Democratizing Decisions: Update from Interim Executive Director Bilal Alkatout

Dear Community,

I am excited to share an update with you about the work that has been happening on our team.

Since last fall, Headwaters staff have been working to co-create Headwaters’ next chapter, focused on rethinking our leadership and decision-making models. I’m very happy to say we are on track with our timeline towards our renewed structure with permanent leadership by the summer of 2024.

We shared our last update after we had wrapped up our winter organizational retreat. Since then, we’ve been busy, so I have a lot to share!

Since the winter, we’ve been focused on discerning staff desires for Headwaters’ organizational structure and decision-making practices. As we shared in our last update, three significant tools came out of our January all-staff retreat. The first two are our guiding values and theory of change that have continued to guide our culture work and day to day business at HFJ.

The third tool is our interim decision-making tool.  This tool represents our team’s current best thinking about how to make decisions on our team while we work to solidify a permanent decision-making model. Every part of it was created by consensus with all staff present at our January retreat and has been in practice ever since – from the individual level all the way to all-staff level.

Guided by this tool, we are practicing into using a modified advice process. This means that in most cases, someone must seek meaningful input from colleagues impacted by a decision before moving it forward. This happens daily on the team level and often at the staff level. You’ll also notice that staff must make some key, organizational decisions using a consensus model. This includes things like health and safety practices, hiring procedures, and salary and benefit policies.

This represents a significant shift in decision-making practices at Headwaters and is a tangible step towards distributing leadership throughout the organization. Thanks to this tool, we have more consistent language and practices that guide how we do our work and promote more democratic, values-aligned ways of working together. We are growing our skills around communication, feedback, and trust in decision making. And we are learning where new processes create ease and where we still need to smooth out wrinkles.

Equipped with this tool, our staff moved together into the spring of 2023.

A significant part of the spring was hiring and onboarding new staff. Staff across the organization stretched into new decision-making responsibilities as part of hiring. Our full staff co-created and consented to refreshed onboarding practices, participated in interviews, and gave meaningful input throughout. Again and again, our staff came together to help make decisions that reflected a more democratized way of working.

A lot has happened since bringing on our talented new team members. We launched two new  grantmaking funds. We began a lunchtime political education series for staff, and our organizational development work has continued apace, with new staff voices strengthening and growing the work.

So, what’s next?

This summer, all-staff workshops with our trusted organizational development consultants Dragonfly Partners have helped us identify our organizational structure north stars and decide on more permanent decision-making models. Dragonfly Partners is working in deep consultation with all staff to develop a proposal for a new organizational chart. We are also focused on reworking our salary and compensation to be more values-aligned, inspired by the work of MediaJustice and other organizations thinking radically about compensation. In the fall, we are looking forward to a joint staff-board retreat to come to agreement about our shared vision of a new leadership structure for the organization. This will inform an implementation plan for winter 2023 and spring 2024.

So, how are we feeling in this moment? Proud, resilient, and strong. We are focused and seeing the tangible results of all that we’ve done so far. Finally, we are so excited to be able to share this work with you. We are stronger thanks to the wisdom of community, and we are eager to share our learnings with you.

I look forward to sharing more in the coming months.

With gratitude,

Bilal Alkatout