Earlier this week, I wrote about what Teach For America can teach other scaling organizations about how to structure their central and local teams, roles, and responsibilities. But Teach For America’s experience offers one additional, crucial lesson for national organizations that operate across multiple sites:
Create a clear value proposition for the central team.
Often scaling organizations face tensions between local and central teams because they’ve failed to clearly define the value that the central team contributes to local work. Most organizations adopt a multi-site structure because the key work that they need to do–training teachers, running schools, advocating for policy change, etc.–has to happen at a local level to be effective. National or central organizations provide support and resources for local teams and ensure the quality of their work. These functions may be crucial to the local organizations’ success, but local leaders may not always recognize the value they add. Sometimes, they may come to see central or national organizations as restricting their autonomy or imposing on their work without adding clear value. This can create tensions between central and local teams and challenges for an organization’s work.
In making decisions about central-local structures, scaling organizations must start by defining the value proposition of the central role, and making sure that everyone on the team understands how the central team adds value to the work above and beyond what local teams could do on their own. Teach For America’s model, in which recruitment and admissions are a necessarily national function, creates a clear value proposition for the national team. But all multiregion organizations must identify a clear value proposition for the central role. This could range from providing common back office systems and supports; to providing common training for staff; to developing common curricula, tools, or approaches for use across all teams; to facilitating knowledge and best-practice sharing across the network. Once an organization defines the value proposition for its central team, that value proposition should then inform decisions about national-regional structure, respective responsibilities, and degrees of autonomy. But without a clear understanding of what value the national team adds, an organization cannot hope to effectively define national and local roles and responsibilities.