How do you maintain core values when growing an organisation collaboratively?

Moving into a new phase with Covid-19 lockdowns pending and Founder Carolyn Hassan planning transition to exit the organisation, Knowle West Media Centre predicted radical change was required to manage their people and processes and see them through a period of growth with extenuating external impacts.

After a phase of growing organically and taking opportunities up as and when they arrived, the organisation had spread its resources thinly and was creaking under the pressure for growth. In recent months many of the things they’d tried to implement hadn’t worked and Carolyn was pondering how to create a collaborative organisation that continues to grow sustainably and in line with its core values. With equity as a core value for the organisation, the team were keen to build their future in an open and inclusive way. The leadership team had identified a handful of potential causes for friction, including a disparate programme, staff feeling overstretched, failing systems, and unhappiness around clunky HR practices, complex financial systems and lack of understanding about how operational processes worked.

Choosing the right path forward

The challenge set for Practical Governance was to enable a new structure around the creaking systems, equip the team to develop forward-thinking processes and design new models around how to help KWMC achieve their ambitious trajectory. KWMC wanted to streamline the operational management across their wide-ranging portfolio of projects, develop new management processes, make them more transparent and improve internal decision making across all teams.

A top-down approach to the required change wasn’t going to work. It was quickly identified that the only way change could be made in alignment with their values was by being led by the team, for the team, and with momentum.

“The tendency when working with a consultant is to ask them to create something for you, whereas this route was a really good move to get everybody on board and doing it. It was a leap of faith not to jump to a quick-fix solution” – Carolyn Hassan

One of the key parts to this change was moving through the process one step at a time, incrementally and systematically improving one part, and then the next. The tendency with this type of change is to go full pelt, which sometimes leads to strain on resources and often failure of the change itself.

Co-delivery of operations

Once KWMC started using consent-based decision making they developed four ‘Circles’ for each area of the core operational functions. We brought together different representatives from each department together to make decisions for each function – this was a way to collaboratively solve problems, use consent-based decision making, and to air issues from one area of the business to another. With the operational functions working more closely together, another piece of work around the culture of the organisation has dovetailed nicely with changes including new HR policies and financial systems.

The output from this way of working has been the pitching of new ideas from one Circle to the rest of the organisation. As an example, one of the proposals brought forward from within the team was that anyone could take an extra half-hour at lunchtime if they went out into the community and had a community-based lunch – they are then asked to share this new knowledge or insight with the rest of the team.

Another idea that is bubbling away at the moment is to evolve the salary package for the team. This includes the introduction of staff benefits that supports both the professional development and wellbeing of the team. KWMC has introduced a health plan for all staff (support for paid health and wellbeing services) and more flexibility around holidays. As a non-profit organisation KWMC needs to make smaller salary packages more appealing to brilliant people. The idea is to create a buying and selling forum for holiday time which has the potential to be more equitable.

Collective ownership in practice

Alongside the Circles work, KWMC has developed a “Playbook” for communicating the organisational culture of the organisation, its roots and future priorities. In addition KWMC has developed a ‘How To’ resource to communicate how everything works – the operational and policy processes. These two documents are ‘live’, collaborative and alongside the Circles work provide clear opportunities for the team to contribute to the ongoing running and development of the organisation. The introduction of the playbook discusses ‘Knowle West Media Centre’ becoming ‘Knowle West Media Collective’ – a sign that the collective endeavour is working.

Learnings:

  • You can devise the best plan, but if people haven’t been involved in it, haven’t heard it or felt it, then they’re not going to deliver it for you.
  • Change happens incrementally and in order to lead this effectively, tasks within the wider change project must also be incrementally tackled. A series of smaller changes is much more effective than trying to do a massive change in one go.
  • Talking things through is great but making decisions is better – agree that ‘safe enough to try, and good enough for now’ is the way forward.

Cath Harris

View posts by Cath Harris
Cath is an ethical consultant, marketing strategist and charity trustee. She is passionate about sustainability, purpose-led organisations and women's economic equity.