Learning in Temporary Organisations

Thanos Karagrounas

June 12th 2014 Sao Paolo, Brazil welcomes Croatia in the opening match for the World Cup.

This journey started almost 7 years ago, in October 2007, when FIFA awarded Brazil the right and responsibility to host the event. 64 years passed since Brazil staged the tournament (in 1950). London hosted the Olympics in 2012, again 64 years after its last time (in 1948).

Other event organisers (for example Wimbledon or Formula 1), have in place a more ‘permanent’ organisation capitalising on the experience and knowledge from hosting yearly events. But what happens with major events that by definition don’t have a ‘permanent home’? A ‘one-time only’ event specific team (local organising committee) has to be set up from scratch to prepare and deliver the event. Few years later the organisation will dissolve rapidly.

So, what is unique about these types of events from a knowledge perspective? Here are some key considerations for event hosts to keep in mind:

Most important decisions are made early

Establishing an event vision, making key planning and strategic assumptions, establishing governance and the role of partners, recruiting senior executives, analysing event requirements are among some of the key elements an organising committee has to work on at the beginning. The question comes up very quickly. Who can help us? Acquiring knowledge to produce such outcomes is an intensive exercise at the beginning. Rather than answering this question by “who you know”, try focusing on “who knows”.

Establishing a clear plan of what skills, knowledge and experience is required at each phase can be a powerful guide; try to avoid budget related decisions when it comes to acquiring core knowledge.

Quite often organisers don’t have a clear plan of what skills and knowledge is required at each phase and tend to make budget related decisions when it comes to acquiring knowledge. Poor or inadequate input into key elements is almost certain that will explode your budget later. So, hire have a plan for hiring relevant expertise at the right time and aim to achieve a balance between local and international experts (depending on the context, a different mix of skills and experience will be required).

There is no day to spare. You only have one shot to get it right

When you have 6-7 years ahead of you, this might sound a lot, and when you have just been awarded the event there is a risk of entering a more ‘relaxed’ mode of “we have enough time”. Experience shows that there is no day to spare.

The more prepared you are with a solid Bid concept, the easier the transition for establishing the foundations. It is fundamental for executives to keep the organisation focused on what needs to be done. Your master plan must be simple. It should be a guide to deliver not an administrative overhead. If people spend more time reporting on milestones than getting things done, think again.

Focus on the must-haves first

Major sporting events act as a catalyst for development, transformation and economic growth. It is therefore easy to fall into a trap of trying to do everything and follow every idea and opportunity. Ensuring that the fundamental elements to deliver the event are in place well in advance will help you make the most of the opportunities. Struggling with delivering venues and procuring core services and equipment until the last minute will definitely limit your options and will most certainly explode your budget.

Don’t forget you are delivering an event

Many organisers enter in a process of implementing systems, processes and procedures with a corporate mind-set. Events are different. There is no document to read with A to Z instructions on how to deliver an event, even though there are standards, good practices and lessons from previous experience. There is nothing more efficient than having the right people on board.

One of the most important elements is the process of building team readiness. Less documents and more testing, practice and rehearsal. Event teams are built on the field not in meeting rooms or behind computers writing documents and reports.

Clarify the role of your partners and stakeholders at the beginning

No single organisation can deliver an event alone. Working together with your partners and stakeholders, engaging them in major decisions, and keeping them informed is a recipe for success. This is different from trying to keep everyone happy. Failing to establish a partnership and efficient process for collaboration can easily become a nightmare.

While each one will have specific requirements, there are much more similarities between them then differences. Most likely some of them will have many years of experience from previous events. Their knowledge can be a great asset but can also be difficult to manage their expectations. Never underestimate the effort of engaging with your stakeholders.