Sunday, January 10, 2010

How to involve colleagues more in my work and my capacity development intervention?"

Young Professionals discuss experiences and challenges in an online Discussion Group.

Young Professionals are sent all over the world to work with ICCO partners. Although our job descriptions may be different, we all have in common that we are supposed to work on ‘capacity building’. We are supposed to bring knowledge and skills to the organisations we work with, and make sure that the people in the organisation take over your knowledge and are able to use it on their own as soon as we leave. The golden rule is: “When you leave they should be able to do it themselves”. But how to involve your colleagues in what you are doing, and to make sure that you are not working alone, is a challenge for many. Therefore, this theme was chosen in the latest D-group discussion round for Young Professionals. Seven Young Professionals, who are working and living in different parts of the world, exchanged their experiences and discussed the challenges they are facing. Many Young Professionals find it a challenge to directly involve their colleagues in their work. Some feel they are working on their own little ‘island’, others have the feeling that their capacity is just seen as a “cheap pair of extra hands” by the organisation they are working for. Often this goes hand in hand with an unclear demand for capacity building from the partner organisation. As a Young Professional you have to dig and dig further to find out what the actual need for capacity development is. As a result, young professionals experience that they have to define their own roles and tasks, instead of being able to answer directly to a task formulated by the partner organisation. Often, a partner organisation is not clearly communicating to a young professional what they expect from him/her. Therefore, young professional have to take the initiative to get things done, with little involvement from colleagues.

Different expectations from a capacity development intervention
From my own experience as a starter in Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation in Zimbabwe, I can truly relate to these challenges. Before I left, I found my job description very clear, and I thought it was obvious what the partner organisation was expecting from my capacity building intervention. But short after my arrival I found out that my job description might be very clear on paper, but that in practise the demand from the partner organisation, and from the colleagues is am working with in particular, was not very well defined. On the question “what do you want me to do in the coming six months and what are your expectations?” I did not get a clear answer. In the day to day work, I often felt that I was creating my own job, based on what I think was important, instead of working with involved colleagues on fulfilling their needs for capacity building.
During the D-Group discussion wit fellow Young Professionals, we found that prior to this situation/challenge is often the process in which the initial proposal for capacity building by a young professional is written. You find that often a proposal is written by a director or manager, without direct participation of all staff within the organisation. This may lead to little support base for the posting. A conclusion of the D-Group discussion is that most of the time, the parties involved (partner organisation, Togetthere, staff inside the PO, other stakeholders) have different expectations of the capacity development intervention. It takes a lot of effort and time for a young professional to find out what the exact expectations are and to find a balance between all these different expectations. It takes an average of 4 to 6 months to get to know the partner organisation, and your role and tasks in the organisation. It takes time to build trust with your colleagues. In the beginning they might be very much focussed on their own work, and it takes time for them to make time for you as a young professional.
Ways to involve your colleagues
During the discussion round, many ideas where shared on how to involve your colleagues. Most importantly, it is to build a good trust relationship with them. Approach your colleagues in an informal way (during tea breaks, in an informal setting), get to know them, find out about their needs and expectation and start building from there. Moreover, you have to build a good relationship with your supervisor, and get clear about his/her expectations and your expectations from the start. Plan moments of reflections and evaluation with him/her, so that you will keep on the right track and prevent losing sight of what is expected of you. In some cases you have to be very assertive to ensure that your supervisor, as well as other staff, make time for you and take you seriously. From my own experience I think it is very important to be this assertive, and take initiative from the beginning. If you don’t, you get lost, and it is too late to get back on track with the people you are working with.

Adjust ambitions to the situation
Personally, I think the most important conclusion and advice coming out the four week discussion round, is a very obvious and common shared one. Most of the time young professionals have very high ambitions and goals they would like to accomplish with the partner organisation. In all cases it is relevant to lower you ambitions and work with the situation that is there. Even when you think you have already lowered your ambitions and expectations, take it one step further. Especially is you are working for a short period of time (6 months), you can only succeed if your ambitions are in line with the situation on the ground. And usually, you can accomplish a lot less than what you intended in the first place, before you get on a plane to a tropic destination. But nevertheless, your work is always appreciated, and you have to keep in mind that a significant part of your intervention is your own learning experience, which brings a further in future jobs and/or capacity building interventions.

Lara van Kouterik
Young Professional Capacity development - Zimbabwe

1 comment:

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