ARTICLE • 5 min

Building Internal Alignment In The Face Of Change

These days, nonprofits need to be incredibly efficient, resilient, and able to capitalise on opportunities to grow. With the world rapidly changing around us, organizations must be able to change quickly, whilst taking the entire team with them on the journey. 

The best environment to achieve this is one in which the voices of staff are heard, good ideas are developed quickly, and organizations that are not afraid to rethink strategies when necessary. It requires a team of passionate individuals that communicate efficiently and respectfully. 

The right kind of culture is important, not just for the retention of staff and a good working environment, but also for the success of the organization in general. More importantly, cultures need to be malleable. 

Trust is the foundation upon which an organization’s culture should develop. Trust is a crucial prerequisite for long-term successful cooperation. Trust encourages individuals to make compromises and to work for the common good. Trust brings people together. And trust is particularly important through times of transformation. While an environment of trust is crucial for successful change, rapid and significant change can threaten hard-won cultures of trust. Rapid change within organizations, whether it be in the form of new technologies, processes, duties, or team structures, has the potential to open up pre-existing fissures, and can divide and weaken teams. Change is therefore either a trust building or a trust destroying exercise. And once trust is lost, it is very difficult to win back.

So how can organizations achieve resilience and alignment in the face of change, particularly in a time when workforces and teams are remotely displaced. 

First, it is important for an organization to clearly describe and articulate its mission and values. The mission and values of an organization shapes its decisions, actions, and behaviour of the team. The stronger the alignment between team values and the organization’s, the more cohesive and resilient an organization would be during times of transformation. 

Secondly, hierarchical operational structures tend to weaken trust within the team. Here, decisions are made by a few, with very little input from frontline staff with the most direct experience of delivering services. In rigid, strong hierarchical systems, those further down the chain are more likely to feel disconnected from organizational processes. What’s more, they are more likely to view their position as vulnerable or dispensable – hardly an environment that creates trust. Where possible then, agency and ownership should be passed down to those that work with beneficiaries. This brings the entire team into processes and provides incentives for their success.

Relating to this, management and leadership teams should seek frequent feedback from staff – and this should be sought as early as possible in the decision-making process. Going a step further, the contributions from staff should be taken on board and used, and when this is not possible, the reasoning behind this should be clearly communicated.

Staff working in environments that embed discussion and sharing are more likely to voice concerns, whether they relate to the function of the organization or perhaps in their personal life. Through the easing of emotional burdens in this manner, staff are more productive and able to contribute creatively to the organization.

Thirdly, while bringing in the entire team is recommended, the role of leadership is nevertheless very important. And for nonprofits that are particularly vulnerable to funding cycles and economic crises, trust in leadership qualities is particularly important. While democratic structures are ideal, this process only pays off when organization leadership ultimately take ownership of both the good and the bad, are introspective, and are able to change tact when strategies are not working as planned. Honesty and integrity are key components to creating trust.

Dr Clara Ong
Cofounder and Social Impact Expert @ Socialsuite
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