Does an organisation really need a director?

People & Planet is a student movement which campaigns on issues of global poverty, environment and human rights.

When their long-standing director retired they decided to explore ways to work collaboratively.

John Clements, finance manager for People & Planet said: “People & Planet has been around for 40 years so obviously it was a significant change but we felt that with the skill set we had between us we could manage.

“We are a democratic student-led organisation where students decide on the projects and campaigns we work on. As a consensus-driven organisation, this way of working really fits.”

Oasis Core Associate Chris Taylor worked with staff to look at issues of leadership and collaboration, and to collaboratively develop an organisational strategy so that they could prototype a director-less organisation.

Modes of Organisational Leadership

Oasis has identified four broad modes of leadership, which can be viewed on a continuum representing where power is held:

Collaborative Leadership spectrum

Essentially People & Planet wanted to explore whether the Collaborative Leadership style suited its objectives and situation.

The time with Chris gave people the space to think about the difficult issues around working together on an equal footing, to identify challenges and opportunities.

John said: “I was impressed with the way Chris worked. He had the right approach. We had to decide on the questions we wanted answering and we had to decide on the answers. His role was to facilitate us in coming to the right answer for us.”

Developing the skills for collaboration

People & Planet had a strong commitment to collaboration in principle and needed to develop the capacity and skills to implement it.

Collaborative leadership models have major advantages but also require concerted effort to establish and maintain.

For a collaborative leadership system to work, cultural change is required. For example, changes in how decisions are made and by who, where and how support is offered, how people are held to account, how progress is reviewed and monitored, and where power lives.

In addition to these cultural changes, staff also identified the organisational and structural changes needed to sustain a collaborative model, including a clear decision-making process, clear responsibilities across the managers group, lead managers for key functional areas and support for these lead managers. Staff also weighed up the risks of not having a director.

Development for change

Oasis designed an organisational development programme to develop personal and group skills for collaborative leadership.

It included away days for managers to explore models of leadership and collaboration, to collaboratively develop a medium-term strategy for People & Planet, to clarify the roles and responsibilities needed to deliver this strategy and to develop a monitoring framework.

Although the focus of the programme was strategy and leadership, those involved also considered their personal development needs in relation to leadership and collaboration; working on their willingness to challenge others, to be challenged and to address issues of power; and their desire to take more responsibility to shape the future.

People & Planet developed a circular model where all act as manager for a colleague and as an accountability manager for another. Monthly one-to-one managerial meetings are held and every quarter each three meet for an overarching review. There is rotating membership of the managerial team so that each manager rotates every six months.

A new strategic planning process gives responsibility to individual project managers, with progress against their annual plan reviewed with their manager monthly, and a quarterly review of all plans by the team being the reporting mechanism to the Board of Trustees.

Challenges and benefits

John said: “The big challenge is that we are all nice people and it is difficult to challenge each other.

“You can lose the overarching view of what is going on. Good communication is needed so that everybody knows everything that is going on.”

The Value of Authentic Collaboration

Financial pressures over the last year have led to a reduction in people’s hours. Not everyone is in the office at the same time, which could hinder communication.

However, the new approach is helping to overcome the segmenting of the organisation. With four separate projects it is very easy for them to become siloed and for people to act in a vertical way and not look at the links between projects. Collaboration supports inter-project working and People & Planet are now considering moving away from individual project managers and towards having a team responsible for a group of projects, enabling cross-fertilisation.

Other benefits include increased commitment. “We feel we are partly responsible for the whole organisation. You feel more motivated, more empowered running your own project without someone looking over your shoulder and you are contributing to the wider organisation as well,” said John.

Find out more

To find out more about culture change and collaborative leadership contact us on 01937 541700 or by using the contact form.