Development workers - how many roles are there?

There are many paths leading to success.

The role of development workers gives us a lot of freedom. The conscious perception of different roles can help us to support our organization the best way possible.

Since March 2014 I am working as a consultant for organizational development and knowledge management on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development at Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ). As a consultant I have always considered myself as player number six in the defensive midfield in football. He searches for the gaps in the team, closes them and initiates the attacks with his passports. However, it is the others of the team who score the goals. As a consultant, I give impulses. Implementation, however, is the responsibility of the partner organization. The question is: how did this adviser role develop during my assignment in Zimbabwe?

Defensive Midfielder – The advisor

MMPZ promotes access to (diverse) information and responsible journalism for Zimbabwean population. The non-governmental organization uses the monitoring of print and electronic media to write analyzes on the presentation of various socio-political topics in the media. On this basis, activities such as workshops and meetings are conducted at the community level. My responsibilities include helping to build structured knowledge management and developing a business unit that is independent of the market to compensate financially for the shrinking donor financial support in Zimbabwe. At MMPZ I became directly part of the management which consisted of five people. I quickly realized that the different departments were only exchanging information with each other. As a consultant I encouraged a bi-weekly management meeting. I prepared this meeting by collecting the most important topics from the different departments, creating an agenda and inviting the management. A log summarized the discussions and listed to-do's for all concerned. Introducing regular management team meetings improved inter-departmental communication and collaboration and I was included into the organization's information flow as a consultant. I discovered many areas where I could offer my consulting services, be it in developing internal training or introducing employee reviews.

Defensive midfielder with goal completion - consultant and project manager

I always made sure that I maintained my advisory role and looked at the processes from an external point of view. However, during a management meeting, the director of that time told me he wished that I talked more about "us" than "you" and. I realized that the organization did not lack strategies and ideas but someone who put them into practice. There was a lack of doer-qualities, especially in management. What to do with a strong defensive midfield when nobody scores the goals because there are no strikers in the team? The solution is to support the team best when I, temporarily, play striker. So I decided to take over my own project. Together with our IT expert I set up a website ( which makes the monitoring results of our employees transparent instead of collecting them in an internal database and thus hiding them from the public. Now I have two roles: consultant and manager of a project.

Defensive midfielder and support staff - consultant and coach

Since the beginning of the year MMPZ has a new director. Perhaps also because I was involved in their selection and could ensure transitional funding we have a good relationship. She is more active and her management style is more implementation-oriented. She knows how to manage different projects at the same time so that I no longer see any need for myself to be active in project management. I support her in two main ways: On the one hand, I see myself as her coach with whom she discusses new ideas and also difficulties. As a trained coach I ask questions, structure and lead them to their solutions. Since the former director held the position for fifteen years and the organizational culture had many negative dynamics it was an emotional rollercoaster ride right at the beginning. With me as a coach the new director was able to reflect on her disappointments and hopes and shared our views on organizational culture and people. In addition, I now increasingly take on the role of a consultant by pouring the content-based discussions she leads into concepts and strategies. Then we discuss the concept within the organization. In doing so, I make the results of the discussions transparent and secure a coherent strategy. For example, we recently introduced a new organizational structure and prepared a medium-term strategy paper.

The benefit of the all-rounder - variety of roles for the benefit of the partner organization

The role of a development worker gives us a lot of freedom. However, filling it appropriately depends not only on us but also on the organization. As in a football game we should ask ourselves: What is needed right now? How can we best support our team? A profound organizational analysis and the role model helped me to deliberately take on different roles in the organization and to optimally align my support with my organizations goals. Flexibly switch between roles such as consultant, project manager and coach has worked very well for us.

Dr. Malte Kassner has been development worker in Zimbabwe since March 2014. He works there as an organizational consultant at the Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ).

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