Frustration with a system where grassroots groups ‘reinvent the wheel’ and, inevitably, waste scarce resources, often surfaces when community
workers get round a table. This fragmented system of hardworking community people, from both public and private sectors, does not make good
economic sense. It cannot lead to a balanced triple bottom line for economic, environmental and social interests and cannot be regarded sustainable
development (however you might define this buzz word!) Around the table at Mitchell Community House in Wonthaggi two weeks ago, a piece of yellow
notepaper with another group’s notes about this topic materialised. Everyone identified with the words on the yellow paper:
– ‘we need to be very clear in finding out what existing services, activities, programs already exist in the community;
– by doing so we can tap into them and put our projects into a position where they may be picked up by ‘other’ groups;
– doing this will best enable the sustainability of our projects, prevent duplication and hostility that may be simmering due to existing duplication’. (By
courtesy of Leisha Barnes, Wonthaggi)
You’d think no-one had researched this problem – not true! Management gurus around the world have been writing good stuff about good governance for
decades. Perhaps it is the lowly status of grassroots community projects that leaves them isolated, blowing in the wind, and all set up to drop off the
twig when funding runs out – despite often excellent outcomes for their community!
Aren’t all a shire’s grassroots projects really one large interrelated organisation working to advance that community? Linkages between them should be
a valuable info exchange – as noted on the yellow paper – and could well lead to more effective and efficient management of public funds and human
resources – good governance!
Stephen Covey, American author of ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, was recently quoted in The Australian Financial Review saying that
checking up on your staff is obsolete and performance reviews are offensive. Organisations are still getting it wrong on the command and control of
their workers. His new book ‘The Eighth Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness’ is very much about changing organisations as well as individuals.
What’s needed is new kinds of companies/organisations, he maintains.
A group approach is far better than an obsession with checking up on everything. In the group approach, each person, including the boss, accounts for
his work publicly, BUT as part of a team. It’s more honest, more authentic, less manipulative and it’s very scary for people who are flaky or duplicitous,
says Covey. We need a model that allows more empowerment, more creativity, more freedom and more flexibility with fewer rules and regulations.
In ‘Future Directions: the Power of the Competitive Board’ , Australian author Dr Ivor Francis also adopts this approach. He stresses the importance of
an organisation’s linkages which ensure info is continually passing from the bottom up and from the top down. Like Covey he says individuals must take
responsibility for their own patch and make decisions to achieve the organisation’s goals as they relate to that patch – a duty of care approach.
In a forward-thinking, community advancement ‘link-up’, group self-assessment would make sure all the groups on ‘pieces of yellow notepaper’ have
effective linkages and isolated ‘silos’ would not develop. Unfortunately state/federal government programs (with stringent performance review
requirements) do seem to operate as silos or separate entities, focussing on short-term processes and programs and not necessarily the longer term
outcomes. Yet, what do taxpayers want? They want outcomes and value for their tax dollar – they want to see their community advance!
The great motivation in an organisation/community is a shared sense of purpose (Dalmau & Dick 1990) but a system that allows silos of activity to
develop and focuses on process and programs, not outcomes, deprives grassroots community/tourism/small business development group programs
of this powerful driver.
Surely, if all those working to advance their community knew about the group approach from the start of a new project (ie that it is a tool to make sure
systems are working and desired outcomes achieved) they wouldn’t object and would probably relish the inclusivity – the hugely satisfying shared
sense of purpose. Pieces of yellow notepaper would disappear!