Thursday, August 23, 2007


The changing nature of things

It is worth looking back on some very distinct attributes of Massar in its first two years.  This was a very small team setting out on a journey which was new for everyone.  There was a strong sense of intimacy and interdependence as we went forward.  In front of us was the vision far away on the hill and there was no road map, no guide book, on how to get there.  It was up to us to plot the route and set the speed, but we all knew that if we kept our eyes firmly on that vision, we would get there in due course.  Strategy, systems, staff, structure, shared values, all these were in our hands.  Because Massar was new, we could in a sense make it anything we needed or wanted it to be, play a variety of roles depending on circumstance and whom we were dealing with.  Our identity was ours to decide, and the result was an inspired piece of branding.  There were very few rules, but some strong values and a huge degree of implicit trust that individuals would first and foremost do the right thing.  Because there was no organisation to which it was accountable, Massar could be (as far as practical) hierarchy-free and self-directed; people were able to take on tasks well beyond their conventional job description, and frequently did so.  They knew that in doing so they would have the backing of the Massar management whatever the circumstances.  It was free-wheeling, autonomous, creative, energetic and filled with momentum.  Team issues could be dealt with quickly and personally.  The Massar team met young Syrians frequently, spent time on the road, felt close to the interface between Massar’s activity and our beneficiaries. The task was complex and at times frighteningly ambitious, but we were able to maintain a simple approach to it.  When it did get frightening we had a sense of humour to rescue us, which maintained a sense of perspective.  We were, and felt, in control of our destiny and could carry the weight of the First Lady's expectations, and national expectations, with pride and confidence.  Massar was all we had to concentrate on, it was our sole aim and objective, and everyone in the team cared about it intensely.  It was for the good of Syria, it had the First Lady's confidence and support, and we were delivering it.  This was Massar as a process embodying Massar as a concept.

Today, every one of these aspects has changed to one degree or another, and for the worse.  The project is bigger, more defined, and more expensive, which certainly makes it necessary to bring rigour to its process.  We have made choices about what we will and cannot do and the project phasing has shifted from opening out to firming up and implementing, from ideas to action.  Massar is no longer the whole world – now we are accountable to the Syria Trust in ways that run from procedures to values.  The former intense loyalty that its people felt solely to Massar has been tempered by the requirement to be part of a larger organisation, in which Massar is only one of many concerns.  Whereas before we did what was right for Massar, now we do what is right for the Trust. 
Today we share the affections of the First Lady with many others, and that makes Massar feel less special.  Caring intensely about Massar has come to be seen as caring less about the Trust, not signing up to the bigger organisation and its goal.  Massar no longer defines its own identity, nor is master of its own destiny; in all circumstances Massar now has to seek permission, to check conformance, to ensure that it is what the Trust requires it to be.  The Massar team has grown, and new people bring new flavours which add value to the project’s gene pool but can dilute the intense feeling of a small family.  Growth in numbers is a necessity, more new people will come, and the specific project DNA which would previously have surrounded new staff is now Trust DNA.  Our eyes are no longer on the vision far ahead; they are usually on the path immediately under our feet as we concentrate on conforming to policies, procedures, payscales, plans and other requirements.  Often our eyes are on the road behind us as events months past are resurrected, picked over and made tidy.  Doing the right thing and focus on goals has been replaced by not doing the wrong thing and a focus on process.  Implicit trust has been replaced by systems which signify, and are sometimes explicit, that staff cannot be trusted or relied upon, and unless controlled will be inefficient or dishonest.  There is far more administration and far less work in the field; especially for those original team members direct encounters with beneficiaries have all but gone.

As a director of the Trust, my own management attention is now not just on Massar but also on the Learning Division and the Trust.  So my own position can no longer be one of unqualified loyalty to Massar, its team and goals above all else; there are many occasions when my responsibilities mean I cannot simply pursue Massar’s interests as I once would have.  Moreover, I am quite sure that my own at times serious reservations about the Trust and worry about its direction will have been picked up to some degree by Massar staff, which will also have had an effect on atmosphere.It's not inspiring.


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