a sense of empowerment. And we love empowerment! Your fabulous people will become more likely to take ownership of their work, make decisions confidently, and contribute their unique perspectives and ideas. 


Empowered individuals feel a greater sense of autonomy, which fuels their motivation and commitment to achieving goals (amongst other wonderful things).


So yes, the combination of high support and high challenge creates a perfect environment for personal and professional growth. Your team will be encouraged to step outside their comfort zones, explore new skills, and take on more significant responsibilities. This inspires a continuous learning mindset, and allows individuals to expand their capabilities and work towards reaching their full potential.


Plus, as team members face collective challenges, they come together to pool their strengths and expertise. Collaboration not only strengthens relationships within the team but also increases problem-solving abilities and the likelihood of innovative solutions. The shared experience of overcoming challenges builds trust and camaraderie among team members as well, boosting morale. 

And these are just some of the benefits! You’re ultimately creating an empowered and purpose-driven environment where your team can truly thrive.

On the flip side, if a team is in a low support, low challenge environment it can have a severely detrimental effect.

I remember working in a role where my manager was very ‘hands off’ and gave me free reign to do what I liked in the role. At first it was quite liberating and refreshing. Fairly soon though I began to wish they would take a bit of an interest. That they’d ask me those challenging questions that made me think and strive to develop things further. I wished they took time with me. Very soon, my motivation was through the floor, as was my productivity which in turn knocked my self-confidence. So what began as a super relaxed, care-free role, soon became very detrimental to my sense of self-worth.

Here’s a bit more about why a low support, low challenge approach to leadership is damaging:

  • In a low support environment, team members can feel undervalued, unappreciated, and disconnected. The lack of support erodes morale. And you know that low morale can have a cascading effect, negatively impacting collaboration, productivity, and overall team performance – not to mention the impact on mental health and wellbeing. 

  • Without adequate challenge, team members can become stagnant and lose motivation. The absence of opportunities for growth and development hampers their professional progress, which can then lead to disengagement and complacency.

  • When a team operates in a low challenge environment, the ‘status quo’ is maintained, which then hinders innovation and adaptability. Without the motivation to tackle new challenges, people become resistant to change and less receptive to embracing new ideas or approaches. This resistance to change then impedes the team’s ability to respond effectively to evolving circumstances – which we all know is a constant within the non-profit sector. 

  • In a low challenge, low support environment, team members are also less likely to actively engage in their work. When a team lacks meaningful challenges it diminishes their sense of purpose and creativity. This has a knock-on effect and stifles individual contributions, which will limit the team’s overall potential. 

In a nutshell, your team will feel unhappy and unfulfilled as well as disempowered. 

Cultivating High Support

So what do we do?


To cultivate a high support environment, the focus needs to be on building strong relationships and increasing trust among the team.


You can begin with communication. Through transparent and empathetic communication, you’re ensuring that everyone feels heard and valued. More on active listening and feedback below.


Also evident is that by providing opportunities for personal and professional growth through training, workshops, and skill-building sessions, you demonstrate your commitment as a leader to individuals’ growth and wellbeing. 


Make sure you invest in your team members’ development by offering resources and support for gaining new knowledge and skills, thus improving their expertise. You know where to find us! 


And of course, encouraging a culture of collaboration also expands the support within the team. Remember – celebrating achievements and recognising contributions, both big and small, boosts morale and reinforces the sense of belonging.


It’s not all about work. Be sure to recognise and openly acknowledge the importance of work-life balance. And promote practices that support it. Where possible, encourage flexible working arrangements, time off, and self-care. By genuinely valuing the wellbeing of your team members and respecting their personal lives, you’ll further influence your high support environment.


There’s also a lot to be said for kindness and compassion. “Research supports that being more compassionate is not a major time commitment, so being “too busy” should not be an excuse. In fact, a Johns Hopkins study found that giving just 40 seconds of compassion can lower another person’s anxiety in a measurable way.


And as above, actively listen to your team members, allowing them to express their thoughts, concerns, and ideas. Provide constructive feedback that focuses on growth and improvement. By actively engaging in dialogue and valuing their input, you create an environment where individuals feel heard and respected.

Embracing High Challenge

Creating a high challenge environment begins with empowerment (the word of the day). High challenge does not mean forcing your team to step way outside of their comfort zone or increasing their workload. We’re all too familiar with the “high challenge” job descriptions so I just wanted to be clear here. 


Remember we’re looking at this through the lens of already having a high support environment…


Let’s begin with setting ambitious (yet achievable) collaborative goals. Goals that align with your organisation’s mission and vision. These goals should inspire and motivate team members to stretch their capabilities in a way that empowers them. 


By stepping out of their comfort zones (in a safe environment) and taking on new challenges, team members have the opportunity to learn and grow professionally (and personally). This brings a sense of achievement and inspires people to want to develop their skills and knowledge.


When team members are encouraged to tackle ambitious goals, they naturally increase their resilience as they realise their capacity to overcome obstacles. This increased self-confidence translates into higher motivation, a willingness to take on further challenges – not to mention the positive impact on their mental health and overall wellbeing. 


And of course, challenging tasks will often require collaboration and teamwork. When, as individuals, we face collective challenges, we tend to come together to pool our strengths, expertise, and diverse perspectives. So, collaborating on projects brings a sense of unity, strengthens team bonds, and means we can leverage our collective skills and knowledge for shared success.


What’s more, high challenge environments nurture resilience and adaptability within individuals and teams. This includes the ability to embrace change, navigate uncertainty, and respond effectively to unexpected situations. All of which is particularly valuable in non-profit organisations!

Finding Harmony

Yes, creating balance is really important here, for obvious reasons. 


A successful high support, high challenge environment strikes a harmony between nurturing support and stretching challenges. 


As a leader, you play a pivotal role in maintaining this balance by providing guidance, mentorship, and constructive feedback. 


Remember you’re creating an atmosphere where team members feel safe to take risks, express their ideas, and make mistakes without fear of retribution. 


Top Tips Roundup

Implementing a high support, high challenge environment requires thoughtful planning and ongoing commitment on your part. It’s not a ‘one and done’ situation. This is why cultivating and nurturing are the best words used to describe it. 


Tailor support systems and professional development plans to address individual and team needs, ensuring they align with organisational goals. 


So here are the key takeaways for you – 


1. Encourage open and honest communication within your team. Create a safe space where team members feel comfortable expressing their ideas, concerns, and feedback. Actively listen to their perspectives and provide constructive feedback to promote growth and development. Regularly communicate organisational goals and expectations to inspire high challenge while ensuring clarity and alignment.

2. Implement mentorship and development programs to provide support and guidance to team members. Offer opportunities for professional (and personal) growth, such as coaching, training sessions, and workshops. Get in touch here.

3. Collaboratively set ambitious yet achievable goals with your team. Involve team members in the goal-setting process to encourage ownership and commitment. Make sure that the goals are challenging enough to stimulate engagement and innovation but not overwhelming or unrealistic. Regularly review progress, provide feedback, and celebrate milestones to maintain that motivation and enthusiasm.

4. Create opportunities for cross-functional projects or team-building activities that encourage collaboration, shared learning, and the exchange of ideas. Encourage teamwork by recognising and appreciating collective efforts and highlighting successful collaborations. Emphasise the importance of supporting and learning from one another to cultivate a supportive culture.

5. Last but not least, lead by example. As a leader, your actions speak louder than words. It’s up to you to demonstrate the qualities of both support and challenge. Be open, approachable, supportive, and available to your team members. Show willingness to take risks, embrace challenges, and learn from ‘mistakes’. Strive for continuous improvement and seek feedback from your team to model the behaviour you expect from them.


If you want to develop a high support, high challenge environment for your team, please get in touch. 


Charly White



Tel: +44 (0) 7889 950166

The experience of coaching is thought-provoking, transformational and at times very challenging – in a very supportive environment.


With Vivid Leadership Coaching you will be connected to what you really care about, and the difference you want to make.


Group coaching brings the coaching conversation into a small group context. It’s about expanding who you are; it’s a potent way to transform how you see yourself, others and the options available to you. 


Through in-depth conversations and action planning you will move beyond any negative habits and dissolve barriers that currently seem immovable. The experience is often deeply transformative.


The close engagement among group members and the strong focus on helping each other can

quickly help to form a close bond in which you and your fellow leaders come to support each other to achieve your goals.


As well as the above, some of the areas we might explore include:

          • Confidence
          • Change Management
          • Authentic Leadership
          • Influencing stakeholders
          • Self-limiting beliefs
          • Developing and leading the implementation of strategies
          • Working with senior volunteers
          • Workload management
          • Building resilience
          • Plus anything the group decide they’d like to focus on