The Work That Binds: Strengthening Organizational Leadership Development Through College and Career Readiness Framework Development
Christopher, Tami Ann
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CitationChristopher, Tami Ann. 2019. The Work That Binds: Strengthening Organizational Leadership Development Through College and Career Readiness Framework Development. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
AbstractFor over 40 years, the non-profit organization Our Piece of the Pie (OPP) has served community needs in the south end of Hartford, CT. It began in 1975 as Southend Community Center serving a low income population ranging from newborns to seniors through a variety of programming. In 2005 the organization restructured and became “Our Piece of the Pie” with a focus on “helping 14-to 24-year-old urban youth become economically independent adults.”
Programs were organized and designed around youth development, workforce readiness, and academics. Perceived to be the most unique tenet of the organization by youth, staff, and funders, was its Youth Development Specialist (YDS) model. The YDS were staff members hired to provide each youth a caring relationship with an adult that was consistent and positive.
Since 2005 the organization developed and sunset various programs in response to funding opportunities, community needs, and decisions made at the executive and board level of the organization. Often, the programs that OPP offered to youth were based on state or federal funding and began, were modified and ended with the funding streams. As a whole the organization lacked consistently articulated youth competencies to support its mission. This was evident in interviews with both internal and external stakeholders as well as through researching the organization’s website, internal documents and consultant reports. Not all programs that OPP developed or participated in provided equitable opportunities for youth participation. The organization’s culture became fragmented as programmatic departments were organized around funding sources. This structure and culture impeded opportunities for shared learning and innovative practices and created a sense of competition among departments. This sense of competition was only heightened when, as part of a national trend, legacy foundations and other federal funders moved away from general funding and towards providing funding that was more targeted and often left gaps in areas such as administrative and operational costs for non-profits (Berardi, 2019).
This capstone describes a strategic project designed to help OPP identify a framework of college and career readiness (CCR) competencies (in support of helping youth become economically independent adults) that would integrate programmatic areas to improve consistency, shared learning, and innovation in the organization. The work of developing the CCR framework provided the backbone and context for helping staff develop a culture of consistency, shared learning and innovation while they improved their personal leadership skills.
An important component of this project was embedded personal leadership development support. Team members were introduced to several leadership tools and strategies designed to help them move the work. The CCR framework was work that needed to be done in the organization and provided relevant context for the team members to develop their leadership skills. These tools and strategies were grounded in adult development theory.
I began the work by reviewing the mission statement for clarity and the team struggled to identify a definition for “economically independent adult.” The team did realize success in identifying a few key competencies that would support CCR across the agency despite this initial setback. My research and findings and the work of the CCR team supported OPP’s later decision to revise its mission statement and align competencies to the goals of that mission. OPP engaged in organizational mission and theory of change work soon after the CCR Team was assembled and the work of the CCR team aligned with much of the theory of change work.
The CCR team also found some success developing personal leadership skills that enabled individuals to work through difficult conversations around the concepts of social services, cultures of dependency, race, and other high risk topics; these skills were also helpful during the organizational wide theory of change work as, as a larger group some of the same topics were discussed. The team members had an opportunity to practice and develop these skills within the CCR team prior to having such conversations with a larger group.
This strategic project serves as model, having both successes and challenges, as to how a youth development, non-profit agency can utilize leadership development (built on adult development theory) to build collaboration across programmatic areas in support of building a culture of shared learning and innovation. Additionally, the project highlights how the internal level of clarity around the organization’s mission can impact the development and implementation of competencies the organization uses to achieve that mission.
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