In September I was that lucky bastard who had an assignment in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I had two very different things to do there. First of all, I was to perform an audit of the financial processes and financial administration of an NGO. And secondly, I was to work with the NGO staff on organisational management issues.
The main thing to be addressed with the team members was the organisational set up, and the system of in-built checks and balances. Based on written and other information I had received beforehand, my impression was that there was definitely some room for improvement.
The question was how to go about that?
For me, the main aim was not so much to develop a new, better balanced structure on the spot. Rather, I wanted to help the team talk about management issues, checks and balances, division of tasks and responsibilities, and the like. I wanted to assist the team to reach its own conclusions about how they wanted their organisation to be structured and organised.
Of course I did want to make them see certain things. But I did not want to show them as such. I wanted to help them see.
Basically, what I wanted was to facilitate a meeting of the team discussing the organisational structure and management. And that is what I did. I prepared a sort of script and I asked questions like ‘Can you tell me what committees and boards there are in your organisation?’, ‘Do you know what the tasks and responsibilities of this committee are?’ and ‘Who has seen a written decision made by that committee?’ and many, many more (in fact, I had more questions than could fit into the two-days programme I had developed).
Step by step it became clear that the organisational structure that had been very nicely presented in a project proposal was basically a mystery to most of the team members. They did manage, in the end, to sketch a rough organigram. They also identified which information was lacking and discovered questions that needed to be asked about the management structure.
At the end of the two days we spent together (covering more organisational management issues after clarifying the organigram to the extent possible) team members said they felt very happy and excited. Most team members found that this joint discussion had created a new level of transparency which they felt to be very important and needed. This made them happy and also excited – because now new steps had to be developed and taken and they had to make themselves part of those.
I, too, was satisfied. Through the seemingly loose Q&A structure of the two-day meeting almost all issues the client had identified beforehand as important had been put on the table and discussed. More importantly, these issues had been identified as issues for concern and change by the team itself – as a result of their sharing of information, experiences and questions regarding the organisational management and structure. The team members present had been empowered by the discovery of information that was either new to them or had never before been put together in a context.
I could have given them the same amount of new information in a training on organisational management, with lots of lectures and presentations about how an NGO should be organised and structured. It might have taken less time, and would certainly have been much easier to prepare and conduct. However, my aim was also to empower and mobilise the team members. And I am convinced that facilitating their own discovery process with self-generated insights was in this case much more effective and powerful than any training could have been.