Organisational Structure and Principles

The challenges posed by the context where we work and the unique goals we seek to achieve bear an intimate relationship with the organizational structure deployed by us. The following table explains the rationale for the organizational structure adopted by SPS in terms of the differentia specifica of our context and endeavor.

Challenges of SPS Context and Endeavour
Extremely tough conditions of work.
India’s most disadvantaged have suffered for long.
Enormity of the challenge.
Complexity of the challenge requiring diverse knowledges.
Rapidly changing context (e.g. globalization)
Deep interconnections between different aspects of the challenge.
Imperative for Organizational Structure and Employee Attitude and Behavior
Passionate commitment to the cause and great endurance
Ability to innovate new ideas and design creative solutions for an old problem
Recognizing the need for partnerships both within and beyond SPS (including other NGOs, government, academics etc). One cannot go it alone.
Need to use the knowledge of all employees, irrespective of position in hierarchy (TQM). Overcoming waste of intelligence in bureaucracies. In the words of management guru Tom Davenport, “knowledge is information combined with experience, context, interpretation, and reflection” (Gates, 2005).
Non-dogmatic, nimble-footed ability to continuously adapt to fresh challenges.
Need for team-work based on an understanding of the various ramifications of this interconnectedness

Only the kind of post-bureaucratic structure described above would allow all this to become possible. In our context, where all elements of our work (watersheds, SHGs, livelihood programs, right to food, MGNREGA) are so closely interlinked with each other (both in economic and institutional terms), there is no other option for employees across divisions to work in tandem, synergizing respective strengths, all directed to achieving organizational goals. This is especially because our educated professionals from the metros, local educated professionals and village professionals all have such unique insights that they can greatly benefit by being open to learning from the other, quite irrespective of position in the hierarchy. This also implies that the divisional organograms described earlier must not be seen as watertight silos. Primary responsibilities are specified but work informed by a cross-cutting perspective (of “externalities”) across divisions is encouraged and rewarded.

Proof of the Concept
Our rapid movement towards occupying a pre-eminent position in the development sector in India owes in no small measure to the rich flow of innovative ideas that our organizational structure has made possible. Several path-breaking ideas of SPS such as the SVO model or leveraging MGNREGA are showing the way to the entire sector. This is also reflected in the position SPS has been given in so many decision-making bodies — of international think-tanks such as the IUCN, as Adviser, Supreme Court of India, top government agencies such as the Planning Commission, Central Employment Guarantee Council, Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) or CAPART, universities (such as IGNOU), research institutions and the voluntary sector (MGNREGA consortium). SPS core team members are part of several working groups formed by the Planning Commission such as those on MGNREGA, Sustainable Groundwater Management, Watershed Development and Minor Irrigation and Natural Resource Management and Rainfed Farming. Another major recognition to SPS has been the appointment of one of its founders Dr. Mihir Shah as Member, Planning Commission in 2009.

A judgment regarding the merit of a structure must also be weighed up against its high-quality professional outputs such the Parthasarathy Committee report, report of the 11th Plan Working Group on Rainfed Areas, regular publication of research papers in peer reviewed journals, being selected to develop training manuals and films for MGNREGA by MoRD etc. This is work on a remarkably large canvas, not a small organization working in pristine isolation.

Strong confirmation of this is provided by various studies in the corporate world. In a study of more than 100 companies over 2 decades, Denison (1990) shows that firms maintaining a participative culture had corporate performance (measured by sales and return on investments) twice as good as comparable low-participation firms. Of course, having said that we strongly affirm with Dee Hock: “If your organization is not actively involved in reconceiving, you are already in a state of disillusion and decay”. Or as Michael Rothschild says, “No organizational design is permanent. Companies seek but never find the perfect organizational structure”.