I currently lead several new projects in South Sudan and Somalia for a client. New teams, new projects, new dynamics, new client needs, new stories, new biases, new worldviews. Here’s some lessons from the last couple of weeks.
- Make sure you pay people on time. It doesn’t matter how much you try and level-up teams, one must get the basics right. Going to the bank or checking your balance isn’t so easy for those living with more risks than the UK.
- Don’t rush communications and use multiple forms. Emails can be mis-interpreted, so can WhatsApp messages, so can meetings. Keep following up to check mutual understanding and use different communication methods.
- Meetings shouldn’t be rushed but they need someone to push them along. Give your team as much time as they need to productively talk. Give them space to think and react – with a light structure. Give everyone a chance to ask questions – not just those who are loudest. Equity is important.
- Send questions in advance. Even better, send questions in their language, not yours.
- Create space for yourself. You need space to think through what you are communicating to make sure it is clear.
- Keep going with one-to-one meetings. These have become some of the most important interactions, to really gain trust, build relations and also listen.
- Listen and build on their cultures. Work cultures are different in each country. Keep listening to shape your approach (for example – no meetings on Fridays or around prayer times in Islamic cultures). Challenge some of the myths (and culture) on who are the decision makers in the projects.
My next steps:
“There are two ways to do your work. You can be a cab driver. Show up and ask someone where they want to go. Charge them based on the meter. Or you can be an agent of change, someone who creates tension and then relieves it.” Seth Godin’s book – This is Marketing
I don’t want the team to be cab drivers. I don’t want to be a cab driver. My core team strategies to them are to (1) Motivate and inspire (2) Propel them forward (3) Provide the team with a light structure. Within this, I’m going to:
- Assign more decision making in-country for each project . The team looks at me as the team leader because of my ‘status’. Time to flip it and give them more authority. Status matters, and I want them to think differently about their status in the projects. The culture is top-down in so many projects, which needs reshaping.
- Spend more time on the vision and ‘what success looks like’ – too often it’s about the tasks.
- Delegate more coordination. Meetings now have a rotating chair.
- Introduce Scrum management– yes – I know – geeky stuff, we all do it already – all of us. But I’m going to try and bring it in more formally over the next month.
If these are the kind of discussions you’d like to have – come join The Innovation Community – we’ve got discussion groups and specific workshops to support change agents like you.
There is a huge amount of uncertainty in the aid sector right now. We need to help empower our teams and refresh our approach to making change happen. Our course, Unleashing your inner leader, covers empathy, coaching, worldviews, decision-making in uncertainty, prioritisation and networking. The course begins on 1 February 2021. Book before 1 January 2020 and receive a 20% refund after purchasing.
By Mo Ali
Photo credit: Footprints on the Moon, Seth Godin