Partnering for organisational success and sustainability! A few lessons learned

By Rosa Matos, Founding Partner, Stone Soup Consulting

I recently conducted a customized organisational development (OD) process through the elaboration of an organisational health-check and design of a development action plan for a key MAVA partner. This experience offers some lessons learned of interest for both MAVA Foundation, its partners and other actors engaged in similar organisational change processes.

Support as partners

Under the partnership approach of the MAVA Foundation’s OD support, all partners work as peers, in a spirit of shared responsibility and commitment to its success. Supervision and monitoring become the space to check on progress, but also to reflect on outcomes, highlight learnings and jointly tackle challenges that lie ahead.

Not only ‘a nice to have’

A strong support of all levels of the organisation means more people seek to understand what the organisational process implies, engage as appropriate in each moment and take responsibility for results. For the action plan, in particular, not to be regarded as a set of additional activities for “free time” after projects, but rather an integral and central part of the organization’s life, a fertile ground has to be created from the beginning.

 In the same boat

A participatory self-assessment and the definition of an action plan offers a safe space where all organisation members can openly discuss and reflect on their state of development, regardless of their roles and levels of responsibility. It is also an opportunity to raise awareness on the use of participatory dynamics. Participants refer to multiple benefits: better perception of the necessary change, engagement, cohesion and empowerment. But for benefits to last and be internalized, proactive involvement of Board members’ is decisive. It gives a sign of confidence and encouragement to the whole organization.

Build the desired scenario

A development action plan points the way to a new future by defining change actions to be undertaken sequentially. For an action plan to be relevant, achievable and realistic it must result from an understanding of a necessary continuum of change – the path between the current situation (strengths and challenges) and a desired scenario (of solutions for priority challenges).

Cultural change

As many organisational challenges are, to a large extent, essentially cultural (values, beliefs and assumptions that unite members), rather than technical (what is done and how), organisational change is a social and cognitive, affective and behavioural process. More than a well-structured and time-bound intervention, it can happen thanks to a long-term organisational commitment with its own evolution and by nurturing a favourable culture. It needs to address power balance and interrelationships, trigger change systemically and translate into an organizational practice of reflexive construction that is continually updated and renewed.

Sustaining change

Organisational health-checks help highlight critical strengths and challenges regarding main organisational components, analysing their interactions and effects on performance, outcome and impact, and the action plan jointly agreed defines the necessary change towards a phase of greater maturity and stability. Both phases can generate important learnings and immediate meaningful effects, but they are just part of a broader and long-term change process, which the organization will have to be able to nurture and sustain continuously.

Open the space and set the pause

The benefits of an organisational health-check, and the quality and relevance of the development action plan, are greater if the organisation is given a break to pause and reflect on findings and recommended change actions, while allowing for a gradual integration of emerging learnings and for the organization to maintain regular activity. The whole process can be methodically planned and managed to favour a natural flow of activities and guarantee a focus on expected results; pausing before moving on again opens space for feedback loops and for stimulating influences to operate.

For me, building an OD partnership is a looong process… that actually needs to be long. As this process is informed by individual and collective reflection and exchanges, and by external inputs coming from partners, before being digested and shared at all levels of the organisation, time has to be seen as a friend rather than an enemy. We often want to start the implementation of OD activities as soon as possible, but it is fundamental to take the time needed for a good diagnosis (organisational health-check) as well as for designing a relevant action plan. Time spent on these two inception steps is not wasted time. It is the guaranty of a future well understood, collectively supported and eventually effective process of change for the benefit of all in the organisation.

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