Things I don’t believe in #6 – All powerful expatriate leadership

This is the first thing – expats don’t stay forever. In two or three or four years, the expat will leave. If your whole program depends on her, or the staff believes that it does, things will go to pieces when she leaves. This is the second thing – it’s disempowering. You don’t want your staff, or your stakeholders, to believe change only comes from outsiders. You want people to find their own power and their own capacity to influence their lives and communities. You don’t want them to sit around waiting and starving for the Dutch to come back and rebuild the irrigation canals.

This is the third thing. You want your staff invested in the process. You want everyone involved to know your select your pilot schools because they meet the qualifications for your program. You don’t want them thinking the schools were selected because Mr. Thomas feels really bad for the villages, or worse yet, because he thought the teachers were pretty. You want people to know you’ve got a system and your apply it fairly.

This is the fourth thing. Country Directors who allow themselves to be seen as having and exerting that kind of power end up isolated. Staff members won’t be comfortable being part of a collaborative decision-making process. They won’t offer opinions on how to make things better, and they won’t go to the CD if they identify a problem.

Good programs come from good teams, not from little gods and their adoring worshippers.

Things I believe in #13: Giving your team hats and t-shirts

When I sat down to expand on this, I realized what I really meant was – make your staff into a team. Treat them as competent professionals working together for a common goal. Giving them swag is one way to do that; putting everyone in the same t-shirt makes them look physically like equals. It makes them feel commonality with headquarters, and with the other offices in the country and around the world.

Every single paid staff member and volunteer should know where your organization is based, who funds it, and the general outline of its national programs. Paid staff members should know more. They should know the basic details of all your country projects, not just the ones they work for. If you have behavior change messages, every single employee should know them. This includes your drivers, your cleaners, your gardeners, and your tea lady (and if your behavior change messages are too complex for the tea lady, you’ve got problems).

Your people should know what it means to work for you, and they should be proud of it. They should know your general country budget, and your global budget. They should know where the money comes from – DFID, USAID, private donors, or whoever. They should know your organization’s global mission.

Now you’re wondering, why bother with this level of staff integration? Because everybody wins when you make your staff into a team. A high-functioning team generates a synergy of local and expat knowledge that takes your projects to a new level. Your organization benefits by running more effective, more efficient programs. Your host country benefits because the quality of your work is better.

It takes more than a weekly staff meeting to make this kind of team effort happen. Personally, I like posters and diagrams in common areas explaining program components. I like using your whole team as your first focus group for behavior change materials. I like having your country director give periodic updates on budgets and progress toward program goals. I like giving your team free lunches and doing presentations on different program components. I like having people from different teams share drivers and office space.