Home > Linkages Update > Issue No. 131 > Director’s Cut No. 131
Director’s Cut - Friday, 19 June 2009
Collaborative Distributed Management in IISD Reporting Services
By Kimo Goree, Director of IISD Reporting Services (IISD RS) -
Kimo Goree
Director of
No one has ever invented an organization quite like ours. As a result, there was no road map left behind by previous entrepreneurs who had attempted the establishment of conference reporting services to guide us in the creation of the Earth Negotiations Bulletin. We have been left to invent, step-by-misstep-by-step, this enterprise. Occasionally we have met dead-ends, failed at new initiatives and learned from our mistakes in how to organize, finance and manage this unique endeavor. From what I have heard from the founders of other small organizations like ours, this is not an unfamiliar experience. Luckily, we have survived our first seventeen years and, perhaps, these fortnightly columns in Linkages Update may help document the lessons learned in the expansion of a small non-profit start-up.

One of the early challenges in handling our growth has been in getting the right balance between staff and management in a virtual organization. Our objective has always been to keep our fixed operating costs low by having as few full-time staff as possible. However, during the first ten years of our existence, from 1992 through 2002, we seemed to lag one or two years behind our growth, always failing to create new positions and hire new staff in time to handle our volume of work until the existing team was spent. Like the proverbial frogs in the warming pot of water, who don’t realize that they are being cooked until it is too late to jump out of the pot, we somehow always pulled out all of our frogs partially parboiled, turned down the heat and threw ourselves (the frogs in this example) back into the pot again.

Two important decisions that we made during the 2002-2004 period have resulted in the stable management of Reporting Services over the last five years. The first decision was to undertake a more careful analysis of the workloads of existing staff, the tasks and responsibilities being shared across the organization and then to create in-house management positions including a full-time Operations Manager, Digital Editor, On-Line Editor and Deputy Director. This stabilized our management function so that the necessary tasks were being adequately handled. In the last two months, as our Your Meeting Bulletin work has increased, we have hired two half-time staffers to handle the marketing, contracting and staffing for our non-ENB meetings. Getting the right staffing levels has been essential to the smooth running of Reporting Services.

The second, and perhaps most important decision, was to flatten out the management level of IISD Reporting Services to include the Team Leaders, who are responsible for the writers, digital editor and logistics coordinator at the meetings we attend, in decisions related to their meetings. In 2003, we shifted all of the responsibility in the field to the Team Leaders, who now make the primary recommendations on the size of their team, team members and output from each meeting. During the negotiations, it is always the Team Leader who is responsible for the decisions on what to cover, content, output and any problems faced by our team. While other IISD staff from New York, Winnipeg, Ottawa or Geneva may attend meetings, they never out-rank our Team Leader in the field in terms of meeting coverage. Devolving leadership to the field level during meetings has helped empower our Team Leaders and solved many problems. By distributing management down to the Team Leader level, the responsibility for completing tasks has been coupled with the authority to make all of the decisions associated with those same tasks.

This flattening of the management structure to include our Team Leaders has extended to our annual team meetings. At these events, we discuss issues central to the organization of our work, encouraging input from our Team Leaders in all areas, including recommendations on new products, pay rates, travel policy, evaluations and staffing. 

From 18-22 May 2009, twenty-five of our Earth Negotiations BulletinTeam, including staff and consultants from all parts of Reporting Services, gathered outside of New York for three-and-a-half days of discussions on the operations of IISD Reporting Services. In a bottom-up approach involving all of the participants, the group produced a nine-page document with recommendations and an Action Plan in all areas of our work. The team has suggested changes in areas including our ENB on the Side production, pricing structures for Your Meeting Bulletin, changes to our content management database structure, improvements to our payments system and ways that we can communicate internally. This Action Plan will be reviewed in September to ensure that progress has been made in the work that we have decided is necessary to improve our organization.

IISD’s reporting services management philosophy and the resulting structure emphasizes collaboration and participation in management, as well as distributing the management tasks to the best level at which they can be executed. This frees me up, in my work, to concentrate on the larger picture rather than the daily details, and in the generation of the resources and new products that keep the operation going.
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