Redesign of roles and responsibilities in civil society organizations (institutional redesign)

Clarity in roles and responsibilities (functions) is essential in healthy organizations. The establishment of every organization is usually done naturally. Therefore, roles are created and assigned based on needs. 

However, there comes a time when this arrangement does not work correctly, whether we have more projects or because the way we work causes communication and coordination issues. 

This usually happens within organizations, and it is a sign that we must conduct an institutional redesign. It also means that we are successful because we are growing and can’t work in the same way as before. Institutional redesign in civil society organizations is a complex process that can be addressed from different perspectives and approaches.

The first step to the redesign of roles and responsibilities

Once our organizations acknowledge the need to redesign roles and responsibilities, we should start designing (if we haven’t done so) or reviewing our new strategic vision or Theory of Change.

First, we need to clearly understand what we want to achieve as organizations (our objectives) and what capabilities and knowledge we need. Then, we can define how we will be organized to work together. This usually implies changes and evolving in our work style. Naturally, this process demands complex work, requiring time and self-examination.

What comes next?

After clearly defining our objectives and strategic vision, we can evaluate whether our organizational structure helps accomplish this vision.

This analysis requires a deep and self-critical approach. It is not a straightforward reflection because it is expected that when we conduct an institutional redesign, we think of the people working in the organization nowadays. However, this is a mistake because we must identify the positions (what the people will do and what their responsibilities will be) and the required profile for each position (what knowledge and experience are necessary to fulfill their responsibilities).

Once we have a clear understanding of the positions, their responsibilities, and profiles, we can analyze if our team is sufficient to cover those positions and if each person fulfills the required profile. If this is not the case, we can design different strategies. For instance, if we have vacancies, we can conduct a recruitment process to cover them. On the other hand, if the people currently filling the positions do not match the profile, we can consider their shift to another position or design a training policy so that they completely match the profile.

Objectivity and openness are essential for institutional redesign.

Coming back to our Theory of Change

The next step is reviewing our Theory of Change or our strategic plan since a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities within our organization enables us to draft work plans detailing:

● The required tasks to accomplish this vision.

● The responsible people for each task.

● Deadlines.

The organization must ensure that it has everything necessary to carry out these plans, including the required tools and resources for the staff to perform their assignments properly.

We must pay attention to the red flags

We must pay attention to the issues we face when redesigning our organization. A red flag will be, for instance, that we notice an activity that will require a great effort and we do not have the resources, abilities or the time to fully complete it or  t we could find out that a department has substantially more workload than others. This will force us to rethink and adjust some activities, roles or processes. 

We should not  forget that institutional redesign is a process that requires patience and persistence, and it could be more difficult for teams that have been working together for a long time. Assessing roles and responsibilities requires behavior changes and, sometimes, reshuffling. We must make these changes and consider alternatives for the staff.

Clear expectations

When we define roles (and profiles) and responsibilities for each position, we must lay clear expectations for the people in our organization.

The job description should clarify what we expect at the institutional level, for instance:

○ Contribution to the advocacy agenda in the organization (substantive work).

○ Project management.

○ Leadership and team management.

○ Collaboration with other teams.

○ Resource mobilization.

○ Accountability.

○ Institutional learning.

Clarity in roles and responsibilities enhances practical cooperation because it prevents duplicity of functions and confusion in decision-making, and it also identifies the people in charge of addressing queries and solving problems. 

Theory of Change, a key element

It is essential to understand that any review of the organizational structure or the roles and responsibilities of the people who make up our team requires, as a first step, an updated Theory of Change. This is because the structure and distribution of tasks must respond to the strategic vision of the organization rather than the other way around.

Is your organization ready to work on an institutional redesign? Even if you think you are still a young organization, it is never too early to lay the foundations that will allow you to grow in an orderly manner.

Reimagining the change we want to achieve in society goes hand in hand with rethinking and redefining at the right time the scope, responsibilities, and roles of all the people involved with our organization as it grows and achieves its objectives.

If you have any doubts, COMETA can help you take those first steps. If you are ready, we can walk you through a successful institutional redesign process with a plan tailored to your needs.