epWorkshop: Organizational Development experts meet Social Entrepreneurs in beautiful Amsterdam

“Think in roles, not in functions”, “empower your team”, “make concious decisions”. This is just a little selection of lessons learned during the empowering people. Workshop in Amsterdam last week. Within four instructive days, almost 50 social entrepreneurs and empowering people. Network members from Argentina, China, China, Colombia, Egypt, Germany, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Mexico, the Netherlands, Peru, Philippines, South Africa, Uganda, the UK, Uruguay and the US discussed future-oriented leadership approaches, got insights on decision-making models as well as organizational development tools and got the rare opportunity to network and personally connect with like-minded people from all over the world in one of the most charming cities in Europe.

Once upon a time…

On the first workshop day Jona Liebl, Senior Project manager of adelphi, and Barbara Börner (“Lust auf besser Leben“), showed the participants how to integrate narratives in their communication and partnership strategy. “People ask for data but want love stories. Using stories makes the messages memorable and gives the audience something to relate to”, said Jona Liebl. “Good narratives can be used for explaining the value proposition of an enterprise, for overcoming communication gaps as well as for marketing and advertisment purposes”. For the participants, the Storytelling session was a great start into the workshop week. “While we were taught a new way of communicating, we got to know each other and our innovations. Afterwards it was way easier to connect and understand each other’s challenges. That was great”, said Wesley Weier, Co-founder of EOS International SFP.

“An organization is like a pack of wolves, an army, a machine, a family and an organism – all in one”

Agile and self-organized approaches hold great potential for Social Entrepreneurs

It is important, especially for small businesses, to develop innovative and resilient leadership structures. Magdalena Kloibhofer from SEED and Nicolas Chevrollier, Managing Director of AnLuMa, illustrated how important it is to visualize and assess current organizational structures to identify and map actual domains, roles and responsibilities. “First, start-up enterprises should understand how their organization works. The ‘perfect’ organization is a great mix between a pack of wolves, an army, a machine, a family and an organism. But most enterprises tend to over- or underepresent some parts of it”, said Magdalena Kloibhofer. A live survey among the participants showed a common tendency towards family structures, as is often the case with start-ups. The different types of organizations were clustered in a colour system that was quickly adopted by the participants for discussing their needs. Subhani Katugampala, Program Director at AquaClara Reach, said that she misses green and orange parts in her organization, which means that she wants more structure and stronger relationships: “I want more green and orange characteristics because we don’t have clearly defined roles and I am working remotely in an open work space and sometimes miss the connection to my colleagues. We should work on strengthen these colours”.

The different types of organizations were clustered in this colour system

“Within the four days we have together, we help the participants to identify their organization’s structure and find ways to close their gaps”, said Magdalena Kloibhofer. For example, diagnosing their leadership culture and scrutinizing internal decision-making-processes were two important parts for many participants. Especially the latter was relevant for Anthony Viola, Director of Operations & Strategy at D-Rev: “Our biggest challenges are developing a long-term strategy for our organization and to grow from a consensus decision culture to an ownership decision culture. I really appreciate getting new hints here and getting the chance to really think our situation through”. Michael Schubert of OneDollarGlasses appreciated the leadership session: “Within the workshop I realized some of the communication gaps that we have. Often important strategic information doesn’treach the team members abroad. It was very helpful to discuss this and put it on paper”.

In different workshop sessions social entrepreneurs learned how to use organizational development approaches for their needs

The power of clearly defined roles

A company that has perfected the much discussed alternative way of business organization is the training platform “Springest”. Ewout Meijer from Springest Netherlands explained at the empowering people. Workshop how the self-management practice “Holacracy” works. “People often ask ‘What if we let people make decisions and they’re wrong?’ But the real question is ‘What if we don’t and they are right?’. Holacracy enables and empowers employees to reach their full potential and be self-reliant. We work with roles instead of functions and make decisions based on data and distributed authority.” Holacracy is a decentralized management system in which decision-making is spread throughout a holarchy of self-organizing teams rather than being organized in a management hierarchy. Within the system, people occupy roles instead of functions and thus work in autonomous, agile teams in which they can concetrate on their strenghts and talents.

Ewout Meijer managed easily to arouse the participants’ interest in the system, which was shown by their questions and their feedback. “I am really excited about Holacracy and want to implement some of the ideas within the next six months in my organization” said Adriana Garties, Co-founder of Imara Technology. “Ewout Meijer gave us great insights into the system and I want to learn more about it because decentralization is a big issue for us” explained Guido von Hofwegen, Co-founder of Nazava Water Filters.

“Now it is your turn”

But the participants were not only fed information and inspiration, they also got the chance to actively discuss their own topics. In an open space session, the enterpreneurs were invited to suggest an issue to discuss and   merged in small groups interested in the same topic. For example funding opportunities and international cooperations were topics most of them were interested in. They could also decide between different tool track sessions to get deeper knowledge in specific organizational development topics like ‘Agile Development’ and ‘Giving Feedback’ as well as ‘HR Management’ and ‘Succession Planning’. “Founders are the heart of most social enterprises but what happens to the organization when they leave? Entrepreneurs need to identify critical roles in order to think about future role allocations and find ways to attract, motivate and retain a new and existing workforce. In the tool track sessions we discussed ways to find the best solutions for their organizations”, said Magdalena Kloibhofer from SEED.

Business before pleasure

In addition to to getting new insights into Organizational Development, networking and connecting was a big part of the workshop and what is more fun than having a nice dinner together and strolling through Amsterdam while talking about new projects and potential cooperations with like-minded people? During the workshop evenings, the empowering people. Network team planned special city tours with dinner together in restaurants with social reference.

The plan worked out well: Within the four days of the empowering people. Workshop, collaborations have become apparent. We will follow up and keep you updated on the empowering people. Blog.

As a final highlight, the participants had the great chance to meet potential investors:Together with BiD Network, Siemens Stiftung organized a so called “Investors and Entrepreneurs Drink” at Impact Hub Amsterdam. In a casual atmosphere social entrepreneurs presented and discussed their solutions with interested funders and investors and enjoyed a constructive weekend together with a lot of new contacts.

© Copyright Siemens Stiftung, Photographer Esther van Putten

About adelphi

adelphi is a leading independent think tank and public policy consultancy on climate, environment and development. Our mission is to improve global governance through research, dialogue and consultation. We offer demand-driven, tailor-made services for sustainable development, helping governments, international organizations, businesses and nonprofits design strategies for addressing global challenges. Read more…

About SEED

SEED, hosted by adelphiresearch gGmbH, is a global partnership for action on sustainable development and the green economy. Established in 2002 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg by the UN Environment Programme, UN Development Programme, and International Union for the Conservation of Nature, SEED sets out to stimulate and support innovative, small-scale and locally-led enterprises which integrate social and environmental benefits into their business model. Read more…


AnLuMa inspires leaders, explores new organization frontiers and implements new management practices to increase theagility of your organization and the engagement of your employees. With the ability to interact with executive committees and top management, AnLuMa builds Future Proof Organizations. Read more…

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Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] mit Tippen fast nicht hinterher. Mehr über die Workshop Inhalte erfahren möchte, findet auf dem empowering people. Blog bereits einige […]

  2. […] to this system, but many other organizations apply it or are in a “transition phase”. Elsewhere in this blog Holacracy is explained even better, but it is essentially about assigning roles rather than functions to employees and empowering them […]

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