CDE project 17 sec­tion 4.3: we now need a dif­fer­ent kind of leadership

Written by
The Commission on the Donor Experience
April 13, 2017

We now need a different kind of leadership

In Team of Teams, General Stanley McChrystal describes the primary reasons he believes his counter-terrorism units in Iraq had been repeatedly out-flanked in the first few years of their operation. 

They were operating in an environment in which events happened more quickly and were more interdependent than had ever happened before. This was primarily because the enemy - terrorists seeking to destabilise Iraq - operated with a flat structure in which everyone understood the shared mission and was empowered to use their initiative.

Repeatedly, the Task Force’s attempts to predict events and respond with carefully signed-off plans had failed. In the aftermath of the bombing by terrorists of a sewage plant in Baghdad, which killed hundreds of Iraqi men, women and children, it became clear to McChrystal and his colleagues that their current strategy was failing. 

In order to respond to a highly complex environment, he decided that the Task Force needed to stop striving primarily to be efficient and instead become adaptable. 

To become far more adaptable, McChrystal realised that two things were essential. Firstly, there needed to be a shared consciousness across his whole organisation, and secondly, he needed to devolve responsibility, so that everyone was empowered to act, rather than pass decision-making up through the chain of command.

Realising that the traditional model of military leadership was part of the problem, McChrystal forced himself to change from a chess-master into a gardener. As a gardener, his role was to create the adaptable environment in which people could achieve the mission.

Develop a shared consciousness – encourage people to think in terms of the overall goal, not artificial silos, and encourage information to be shared across the organisation

‘Persuading teams to network with other teams will always be difficult, but this is a culture that can be planted and, if maintained, can flourish. It just requires a gardener: a human, and sometimes all-too-human leader… making an ecosystem viable.’ 

General Stanley McChrystal

Intra-department activity 

The first step is to get really determined to create a ‘team of teams’, a shared consciousness, in which everyone knows the goal and knows enough to help achieve it. Joe Jenkins explained that if this is what you want, then activities that take place across teams and across departments become critical, all the time. ‘The temptation in charities is to take your team for an away day…but if you want a team of teams who share one common enterprise, you’ve got to be constantly mixing things up, and not only does that help innovation, because innovation often happens when you include different perspectives, but it also means you’re breaking down silos all the time’. 

As an example, at Friends of the Earth and again at Children’s Society, Joe took a range of people from across the organisation away for two days and asked the question ‘how can we give supporters a better experience of what we do?’ 

Every Monday at Children’s Society, they have a meeting called ‘ten at ten’, which is where ‘all the people who have anything to do with supporters, in whatever role, come together to share stories about what they did last week and what they’re doing in the week ahead. It only takes 20 minutes, and it enables us to all be thinking about this as a collective enterprise, rather than just doing this in our teams.’

He always sets up projects or activities with shared objectives, so that ‘it’s not just that everyone knows what their objective is for their own bit, but they know what collectively we’re trying to achieve. So campaigns and projects are always set with shared objectives…so what money are we raising; what volunteers are we engaging; what campaign outcomes are we trying to achieve; and those are owned collectively rather than by just one discipline.’

Liz Tait agreed that as a leadership group, they are always searching for ways to create a sense of unity. ‘For instance, in most team meetings there will be some kind of team-building activity. There is lots of fun, clapping and noise…’ She went on to point out that obviously a culture benefits from a range of personality types, so no one is forced to take part in group or public speaking activities that they don’t want to. 

‘So there are a range of ways we seek to create the passionate team culture that we’re looking for, for example each team writing a group blog, which favours a more reflective and less extraverted personality type. Another example was for each team to create a film of how they view their role in serving the animals, and another thing we did was one fundraising team created a tea party for another team. All these things increase trust and mutual understanding across the organisation.’

Model it 

Joe pointed out that as leaders you need to be seen to be working together on this, so this needs to be modelled at a senior level. At Friends of the Earth he and his counterpart, the Director of Campaigns, used to often talk on each other’s behalf. This colleague used to stand up and talk about fundraising and why we need to put supporters first, and Joe would talk about important policy changes which were impacting the real world. 

This gave everyone a strong sense that they weren’t separate, trying to achieve their own objectives, or secure resources to further their own departments, but that they were truly working together.

Be consistent

Giles Pegram and Tim Hunter described how at NSPCC they always tried to focus attention on the shared goal of rewarding donor experience, rather than raising money against individual targets.

In addition to making this clear, the fundraising leadership team made a change to the appraisal system for fundraisers.  Until 2003, fundraisers received feedback from their managers according to whether they had hit their financial targets. In 2003 the system changed, so that fundraisers would now receive feedback, and a score between one and five, on four elements: their individual target; their contribution to their team; their contribution to the NSPCC mission as a whole; and, importantly, to creating a great supporter experience

Click on the image below to view project 17 in full - in PDF format

About the author: The Commission on the Donor Experience

The CDE has one simple ideal – to place donors at the heart of fundraising. The aim of the CDE is to support the transformation of fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. It is based on evidence drawn from first hand insight of best practice. By identifying best practice and capturing examples, we will enable these to be shared and brought into common use.

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