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The Effectiveness-Lab

Development and its strategy-myopia monologues – series 4 of 4

Series 3 of Development and its strategy-myopia blog concluded with the question:

Does your International Civil Society Organisation (ICSO) have the architecture to effectively house and sustainably operate a critical-configured organisation?

Is your organisational architecture optimal? Credit:
Is your organisational architecture optimal?

The Effectiveness Lab in this final series of the strategy-myopia monologues explores the subject of organisational architecture. To define the ICSO identity and strategic intent in the best way possible, but not have the organisational architecture to implement both, is akin to you going to the GP, and are prescribed medicine, but you decide against taking the medication.

On its own, identity-compliance cannot cause critical-configuration at the ICSO; even the combination of identity compliance and robust strategic intent, cannot bring about sustainable critical configuration.  Sadly, we continue to see evidence of strategy-myopia in the development industry, including at many ICSO’s.

We have identified two variants of strategy-myopia at the ICSO. We also know that there may be many more:

  1. Strategy myopia driven by short-termism and the tendency to want to survive ‘another day’. In the circumstances, ICSO’s create and work in an eco-system that has no capability let alone the will to conduct effective long-term strategy planning. After all, who amongst the ICSO fraternity has mastered the art of predicting the future of poverty and its funding streams? The Orthodox ICSO, challenged by such complexity and the inability to conduct effective scenario planning, is resigned to being driven by the ‘now’ and at most ‘the tomorrow’ – Its’ survival toolbox is coming in short on the right OD. tools
  2. Strategy myopia driven by the disconnect between identity/strategic intent and organisational architecture. At the Effectiveness Lab, we have many examples of ICSO’s that on paper, have what it takes to be ranked strategically agile, but are let down by the wrong organisational architecture. ICSO’s have not been able to match the identity and strategic intent rhetoric to the architecture required to sustainably turn around ICSO’s. Again, one can go into the reasons for the latter, and whether the ICSO is to blame or not. We believe that a solution is within the reach of ICSO leaders; of course, on the assumption that ICSO’s start to appoint industry-outsiders to top leadership positions. If not, ICSO strategy may remain a dream for a few more years and decades.

It is true that ICSO’s and their partners are doing a big job of helping extremely desperate people across the world – Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Nepal, Southern Sudan to mention but a few. Can you imagine what the situation would look like, if we did not have the likes of IRC, CARE, Oxfam, World-Vision, Save the Children helping people whose fortunes have been turned upside down by conflict, violence, failed states, etc.?

The demand for ICSO service is real and perhaps shall continue to increase; however, we also know that ICSO efficacy and in some circles relevance has been and shall continue to be questioned. This is not because ICSO’s do not have identity or robust strategic intent

As a matter of fact, ICSO’s are increasingly addressing their identity questions as well developing robust strategic-intent – at least on paper. ICSO’s know what needs to be done to address the efficacy nightmare; but we also think that ICSO’s are simply too afraid to change organisation-architecture from what they have known for a long time, to what is new and in many cases, unknown. ICSO leaders exhibit the tendency to fear the unknown, yet in the unknown may lie the answer to viability and long-term survival.

So, how does organisational-architecture complement the solution seeking process for development’s strategy-myopia?

At the Effectiveness Lab, we define organisational architecture, not as structure per se, but ‘mission-critical business processes’ and the ‘accompanying culture’, that facilitate the delivery at the ICSO, of identity-compliance and strategic intent

Yes, we know that to the traditionalists’ this is flipped strategy making. ICSO strategists know the amount of linearity that drives strategy definition; in effect, as soon as strategic intent is agreed, the next discussion is automatically about defining the most appropriate structure – i.e. define boxes, add roles to them and you are good to go

In a complex, turbulent, high-seas’ like change era, such linearity is part of the problem

From where we stand, effective organisation-architecture should be viewed from ‘mission critical process’ & ‘value chain’ lenses. ICSO’s should start by asking the questions below:

  • Given the organisations’ strategic intent, what critical-processes should drive identity and strategy delivery? For example, the ICSO may choose ‘the development of digital capabilities‘ as an area that should drive its new strategic intent
  • What capabilities and competencies are required for one above? For example, prioritising digital capabilities and competencies may call for investing in digital-facilitating hard and software as well as bringing completely new skill sets to the ICSO and getting rid of what is current
  • The final question is how the team/s should be configured to deliver to the identity and strategic intent at the ICSO. In here, the orthodox structure is replaced by ‘process and culture’. For example, instead of having so-called sectoral or program positions and roles, ICSO’s may opt to ‘staff by  critical-processes’ like: the digital team; the outcome delivery team etc. This is different from the traditional boxes and structure approach, that looks at value-addition as the fulfilment of a specific function, as opposed to a process that moves the ICSO 24/7 towards a predefined outcome

What paradigm change is needed for the ICSO to prioritise such flipped-strategy thinking?

The Effectiveness Lab believes in ‘critical-process’ ‘culture’ and ‘outcome/bottom line’ driven teams at the ICSO; certainly not functionally driven teams.

It strikes me that when ICSO’s tweak organisational architecture, it is very rarely from a ‘critical-process‘ or ‘outcome‘ lens, but always from the straight-jacket functional lens, linearly looped back to its’ strategic intent.

ICSO’s also forget that in turbulent times, strategic intent quickly becomes stale and that only critical-process focus can guarantee the rigour needed to ensure fluid and appropriate architecture

A few years ago, I became the director at an ICSO whose strategic intent was to deliver cutting edge, evidence-based programming. When the new strategy at the ICSO was launched, the organisation kept to its minimalist and boxed skills acquisition strategy; the organisation continued to under-invest in monitoring and evaluation and didn’t see the need to consider bringing in a new set of skills to deliver the evidence-base they were looking for

To start driving paradigm change, I straightaway changed the name of the unit that was charged with delivering the evidence base from Monitoring and Evaluation to Research and Analysis team. I also ruled that the ICSO’s priority was to recruit research analysts but outside the ICSO or development sector; I further asked that every program unit investment in research and analysis be increased. The research and analysis team was not going to be placed in traditional boxes but threaded across the organisations’ value-chain, creating the evidence-base. This was extremely confusing to my colleagues, and I had quite a job steering colleagues from their traditional comfort zone to my ‘critical-process’ value creation paradigm

It was clear to me that while the ICSO took pride in its new strategy, and talked it up to peers at every opportunity, it had forgotten to invest equal rigour in thinking through the organisational architecture that was needed to deliver the new identity and strategic intent – this is typical ICSO stuff.  ICSO leadership should be bold and undo what is, and try new less-boxed organisational architecture.

My takeaway: Longterm, a viable ICSO shall need x4 organisational change drivers: identity-compliance, robust strategic-intent, environmental-fit, and a new paradigm for organisational architecture. The latter is a critical enabler for the first three drivers


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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