Delivering Community Developments
Evaluating and Sustaining progress
The challenge of sustaining momentum arises at some point or another for every group and organization. It is a completely normal stage in group development, so expect it. There are a number of reasons why this happens, and a number of ways of addressing this issue.
At the root of a loss of momentum lie the fundamentals of human and organizational dynamics.
Margaret Wheatley, in her book Leadership and the New Science (1992) offers some explanations for why often our organizations are not working as well as we would like. Why do we sometimes feel uninspired even though we truly believe in our organization's mission? Why do projects take so long and often get stalled? And why is it that often when we experience success it has more to do with unanticipated events or factors than with following the strategic plan?
Using concepts drawn from quantum theory, chaos theory and biology, she identifies the tension that exists in organizations between:
• order vs. change;
• autonomy vs. control;
• structure vs. flexibility; and
• planning vs. innovation.
The principles that are inherent in the organic world, when applied to organizations, can have a profound effect on our understanding of organizational dynamics and, consequently, on how we function and relate to others within our group. A brief summary of some of these principles is given below.
Every organization is unique and must chart its own course it is the process of its creation; i.e., how we relate and engage with each other, that will determine its characteristics
Organizations are holistic you cannot understand them by breaking them into their component parts. Everything is related to everything else, and it is the relationship between the parts as much as the parts themselves that is important.
Successful organizations are largely self-organizing. Within the structure of commonly held vision, values and guiding principles, individuals are free to act independently. Self-organizing structures experience a loss of coherence and energy from time to time, but it is a necessary prelude to the emergence of another form better suited to its environment.
Organizations and communities are chaotic systems which are sensitive to initial conditions, i.e., small variations are often replicated and magnified and eventually can have explosive results. It is sometimes referred to as the "butterfly effect", in which it is envisioned that the flap of the wing of a butterfly in Tokyo is an initial Activity in a subsequent thunderstorm over New York City.
There is order in chaos but it is unpredictable. If you bring a group of well-intentioned people together to work on improving their community, no one can predict exactly what the results would be, but it is a pretty sure bet that something positive will come out of it. Unpredictable quantum leaps describe most successful organizations more so than strict adherence to a strategic plan.
As Brenda Zimmerman of York University once stated in reference to bringing the lessons of the new sciences into the realm of organizations: "It is the end of the age of innocence because I know I can be the butterfly and it is the end of the age of guilt because I know I cannot control the outcomes".
Loss of momentum in a group can also arise when a key person leaves, when a major community issue arises or due to a shift in community priorities. Community groups often find that after a major project or event has been wrapped up, there is a lull in the energy of the group. They are understandably drained. If you try at this point to push the members into another project right away, it is almost certain that you will lose at least a few of them. Instead, take some time out from the hectic business of developing and implementing projects to focus inward for a time.
Key Determinants of Health
Think about what would be helpful, useful and/or enjoyable for the members, such as:
Celebrate the group and its accomplishments. This would not be a public event to raise the profile of your organization, or a sophisticated affair that would take a lot of work; it would be solely for the enjoyment of the members.
Hold a training session. Maybe the group would like to learn more about the issues they are involved in, or perhaps some organizational development would be helpful; e.g. some training on board roles and responsibilities. Why not bring in a consultant or speaker?
Visit a related group or program. It is often very instructive for groups to visit the location of a program or site that relates to their areas of interest and/or is operated by a group with similar goals. Exposure to other programs can lead to new insights and increase motivation. Enthusiasm is contagious!
Evaluate your work. Perhaps it is time to evaluate the group's progress. Don't feel that time away from projects is wasted. Regular evaluations can increase the effectiveness of your group and move you closer to your objectives faster.
Engage in a strategic planning exercise. Every 3-5 years a group should undertake a thorough strategic planning process. In today's world it is essential that you keep up to date with new developments, changes and trends. Your mission, goals and objectives need to reflect the environment in which you must operate.
Investigate opportunities to work collaboratively with other groups; this will ease the strain of having to do it all yourselves.
Structure meetings so they are productive, informative, and enjoyable every now and then use part of your meeting to spark new ideas: share examples of other organizations through guest speakers, video, web sites, news articles or pamphlets.
Find ways to increase the amount of community involvement in your group; be creative about how you fulfil your mission find a variety of ways that people can be involved.
• Recognize members' efforts both publicly and personally.
• Give yourself a break and pat yourself on the back.
Promote your activities and success to the public; positive feedback is a great motivator and increasing your level of public support never hurts.
Continually recruit new members from all walks of life; provide effective orientation and ensure they feel included in decision-making.
Knowing that the personalities, interest and level(s) of commitment of the group vary over time, it is possible to develop a strategy to address loss of momentum. If it is time for the group to disband, accept it, knowing that as the members leave the group they will take valuable skills, knowledge and experience with them. Very likely they will continue working to create a healthy community, whether as individuals or as part of a new group
Delivering Community Developments
End of Unit:
Evaluating and Sustaining Progress
- Sustaining Momentum
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