You’re ignited by your vision, and you feel a deep urge to make it happen. Perhaps you’re already making it happen, and you’re busy managing the manifestation of your dreams.
But have you created a “container” that will serve your vision well? It’s just as important to consider the health and well-being of your own program and organization, as you strive to support the health and well-being of others.
After more than a decade of working with a variety of social entrepreneurs and innovators at varying stages of their growth and development, I’m clear now about the importance of building a healthy container to contain your vision.
So what do I mean by a healthy “container”?
I’m talking about matters that some consider to be rather mundane or even irrelevant: things like corporate structure, bylaws, governance models, and the decision-making process. I’m a big believer in spending the time up-front when it’s appropriate to think through these issues with due consideration. Very few people care about how an organization defines such things when all is going swimmingly. But when the inevitable rough patch arrives, a good container can make the difference between thriving through adversity or not surviving at all.
At the very least, a well thought-out structure and decision-making process will allow you, and those on the journey with you, to be more likely to focus your collective and precious energies on what really matters: manifesting your vision. As a general rule, I suggest starting as simply as possible, with decision-making powers clearly focused, while retaining the flexibility to modify the structure of your enterprise as it evolves and grows.
The likelihood is that during the early life of an initiative the founder makes all or most of the decisions. In the usual course of a day, the numerous decisions that need to be made range from forging strategic alliances to purchasing pencils. As an initiative grows and matures, new people are brought into the fold and certain decisions are naturally shared with those involved. However, the key strategic and policy decisions, at least, remain with the founder.
At some point, the founder may seek the wise council and support of external persons—this may take the form of an advisory board whose role is to “advise” the founder, who continues to retain the power to make final decisions. In some cases, if a legal entity is created, it may become necessary to actually create a formal board of directors.
This can be a challenging time. Given that a board of directors is actually responsible to “direct” an organization (i.e. approve budgets, set strategic direction and establish policies), how does this affect the decision-making process within the organization? Who is now in charge? The founder or the board of directors? (This transition from a “founder-centric” to a “board-centric” organization can be a “make or break” time.)
I believe it is very important to be clear about who has “formal” decision-making power at every stage of an organization’s life cycle. Knowing who is responsible for what can go a long way towards building a strong and healthy container for your vision.
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Dr. Peter Mortifee is the President and a founding member of the Somerset Foundation. He is also a Thought Leader of The Play Exchange, an online challenge to find and support innovative ideas promoting healthy and active living across Canada.