FEATURE: Setting Up New Locations: Five Things You Should Do First

What are the most important tasks when your organization is setting up a new location? This is a question I have thought about a great deal—especially in my work with Superar, an organization that connects and manages Sistema-inspired programs in six European countries: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Switzerland, Austria, Romania, Slovakia, and Liechtenstein. As the head of International Locations for Superar Austria, I was responsible for setting up Superar locations in different countries, working on their structure and organizational development as well as coaching and leading the teams through change processes, using the principles of Diversity Management.  On the basis of that experience, in addition to years of experience developing and leading teams with other organizations, I have formulated the following five principles about what makes for greatest success when starting new locations in Sistema-inspired organizations.  I hope you find them helpful!

1. How to Start: Research! Research! Research!

Often and especially when we do our jobs passionately and dream big, we forget something very basic: Research! Why is it so important? Because it helps you to step back for a moment and gives you answers to your key questions and supports you to reflect on the idea of expanding your program: Who is your target group in that special location? What do they need? Is it the right location? Is it the right time for your organisation to expand? A smart, small research right at the beginning can enable you to determine key factors that will lead you to success. A lack of research can lead to critical situations for the entire organisation.

Even if it seems evident, here are a few reminders about what to focus on before you start to expand:

  • Check your financial and staff resources
  • Collect socio-demographic data and analyse the possibilities and necessity of implementation of your program in other countries/areas
  • Reflect on the purpose of expansion

2. Risk is inevitable, Resilience and a good corporate structure is everything. INVEST in your Management!

Most NGOs (thus also Sistema organisations) are forced to spend all their financial and staff resources on the core elements—that is, on the music classes with children, music instruments, costs for the rehearsals and other activities with the children.  It seems only natural to act this way. In fact, however, a focus on organisational structure, organisational development, and management is essential for the success and sustainability of the program. Only a solid organizational structure can guarantee not only sustainability but also further development and improvement. Management is needed for resilience and solid structure that are crucial for additional funds and stability.

Furthermore, it is very important to have a formal organizational structure in place before your company grows so large that your unstructured workforce becomes unwieldy and unmanageable. Embrace the management necessary for making and giving space for   creativity—and invest in it!

3. Building on employee skills and self-organisation

The incredible thing about Sistema programs is that there is a bright and wide range of people who have great experiences in many fields.  So building up small cross-functional teams when you are “stuck” somewhere in your management decisions, or you want to set up a program in a new location, can be not just helpful and supportive but also mind-refreshing.  Fostering empowerment and self-responsibility among your employees boosts their intrinsic motivation and makes your program more successful. Especially when teams live in different countries or locations, an approach of setting up self-organising teams is the better way to make programs work successfully.  Trust and motivate them, enable face-to-face interactions and let them participate.

The great thing about setting up programs in different countries is that you have not only cross-functional teams but also cross-cultural teams.

4. Importance of diversity and culture

It is an adventure to travel to your various locations and see how they have adopted the El Sistema program. The variety of countries and cultures (perspective and access/approach) helps people to see things from different angles.  Of course, diversity can at times produce conflicts. When that happens, it is often because team members are bringing different values, rather than different ideas, to the table.

To lead successful cross-cultural teams, and to benefit from diversity, a strong sense of team and organizational inclusion is needed. Moreover, everything that we want to transmit to the kids we should integrate in our own behaviors as well:  respect for each other, overcoming boundaries, and working with each other regardless of ethnicity or region. This requires a lot of self-reflection, open-mindedness, and respect towards others.

5. Make Change While you Can, Before Change Makes You

It is actually all about your ability to adapt to changing circumstances and change the way you react and work by accepting new ideas and approaches. At the same time, this depends on your ability to sustain the quality of the work.  It is very important to support the team through change and to be willing to embrace change in the most productive way by helping others to understand the change and by communicating it in a clear and helpful way.  Always involve the team in the change process…..and never, ever forget the overall vision: a better future for children and youth through music.

Author: Irena Klissenbauer, Former Head of International Locations, Superar and Current Facilitator and Coach for development teams at Drei Telecommunications Company & Consultant in Organisational Development for NGOs

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