Lasting changes within communities are made more likely when strong relationships are formed between relevant organisations and they start to work together to harness their shared understandings and strengths. Getting to know the interests, aims and cultures of these organisations is a first step in choosing partners for short-term projects and for longer-term aims. This text, written by Rosalie Hastwell, is a straightforward introduction to some of the considerations that may be involved when selecting project partners.
From Project to Sustainability: Understanding Organisational Theory
Lasting changes within communities are made more likely when strong relationships are formed between relevant organisations and they start to work together to harness their shared understandings and strengths. Getting to know the interests, aims and cultures of these organisations is a first step in choosing partners for short-term projects and for longer-term aims. The following outline provides a straightforward introduction to some of the considerations that may be involved when selecting partners for arts and mental health promotion initiatives.
Organisational theory recognises that organisations and programs often move through different phases. In partnership projects that depend on the involvement of a range of different programs and organisations it can be useful for the project co-ordinator to understand where each of the partners might be within their own organisational “life-cycle”. This can have an impact on the nature and extent of their willingness and capacity of each of the partners to get involved with new opportunities.
Life Cycle Theory
Life Cycle Theory identifies four different stages within an organisation’s “life”:
- Formalisation and Control
These are not necessarily mutually exclusive and, especially within larger or more complex organisations, there may be more than one of these stages happening at any one time. Its also true that sometimes the organisation or program may move through some phases very quickly – and sometimes phases within the life-cycle may overlap.
The “Entrepreneurial” Stage
This is an organic, experimental stage, with little planning, usually driven by individual commitment. It is focused on survival and getting enough resources. Programs and organisations in this phase can make highly enthusiastic and project partners.
Useful questions to ask regarding the entrepeneurial program/organisation’s involvement in your partnership project could include:
- What is it that this program/organisation will be seeking to gain from its involvement in the project? Could this be counterproductive? Are these goals compatible with the goals and processes of the project?
- Will the dynamic energy and experimental nature of this organisation bring a useful element to the project? How can this best be integrated into the overall project objectives?
- Is there enough certainty within the program/organisation to make it a reliable partner? Will you need to plan for the contingency of unanticipated shifts in the level and nature of commitment?
The “Collective” Stage
This occurs once the organisation’s idea takes on, and other believers join the entrepreneurial leader(s). There is still a very informal structure around how things get done or even who does them. The focus in this stage is about growth – a great idea has been born and is on the rise! A group begins to form around the idea and they begin to develop plans, but the outlook is still short-range.
Useful questions to ask regarding the collective program/organisations’ involvement in partnership projects include:
- How well do the resources of the organisation match the needs of the project?
- Will the informal nature and possible lack of clarity in individual workers’ roles present challenges in building strong working relationships for the project?
- Is there sufficient commitment to the project as a vital step in achieving the program/organisation’s goals, and is there enough certainty to ensure a reliable project partner?
The “Formalisation and Control” Stage (or, the “Lets Get this Show on the Road!” Stage)
In this stage in an organisation’s development, the founding idea has been tested and established and there is a commitment to strengthening and repeating the approach. The structure of the organisation/team becomes more formalised. Roles are more defined and there is a focus on implementing the approach rather than challenging, elaborating or innovating. A more managerial approach is adopted. This is the stage at which models, processes, policies, protocols and manuals appear! It is also the stage when complacency can set in… The program or organisation in this stage offers relative stability and predictability as a project partner, but once again it is useful to consider this potential partner from a number of perspectives:
The “Revitalisation” Stage
If an organisation, program or activity stays in the formalisation and control stage too long it can become unresponsive, tied to the “this is how we do things here” creed, and less able to respond to external change or to recognise and move with new opportunities. It builds on what has been learnt and established already. Planning is both long range and opportunistic. Complacency makes way for recommitment and innovation is reactivated.
Useful questions to ask regarding the “revitalisation” program/organisation’s involvement in your partnership project could include:
- Does the partnership project offer opportunities for the kind of recommitment and innovation that is being sought by the organisation?
- Are there internal tensions within the organisation between those who are seeking revitalisation and those who are resistant to change? How might this affect the project and what can you do to work effectively with these tensions?
Reference: Management: A Pacific Rim Focus. Bartol, K., Tein, M., Matthews, G., Martin, D. www.mhhe.com/au/bartol4e, pp. 222–223.