How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Radical Change

DSIL Global
5 min readMay 12, 2020

What is unleashed when power is distributed to allow for more collaborations and yes more change?

All of us who work in nonprofits are focused on metrics: Net revenue, key performance indicators (KPI), long-term value (LTV). With good reason. So much is at stake for the important causes we serve.

But we’re overlooking some key trends and metrics, and we do so at our peril. Today 16% of U.S. employees are actively disengaged and miserable at work; 51% are not engaged, they are just “there.” Disengaged employees cost organizations between $450-$550 billion per year. Perhaps most disturbing for the social good community, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, is the churn that disengagement breeds: 51% of fundraisers plan to leave their jobs by 2021.

Bureaucracy is broken, yes, even in social good organizations. We tend to focus on the urgency of our day-to-day work, and understandably so. There are animals to be rescued, diseases to be cured, children to be protected, hungry people to be fed, wildlife and habitat to be preserved, air and water to be cleaned. But if we do not adapt the way we work to repair the brokenness of the hierarchical structures that are holding us back and driving away our staff, we will not be able to fulfill our vital missions!

This issue goes beyond silos and to the very structure of our non-profits. Larger social good organizations often operate much like super-tankers. They have set a five-year strategic plan, but they can’t turn the ship quickly enough to allow innovation and collaboration to adjust course.

But there is hope on the horizon. A new wave of social innovation and entrepreneurship is inspiring daring thinkers in every corner of the world, along with the recognition that a fear-based, risk-averse culture, ironically, breeds the very things that it seeks to avoid: stagnancy and failure.

In response, daring new approaches are bubbling up around the world. Social entrepreneurs and social innovators are changing the landscape. These leaders rarely get the same recognition as high-profile entrepreneurs, but they can be every bit as effective.

Who are these changemakers? They are the ones who are deeply listening to the communities they serve, co-creating solutions, and demonstrating the courage to try new things. They also are agile. They have the ability to act swiftly, measure results, learn what worked, what failed, and what should change, and they are quick to integrate these learnings to continuously improve results and impact.

What’s exciting is that we are also seeing a growing number of intrepid “intrapreneurs” working to change established organizations from within. They are taking steps to create these types of environments within their own teams and departments. They are effecting a much-needed culture change by inspiring and spreading collaborative and innovative new ways of working throughout their organization.

The world is changing and those of us who work in social good organizations must welcome new ideas and integrate new ways of thinking if we want to keep growing and adapting to our shifting landscape. The concept of Liberating Structures, pioneered by Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz, is a great place to start.

There are some radical changes happening in the social good community, and it’s not surprising when you look at how dramatically working environments have changed in a short period of time. How many “remote” workers did your organization have ten years ago? Or five, even?

As the amount of flexibility and autonomy we have has grown exponentially, so has the demand for trust and the expectations for leadership. People are really looking for meaning and purpose in their lives and at work. They want to feel included and engaged. In today’s social good community, as in any organization, leadership is about creating an environment where people can flourish.

Happily, Liberating Structures can help the growing number of non-profit “intrapreneurs” confront and reverse the disturbing trends of disengagement, disaffection, and turnover besetting our organizations and hampering the absolutely vital work that we do for our communities and the world.

Let’s start, though, by defining what Liberating Structures is not. It is not a license to speak the jargon of the “360-degree stakeholder consultation.” On their website, Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowic, who pioneered the concept, are blunt:

Unwittingly, the conventional structures used to organize how people routinely work together stifle inclusion and engagement. — Liberating Structures

“Conventional structures are either too inhibiting (presentations, status reports and managed discussions) or too loose and disorganized (open discussions and brainstorms) to creatively engage people in shaping their own future. They frequently generate feelings of frustration and/or exclusion and fail to provide space for good ideas to emerge and germinate. This means that huge amounts of time and money are spent working the wrong way. More time and money are then spent trying to fix the unintended consequences.”

Most teams adopt one of five conventional methods of working together:

  1. The presentation — enough said, literally
  2. The managed discussion — calling people together to discuss ideas already created
  3. The status update — going around the table and reporting but no problem-solving
  4. The open discussion — one big undivided group where typically one or two people dominate
  5. The brainstorm — an unstructured gathering that creates ideas but doesn’t typically lead to outcomes

Have you ever sat in a meeting with a sort of filmmaker commentary running through your head that sounds something like, “I called this meeting today to discuss a decision I’ve already made.” That’s an over-controlled meeting. Have you sat in a meeting where everyone is encouraged to contribute — and eat way too much chocolate — and nothing is accomplished? That’s an under-controlled meeting.

When we talk about liberating structures, we mean ways of organizing that make it possible to include and engage more people. We mean organizing how groups of people work together; to create more inclusion and collaboration that can unlock ideas and unleash potential across the organization. We mean recognizing that good ideas can come from everywhere, and being willing to upend the funnel of the top-down approach that most organizations have.

The good news is that with a few simple techniques, anyone can liberate the confining structures that are making us miserable and holding us back. We can make it easy to transform how people interact and work together. We can fully engage everyone so that everybody has the opportunity to contribute to the group’s success — and everybody has the ability to expand the ways we interact and work together.

Written by Kyla Shawyer Chief Transformation Consultant at DSIL Global, to explore Kyla’s Bio and the diverse team at DSIL click here

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DSIL Global

DSIL Global is a leading innovation company that builds the capacity of people so that they can build innovation -together.