Strengthening teamwork with a culture of collectivity

Staying Active With New Attitudes

(By Roland Bender)

If a foundation aspires to contribute to improving conditions in society, does this goal equally apply internally, to one's own organization? How do we approach transformative processes which employees actively help shape, and in which they are active players and not simply the objects of change? In our everyday lives, do we act according to the old tried and tested patterns, or is that precisely where change begins?

Imagine yourself in the following situation: you are looking for a new employee and will soon put out a job ad for the position. Do you rely on the familiar old copy that was used to find the current job occupant, their predecessor and maybe even the predecessor's predecessor, and only slightly adapt it? A routing way to complete the task which would ensure everything stays the same. And that would waste an opportunity to change or even see your own organization from a new perspective.

Measures which question one's own actions and readjust at certain intervals should be self-evident for foundations, no matter the size or funding volume.

In the process, central aspects come to light, such as issues regarding strategy, impact orientation or ways to increase effectiveness. Initiating positive change is a cornerstone for a foundation's work. It characterizes the philanthropic sector and is virtually in the DNA of foundations. And whoever sets this standard in their own organization will soon realize: the employees must play an active part. That is why HR and organizational development must always be considered in tandem; because only in combination can they ensure lasting change.

Many foundations see themselves as players in an innovative sector, whose impact resonates deep into our society. They initiate and promote exemplary models. For this reason it is all the more important to understand oneself as a driving force in order to keep the foundation's mission sustainable and to further develop its implementation in a contemporary way.

In practice, this crucial task is usually carried out by all the foundation personnel, from interns to executives, from the accountant to thematical experts, the managing director as well as all employees of all the organizational units of a foundation. And this is not only true of full-time employees, it also applies to volunteer workers.

Culture of collectivity

The aim of the change we initiated here at the Robert Bosch Foundation is to radically strengthen personal responsibility and teamwork. This requires a collective attitude from all participants – or, a culture of collectivity.

Alongside organizational measures such as expanding signature authorizations or delegating approval processes, organizational culture as it is carried out on a day to day basis has become a central attribute of change. Openness, delegated responsibilities, appreciation, trust, community, fun and joy as well as humor are the key words for us to define this new culture. We must implement these values in our daily interactions with each other – but first they need to be practiced.

We can only gain and keep highly engaged, motivated employees when we make these values palpable in daily life. In our HR work, this specifically means: which abilities and competencies do we expect from an employee? What do we offer? Among the staff in the organization, which roles are necessary and forward-looking? Which processes should we examine more closely?

How do we prepare our personnel for the future? It undoubtedly promotes success when you consistently accompany processes of change with a human resources strategy from the beginning.

The good news is: foundations often operate under better conditions than other employers. Past experience has shown that the staff has a higher degree of identification with 'their' foundation than average, which thus provides foundations with very good conditions for change. Employees who act independently, who scrutinize the efficiency of processes and decisions and want to help shape them, constitute a critical resource for entering into the process of learning and thus the process of change. This in effect will create and develop the new culture of collectivity. This is especially critical for smaller foundations because here just one or two permanent employees can make a considerable difference.

Organizational culture and operational work: in a reflective mode

The organizational culture and operational work of many foundations is characterized by a top-down approach and thus determined by the management: either by the founder(s) themselves or, in their succession, by the senior management, such as the manager, executive board, etc.; that is no different in our own foundation. The collective culture in HR and organizational development stands for a new understanding of leadership. The role of the highest decision-making body – this is the board of trustees in the Robert Bosch Foundation – has changed over time. It is now primarily concerned with strategic fundamental questions. The operative tasks of the foundation were consistently delegated to the management. Thus, the entire administrative office was equally and collectively in a reflective mode, in which it was recording the past and primarily providing self-assurance before creating and implementing new instruments, processes and formats.

What new aspects have come up? Project responsibility is not defined via status in the hierarchy; instead it is based on the concrete necessity of each project. The available expertise and knowledge of the organization is bundled when appropriate; thanks to digitalization and the corresponding technical possibilities, this works more and more smoothly. 'Subject matter experts' take on tasks that were once the job of divisional managers. In this way, authority arises inherently from the topic, not from its place in the organigram. There are areas for learning on a collegial basis as well as team forums that facilitate exchange.

Our experience has shown that several points should be kept in mind for a new human resources strategy and development in a foundation and, depending on the initial situation, promoted in a new way, which we have outlined in the following checklist.

We have reached consensus: we are convinced that a collective culture is the right way for the Robert Bosch Foundation. Our shared goal is a team-oriented culture of dialogue to fulfill our foundation goal in an optimal way.

Checklist: HR strategy

  1. The process of change is an opportunity and necessity for the organization as a whole. It takes every single employee seriously and strengthens everyone.
  2. Human resource managers play a key role. Their tasks range from moderating and advising to development measures which qualify them for the culture of collectivity.
  3. Competence management and individual offerings for human resource development are the driving forces in the process.
  4. Individual target agreements and leeway which facilitates entrepreneurial thinking are necessary.
  5. Among staff, the need and willingness for exchange is crucial. In order to make use of this, rooms and discussion groups (teams) are necessary beyond all hierarchies. These require moderators.
  6. The individual accountability and self-guidance of teams unlock newfound strength. Motto: who can do what the best?
  7. Cultural development is not without consequence for the organization: administrative processes require close examination.
  8. In the process, individuals work at different speeds. That is legitimate. But the train must not stop or turn around.
  9. Management changes: exclusively operative responsibility transforms into advisory and strategic management tasks, among other things. Management guidelines define the new self-image. It is indispensable to create transparency regarding goals, instruments, stages and intermediate results.
  10. Relearning processes must be moderated.
  11. Difficulties which arise may not be answered with old reactionary patterns.
  12. External support facilitates the necessary distance, creates a professional attitude and protects one from one's own blind spots.
  13. It is sensible to use networks in the foundation sector to share experiences and offer support, such as the ThinkLab of the Bundesverband Deutscher Stiftungen (Federal association of German foundations) or the Deutsche Stiftungsakademie (German foundation academy).
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