Make it global, keep it personal

US and East Africa

Photo of Simon Stumpf
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Ashoka is uniquely able to provide a truly global perspective, team, and platform. In 2013, the East Africa team made the commitment to invest in 13 inter-office exchanges. This meant encouraging a Kenyan colleague traveling in Germany to extend her trip by visiting our Ashoka colleagues in Berlin, offering to host global meetings (Nutrients for All), and building a temporary team of teams to host our Changemaker Summit, with colleagues from India, Egypt, and Japan joining to help out. We even hosted a storytelling competition where colleagues nominated the top Ashoka storyteller, and we flew the winner to Kenya to make a film about our new Changemaker schools. At the end of the year, we actually had more than 30 exchanges with global colleagues spending time in East Africa or the East Africa team getting to know teammates and colleagues abroad. And all at $0 extra cost to us as each visitor was able to cover all their own costs and justify the time/travel they invested in building their own more global team, experiences, and understanding. 


Simon Stumpf

How do you define a Team of Teams (this isn’t a test!)? What is an example of one that you have experienced or seen?

People coming together for the sake of accomplishing something as a group, unencumbered by affiliation or role definition or self-imposed barriers. 'Pulled' to be part of something dynamic, impactful. not 'pushed.'

TEAM COMPOSITION: Are there any specific roles and/or attributes that you believe are necessary for an effective Team of Teams?

culture of trust and accountability. and strong personal relationships.

TEAM COMPOSITION: Please share any challenges you've experienced related to putting together a Team of Teams. How have you overcome these challenges?

i don't know that the best ToTs are "put together" as much as they organically grow up around good ideas, trustworthy people, and clear mutually-beneficial opportunities. The challenge, then, is how do we ensure that people are not silo-ed and that there are enough connections, enough personal context, and enough opportunities for collisions of people and ideas so that we are naturally, actively presenting dozens of opportunities for ToTs to form each week around mission-aligned deliverables. I believe that the answer is relationships (the currency at Ashoka). A major challenge here is that we are unable to be the professional home for so many of our colleagues for long. (what is average tenure at Ashoka? 3 yrs?) And we don't engage alumni staff well enough, despite the fact that they have amassed real relationship currency.

TEAM COMPOSITION: Are there any successful approaches to creating a strong team that you would like to share?

Concentric circles. everyone should have their core team of ~5 people they work with every day and whose roles they could cover, explain, directly support. then a wider group of 25 people they know and whose work they could clearly describe but not necessarily do. and finally 50 people who they could draw into their work. what ever the real figures are, make sure that those 5, 25, and 50 include a mix of Fellows, parters, funders, friends, volunteers across programs and country. if you were to map this for global Ashoka, you'd be able to see where are teams are most Ashoka-centric, where they are most regionally bound, where Fellows make up a bigger %, if longer-standing-staff people are somehow correlated to bigger or better networks etc. the center 5 is a more traditional "team" but the activations of folks in your groups of closer collaborators and trust-worthy contacts are ToT opportunities/events.

GOAL SETTING: In your opinion, how should we measure success for Team of Teams projects?

based on the make-up of the team, the alignment of the outcomes with Ashoka's meta goals and theory of change, the presence of a clear start and end date tied to deliverables, the personal professional growth of members on the team, the conversation of loose contacts into likely potential collaborators based on the interaction.

GOAL SETTING: In previous Team of Teams efforts, please share any challenges in either setting or achieving project goals. How have you overcome these challenges?

my ToT experiences to date are more fluid, and - except of events - haven't really had the clear project framing of start, end, deliverables, after-action-review.

FINANCIAL SUSTAINABILITY: Do you have a successful approach for ensuring financial sustainability of Team of Teams projects?

my sense is that everyone should have budget to cover his her time, but the expectation should be that a % of your time (increasing over your tenure with Ashoka?) is reserved to seed, spot, or support ToT opportunities. it's not explicit, but this is the way i've been operating for at least the last 5 years at Ashoka. i don't bill my time to other funders/programs, but i'm about 30% available to pitch in and help other teams, to seize opportunities that arise, or to create things that can spark (and that require) ToT input... like Changemaker Summits, All America Initiative, The Story of You, more dynamic selection panels, etc. We need to make sure there is fluidity and relationships, and then that folks are aligned with the meta goals and Ashoka's theory of change. if we've picked the right intra/entrepreneurial people and are actively ensuring they have space to do the ToT work, we should be good!

COMMUNICATION: What communication challenges have you experienced with Team of Teams in the past? How did you overcome them?

how big are we talking? I guess i'm thinking that the core folks on the working group are 5-10 folks max, and that they all represent they own other core teams. a challenge is when multiple people from the same core team are on a ToT and they are not aligned... they don't trust 1 person to represent their team so they all join, they are not clear on strategy so they don't know how to make decisions, or they are not holding both institutional AND personal development goals together so treating the work either purely as work or as a side-passion project. without alignment with the home team and clear communication, the contributions to the ToT are tenuous and fraught.

COMMUNICATION: Please share any successful approaches to communicating across a Team of Teams:

clear sense of who is on the team, and that they are each expected to be able to justify their contributions/time/etc to themselves and their core team, and also be a bridge between their sending team aka core team and the ToT.

REWARDS & INCENTIVES: Please share any ideas for incentives or rewards that would compel you to participate further in Team of Teams projects:

I'm having a hard time linking these questions to the specific idea/example i started with. but this one specifically links to the opportunity to ensure that all colleagues and take full advantage of the fact that Ashoka is uniquely global. without any cost attached, many of our colleagues would seize on opportunities to work from other offices (Ashoka or Fellow) or on global ToTs. make it something that happens in your 2nd year of employment, or 3rd.

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Join the conversation:

Photo of Steven Forth

'Pulled' to be part of something dynamic, impactful. not 'pushed.' I like this, and am thinking of ways to accomplish it. It opens the question of what would pull me onto any project. There are a few things that come to mind. I want to work on projects that will apply my core skills and also help me to develop the skills I want to develop. I want to work on projects whose goals I believe in. I want to work with people that have complementary skills (I will put up something on complementary skills later). I want to work on teams where there will be a lot of trust. I want to work on projects that have a good chance of being successful.