(This is the first part of a two part post)
One of the issues that I often come across when speaking with managers of language schools is the problem of managing the transition from a small organic organisation to one that is larger and more mechanistic.
To explain a little more: Many language schools grow from small beginnings, perhaps with one or two teachers. In these schools, everyone does everything – the owner teaches, answers the phone, manages the business and cleans the classroom. Aside from the business management side of things, the teachers probably do much the same. The business is small and everyone knows what is going on. It can feel like being part of a family. Slowly the business grows, and more people are hired, more teachers, more office staff, and so on. But still the same ethos exists, and the staff feel that they are part of something. They feel recognised, appreciated, and free to be creative in their work
At a certain point though, a tension starts to appear. A tension between this close-knit family of employees and the needs of the business to have a bit more formality. The parent of a student comes in and ask to speak to someone about a certain matter – and no-one is quite sure who they should talk to. Some students are offered payment plans which are unusual and they tell their classmates (or they stop paying and nobody notices). Teachers complain that students who passed the previous level don’t know what they expect them to know. A part time teacher who said she only wanted ten hours teaching a week, is annoyed when a newer member of staff is given a full time contract. And so on. The list of possible signs of this tension coming into play is probably endless.
It becomes increasingly clear – to everyone – that there needs to be formalisation, some more rules and procedures. That people’s job descriptions and responsibilities have to made more explicit. And while everyone can see this need, there is of course resistance to such a change. “Will we lose the feeling of togetherness that brought us here?” “The reason I love working for this school is the freedom and creativity I have here” “We don’t need rules, we just need to make sure we keep communicating”
The transition that at some point needs to be negotiated from a small young informal organisation to one that it is larger and more formal is a very tricky one to handle. Sometimes the tension materialises slowly and is worked out slowly. It might take a few years between recognising the need to change and actually changing. Sometimes the change is more or less instant – usually in the case when a small LTO is bought by a large chain. It can be a process which is painful, sometimes with staff leaving, or it can be a relatively smooth shift.
Carter McNamara’s organisational life cycles model (which is quoted in From Teacher to Manager, and which can also be found here) shows how organisations typically develop
|Division of labor||overlapping tasks||some departments||many departments||extensive, with small jobs and many descriptions|
|Centralization||one-person rule||two leaders rule||two department heads||top-management heavy|
|Formalization||no written rules||few rules||policy and procedures manuals||extensive|
|Administrative intensity||secretary, no professional staff||increasing clerical and maintenance||increasing professional and staff support||large– multiple departments|
|Internal systems||nonexistent||crude budget and information system||control systems in place; budget, performance, reports, etc..||extensive — planning, financial, and personnel added|
|Lateral teams, tasks forces for coordination||none||top leaders only||some use of integrators and task forces||frequent at lower levels to break down bureaucracy|
In the second part of this post, I’ll take a model of trying to best facilitate this transition and try to apply it to the language school context