On April 8th, Hope Through Health hosted our first annual all staff retreat in Kara, Togo. Nearly our entire team was present, over 100 people coming from nine different cites and towns in northern Togo. This was the first time, since Hope Through Health launched a Maternal and Child Health expansion earlier this year, that all staff members had been in one location. The sheer magnitude of the entire team coming together was moving and motivating to many people. “When we were walking from the conference room to the dining hall I looked around me and was shocked,” HTH’s Chief Partnerships Officer Andrew Lopez laughs. “I didn’t realize how huge we have become. I asked myself, what have we started?!”
The goal of the retreat, designed with the help of the amazing Perry Dougherty at Still Harbor, was to introduce steps to strengthen the work environment within our organization. The first activity of the day involved working in small groups to list motivating and demotivating factors in our work. Many of the demotivating factors were the same across groups: the death of patients, seemingly insurmountable stress, not being appreciated by their supervisor, etc. The motivating factors were also common. “I am motivated when I see babies born HIV negative from our prevention program,” a pharmacist said. The room nodded and murmured in agreement. A community health worker shared that she was motivated not only by seeing an improvement in the health of her community, but by realizing that her work is a form of self-improvement as well. “Before, I was just a housewife. Now I read and write everyday. I have become a young woman again!”
In the afternoon HTH introduced our five organizational values: efficacy, empowerment, transparency, respect and commitment. A few hours were spent working through the definitions of the values and sharing examples of how they are already being practiced within our organization. Staff performed short sketches of real life examples of our values in action: respect – a supervisor who listened and considered everyone’s opinion in a staff meeting; commitment – a community health worker who coaxed a woman in labor out of her house and walked with her to the health center to deliver; empowerment – a staff member who took the initiative to travel 2 hours to a neighboring city in search of blood for a hospitalized patient.
The last session of the retreat introduced HTH’s new and improved organizational chart and meeting schedule. The new system (based on the Scrum Model) creates groups of staff with team leaders who have planning and check-in meetings throughout the week. The goal is to decentralize decision-making power, enable greater dialogue, and allow staff members at every level to acknowledge and celebrate the role they play in furthering the organization’s mission.
Over the past few weeks following the retreat, HTH staff members have been working hard to put into practice what we learned at the retreat. Posters with the values and definitions have been hung in each office. Quality Improvement and other action plans have been updated and circulated. All of the scheduled team meetings are being achieved and well attended.
This past Friday afternoon, we began to see the fruits of our labor. Each individual team debriefed the week together. For example, Gloria Kloukpo, one of HTH’s physician’s assistants and the clinical team leader went through each task and led a congratulatory song and clap for every item accomplished during the week. The team gave each other feedback on tasks not yet completed and connected over jobs that required multiple team members to work together.
The last half hour of the week, everyone came together for an all staff meeting led by Christophe Gbeleou, HTH’s Country Director. Christophe called on each team leader and asked them to share 2 or 3 tasks they had accomplished during the week and what values were practiced in the completion of these tasks. At the end of every presentation, the staff performed a special handclap to congratulate the group. People were engaged, listening to each other and smiling. The all staff meeting was a positive, efficient culmination to a week of work well done.
Obviously changing organizational and workplace culture cannot happen in one week, but it does start with one big step, which HTH has achieved. There is more dialogue between team members and across teams, staff members are working efficiently and focusing on their successes, and the five values are being spoken in the hallways and are becoming part of our organizational lexicon. We look forward to building on this positive energy to continue eliminating demotivating work factors and increasing motivating work factors to ultimately have a greater impact in the neglected communities we serve.