An Interview with Peter Ivanov
Over the last 20 years, Peter Ivanov – Keynote Speaker and Executive coach, Athletic Champion and father of five girls – is leading international virtual NGO teams across Europe, Asia and Africa to show them how to deliver projects quicker, reduce cost and develop their NGOs for the future. Today, Peter is sharing his advice on effective leadership and collaboration within virtual NGO teams.
How can NGO companies achieve extraordinary results through remote work?
As a coach who helps people to work more effectively I see that within the corporate context, people often work because they need to earn the money, and because they are going for career and development opportunities; therefore, doing something as a team becomes secondary.
But within the NGO, the mission is number one, and the mission can only be achieved when there is a strong and self motivated team backing it.
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In the corporate world, career is a big factor, bonus is a big factor and therefore reaching your targets set by your manager is the main motivator.
In today’s NGOs many of the young millennials want to leave their legacy and make the world a better place. They work on projects which are normally one year long or sometimes even less, campaigns, events and so on. There are shorter term projects, but carry a visible impact, and they do it not for the money but because of their values.
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At the beginning of the project, they work as an NGO community and I’m helping them to become a team, rather than just a community, and to achieve a strong gravity between the team members and the external partners.
And how do you help NGO members to become a team?
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I bring some structure in the way they communicate. I give them a framework, but they are making the key decisions themselves. I am just guiding them to these decisions through highlighting key important areas in their communication so that they can become a lot more effective.
What does the team mean in an NGO environment?
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It means that you know your team members; you know them much better, you create a closer connection. To achieve this, we go through many exercises like “Life Line”, for example. People share the moments they’re the most proud of, the moments they struggled the most for, and the people-to-people connection grows much stronger because of such information exchange.
People get to know each other much better from a professional and personal point of view. If the community normally has a purpose, and this is great, the team has the gravity to give it unity. I’m helping them to find out what makes the heart of each and every one sing.
We will discover the strength of every one and capture it with a strength matrix, so that individuals will be recognized as experts in a particular field as having a particular talent in a
particular area. Then we leverage on the strength, and people will volunteer and take tasks and objectives based on their strengths and become the point of contact in this area.
Community is equal to the sum of its parts plus the purpose, but the team is much more than this. When people know each other’s strengths and everybody makes a commitment, a community grows into a virtual team.
Very interesting! How do you work virtually with large teams? It must be quite complex if a large number of people is involved in a project?
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If possible, I will bring them together physically at least once, but if not, we will get the key team members together, like ten-fifteen people and then we may replicate the same for the sub teams. In the case of the thirty-five thousand people I had been working with once, we did it online. We used platforms like Adobe Connect, we would use the virtual private rules so they could work as a team, use the shared whiteboard, present back. So, yes we could do it online if the numbers do not permit direct contact, or the travel budget is not there.
Could you talk a little bit more about your method?
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My method is called “Virtual Power Teams” and it consists of “ten big rocks”. These are essentially the ten success factors for retaining the gravity in virtual teams, the gravity in terms of people-to-people connection and it also helps to unleash the team power.These ten big rocks are split into three main categories.
The first part is about getting clarity.
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Who are the members of the team? What are the strengths of each member and how do we set the goals?
We start with the “Life Line” format. People present their moments of excellence and the moments they struggle with the most. Sometimes within five-ten minutes, you can learn more about somebody than in fifteen years! It is very powerful!
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Then, we will discover each other’s strengths in a very quick format. It could be done in a
the format of a peer-to-peer coaching: I provide the questions and they ask each other.
After this, we set the goals and it’s a bit of a longer process: it takes two or three hours to set the right goals. With a good set of questions: some individual, and some group focused – we can find out the top three hot topics for the team and NGO overall and build up on this.
I guide the team in building its own roadmap and future action plan.
At the end, people pick the milestones from their own roadmaps, which correspond to their strength area. All this brings commitment because the goals and objectives are not stated by the boss, this is done by the team in a group format and then people volunteer to choose what to deliver based on their strengths.
Then the second part is also very important: structured communication.
We will design the discussion topics we are going to have. How often we speak as a team? How often do we also share personal highlights – and I’m a big fan of a quick personal highlight section, like two minutes per person: what happened last week – personally and professionally.
We also define what channels will be used by the team for urgent communication. People commit to check a defined channel every two or three hours depending on the urgency of their project and organization. All this is documented in the team charter.
Then, we set up our rules for knowledge management: Which platforms do we use? Which channel is going to be used for dynamic communication? Which one is for discussion or to gather opinions, etc?
We also set up regular feedback sessions on top of our weekly goals: one-to-one with the leader, or peer-to-peer, and we assign somebody to coordinate the meetings, of course.
And lastly the third part is about culture and recognition.
We once delivered a quite complex two-year project, involving twenty countries in Europe. At the beginning, we set the goal to finish the project earlier. We said that if we delivered outstanding results three months earlier, we would go – all thirty people involved in the project – to Tenerife, Canary Islands as the reward for our hard efforts. And we managed to achieve it!
We saved the Company 250 000 Euros, and used 50 000 Euros to go to Tenerife. Everyone benefited.
When there is a price, people will go the extra mile to deliver, but NGOs sometimes have zero budget. For example, one of the NGOs didn’t have the budget but they had one sponsor who would give them the tickets for a Bayern Munich game in case they delivered and overachieved. They did it and were extremely happy!
But even without budgets you can celebratesuccess, create the right atmosphere and recognize the results. One NGO, which had international members in various countries, virtually organized the same meal in every location: every member of the team had ordered pizza and a glass of champagne and they celebrated their success online through a video conference with some nice music as a background.
Amazing, thank you! What is the most important NGO you ever worked with?
I think, probably it’s Teach for all . They are present in many countries. I’m not sure how many, but almost in all European countries, and also in Latin America. They attract people in their mid-career, people who take a sabbatical and go and teach something that they are experts in at some remote school for two years. These people are not teachers, but they are quickly brought up to speed in teaching. The idea is to bring quality education and inspiration to places where the access to teachers is normally scarce. Experts go to villages and very remote places. For them, it is also a change: from being some banking expert in a big city to becoming a teacher on remote African soil.
I guess this is the most touching experience:connecting to young children´s education on such a scale it really makes the world a better place to live.
How do you think the global NGO environment will change in the future?
I think there will be more NGOs in the future because it seems that now people are so enabled to collaborate virtually and online. People will unite globally about certain causes, there will be more self-organizations. I think that overall, the power of politicians will decrease in the long term and the power of self-organized communities and NGOs will increase, aiming for a better and a more empowered world.