In today’s interconnected world, leaders in the field of social protection must do more than design, implement or monitor a programme. They need to inspire fellow practitioners whilst being adept at leveraging a diverse range of stakeholder experience and knowledge. This goes beyond the environment of their own teams. They also need to manage the challenges that come with donors, limited resources, and humanitarian shocks and crisis.
Successful leaders create and harness a distributed network of stakeholders. They facilitate the breaking down of silos amongst teams and build a framework for a distributed network of experts, all working towards a common vision. Whilst leaders may appreciate this approach and even see value in its methodology, the most common responses are: “it just won’t work for us, we’ve got too many processes in place to make this type of change” or “I see the value, but I know my team won’t get on board easily”.
Making a change in how you run a team and engage with stakeholders isn’t an overnight process. In fact, attempting to make a change too rapidly will cause more harm than good. We find comfort in routines and if they’re done for long enough, they can become part of our identity. Challenging people to suddenly make a change that has an impact on their identity will naturally generate resistance.
A transition to a new way of doing work needs to be gradual and if the idea is to guide your organisation away from siloes to one that is open and interconnected, the best place to start is with the plan to create change in itself. You need to engage with your team and stakeholders in the process of change and implement a facilitated approach to leadership from the start.
Facilitating change: A new strategic approach
If you’re still unsure of where to start, consider engaging your team in a strategic plan refresh, using the following guidelines to facilitate the process:
1. Start with the end in mind
I know this seems like a simple question, but the key is not to simply ask the question, but to keep asking it. The common trap for organisations is that they have an initial strategic analysis, put together a plan, and then evaluate everything against this strategy. The problem with this approach is that it assumes that what we are trying to solve or the environment we are operating in remains constant.
The environment in which we operate in is inherently fluid; political landscapes change, resource availability shifts, and the needs of those we’re trying to help can change from day to day. If we start to see things aren’t unfolding the way we planned, instead of doubling down on our effort, perhaps we need to ask – is this strategy still the best one given what we now know.
2. Give up some control
Complete control of the process works when everyone has a specific role, clear reporting lines, and clear measurements of success. This approach was borne in the industrial revolution assembly lines. I know this sounds counterintuitive and challenges a tried and tested approach of managing teams, but relinquishing control can have positive impacts.
Social protection and capacity building practitioners don’t operate in factories. There aren’t clear roles and a set and forget approach doesn’t cater to the fluidity of the environment and every changing demands. For people to respond quickly to a crisis they need a degree of freedom to act, without needing to go through a hierarchy of approval.
This doesn’t mean giving people free reign, rather just providing them with acceptable parameters to make decisions, whilst ensuring there are appropriate protocols and procedures in place to make higher risk decisions: ‘Freedom within boundaries.’
3. A forum to connect the dots
Todays’ leader needs to be able to see how all the pieces fit together. The first two guidelines set up the framework for a dynamic team that can adjust and respond to a changing environment. Now we need to establish a framework, or forum, whereby everyone can share their progress, lessons learnt, and an outline of the challenges they face.
This forum serves many functions; from opening collaboration opportunities to enabling you to get a wholistic picture of what is happening. Your role is to see how all the pieces fit together, identify any common patterns, and guide the process of collaboration.
Importantly, the forum also allows your team to do the same. This simple but important approach allows you to change the entire conversation and the strategy is one that is then created by a team, not delivered to a team. Together you can identify what ideas have the greatest impact, what activities are dependent on each other, and when you want to get things done by. This will give you a foundational strategic plan to work from.
A strategic plan is an evolving document. Don’t simply use the document as a tool to measure performance against. Whilst a plan is created in a meeting, it is defined by the on the ground realities. When your plan evolves, there is only one question you need to ask – does this help us get closer to vision identified you in step 1? Through this facilitated leadership approach, social protection practitioners can design, implement and monitor programmes more effectively, and ultimately achieve a greater impact.