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This is the first in a two-part series on what it takes to be an effective global nonprofit.
Nonprofits that aspire to make a difference beyond the borders of their home countries face big challenges. Unfamiliar regulations, cultural differences, and language barriers are often just the tip of the iceberg. Addressing the leadership challenge at global nonprofits means identifying, analyzing, and deliberately cultivating the factors that enable senior managers to meet those challenges and be successful on the global stage. So what leadership structure do nonprofits need when they are looking to expand globally?
Accenture interviewed senior managers from nonprofit organizations that have expanded globally in order to better understand what leadership structures enable successful expansion. Accenture’s research revealed that a global nonprofit’s leadership group should be diverse to excel; together, its members must possess a deep knowledge of the various markets in which the nonprofit operates.
Accenture also found, however, that it is equally important that these individuals possess the ability to synchronize their efforts—something that isn’t easy to pull off when the various individuals who make up the leadership group have very different vantage points and perspectives. That is, nonprofit executives need to be able to act less like a traditional, hierarchical team, with a fixed reporting structure, and more like an ensemble, a network of leaders that can configure in different ways, including some or all members, according to the task at hand.
The leaders of global nonprofit currently contend with more complex challenges than ever before as they work to expand their missions into other regions of the world. These challenges range from financial and funding constraints, to increased visibility and pressure to be transparent, navigating issues of authority and control in the face of language, cultural, currency and political differences, and the need to comply with different countries’ evolving laws and regulations.
Yet, despite the tumultuous environment, many global nonprofit leaders are setting more far-reaching goals than ever before. These leaders are realizing that, in many cases, the issues they seek to address are truly global, and they aspire to expand their organizations’ footprints, serve more people, or provide more robust services. And so, many are making the difficult choice to expand operations beyond the borders of their home countries.
To successfully expand beyond borders, however, global leaders must ensure that their leadership structures and operating models are ready to do so. Today’s global nonprofits demand a new breed of senior managers who can redefine the meaning of the word “team.” In addition, these organizations demand new operating models that can effectively guide decision-making under pressure. Prior to making the decision to expand globally, nonprofits must ensure that their leadership and operating models have the necessary components that will make the expansion a success.
Across our research, Accenture found nonprofit senior managers mirroring their peers in the for-profit arena, and coming together in four distinct ways, each of which represents a pattern of behavior and roles that can be taken on as needed for a specific purpose and a specific period of time. The four ensemble configurations we observed are:
Big Picture Group, composed of an inner circle of trusted advisors
Strategy Group, composed of experts and divergent thinkers, but tasked with an explicit goal
Debate Group, composed of senior executives and experts assembled specifically to review a particular situation
Frontline Expert Group, composed of people occupying roles and senior-level responsibilities with regard to a specific function.
However, in order to successful assemble a group of leaders who can work effectively in one of the above ensembles, nonprofit organizations must first recruit employees who have certain qualities and capabilities and provide them with on-the-job training. First and foremost, nonprofit employees need to love the work that they do and believe whole-heartedly in the mission of the organization. Nonprofits can then provide additional training explicitly focused on developing ensemble leadership skills.
Nonprofits that have successful operated cross-borders have taken an ensemble approach to leadership. When a nonprofit is expanding to (or operating in) far-flung geographies, then a traditional, hierarchical decision-making structure isn’t the most effective approach to leadership. The key is learning how to match the complexity of the environment while simplifying the process of management. An ensemble approach to leadership does this because ensembles are agile groups whose members can be drawn together in combinations suited to specific decision situations or contingencies and who, because they share certain understandings and a common discipline, can be reconfigured without significant loss in effectiveness.
Nonprofits that practice ensemble leadership, and recruit and train for the qualities and capabilities that make for effective ensemble members, will be up to the challenges of expanding globally. These are the organizations that will be ready to make a global impact, and sustain and build on that impact over time.
April 3, 2014
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