Collaboration maximiser: new ways of working for MSF Italy
Enabling a digital transformation process grounded on people and participation, leading towards the establishment of an innovative working environment
After the pandemic, Medici Senza Frontiere (Italian section of Doctors Without Borders) felt the need to rethink their way of working, in order to overcome their double nature of “institution and “organization”. How to become an innovative, flexible and agile team, able to move beyond pure emergency-response and shape a long-term vision?
In 2021, we started a research and co-design process, aimed at first identifying a future scenario for the working environment, and then defining a digital transformation roadmap to get there. Throughout 2022, we worked closely to MSF to tackle all the objectives and initiatives in the roadmap. The main focus was on defining an innovation model, optimizing key processes and setting a shared set of methods, tools and practices.
The roll out of the digital transformation process and new way of working led to tangible improvements in terms of efficiency of the team-work, capability to bring innovation to life and enthusiasm for the organization development. Thanks to the effective change process, in 2023 MSF has been carrying out 20+ innovation initiatives.
Doctors Without Borders Italy experienced significant growth in the past decades, expanding from 30 to over 150 employees while engaging with a growing network of collaborators, humanitarian workers, volunteers, and activists. The organization faced even greater challenges when the Covid-19 pandemic suddenly forced them to adopt remote work practices.
This shift highlighted the need for transitioning activities online but also reimagining the entire work structure and organization functioning. The leadership saw this as an opportunity to evolve the organization with three primary objectives in mind: (1) making internal workflows more agile and effective, (2) fostering an innovative and inclusive organizational culture, and (3) enhancing the well-being and work-life balance of their employees. Through in-depth research, co-design processes, and evaluating various scenarios, we developed the "Collaboration Maximiser," a new model and working environment, designed to drive cultural change and foster flexibility and cross-functional collaboration.
The Collaboration Maximiser encourages a hybrid work culture, balancing remote and in-office collaboration through synchronized rituals and activities. Its implementation has required MSF to transform several elements of their existing structure, including the office configuration (in progress), task and goals management, digital tools, individual roles, knowledge-sharing practices and overall organizational processes.
Beyond just adopting technological tools and processes, the digital transformation has represented a profound cultural change for the entire organization. Actively involving the staff in the process has not only accelerated the transformation but also established a solid foundation for continuous innovation, ensuring that Doctors Without Borders Italy could maximize their resources and stay relevant in the future.
The roadmap for digital transformation was divided into four parallel streams of initiatives: definition of an innovation framework, optimization of key business processes, consolidation of shared tools and practices and strategic intervention related to organizational change.
As part of the optimization of key business processes, we focused on the definition of a new employee journey. Thanks to the new onboarding process, new staff members are now greeted with a carefully curated experience, ensuring they feel included and connected to the organization's culture and values since the beginning. Moreover, they are immediately provided with the necessary tools and instructions to effectively carry out their daily tasks and work with their colleagues. This new onboarding approach not only reinforces sense of belonging of the new joiners, but also improves the efficiency and workflow of the HR staff involved in the front-end and back-end processes.
To create alignment on tools and processes in the new hybrid work environment, we co-designed the New Ways of Working Playbook. The playbook is a shared repository of best practices, co-created with the staff and explained through examples and use cases. It offers guidance on how to effectively communicate, collaborate and organize work at MSF Italy, as well as on how to innovate and plan tasks. A cross-departmental working group, known as the Digital Ambassadors, has played a crucial role in disseminating these practices internally, and serving as a reference point for staff members in case of questions or doubts. Their support helps identify emerging needs and keep reflecting on how to improve or adopt new practices.
In addition to transforming internal tools and processes, we have also worked on establishing an innovation model able to collect ideas and contributions from anyone within the organization, encouraging the constant development of new initiatives. By following an agile and human-centred approach, the innovation management process empowers staff member to prioritize and frame the challenges to focus on, conduct research to refine their understanding of problems and ideas, and ultimately experiment potential solutions and interventions.
As a result of this transformative journey, Medici Senza Frontiere is currently running over 20 internal and external innovation projects, many of which have already generated positive outcomes. Some initiatives, such as the optimized video content production process and the creation of a Spokepool team, have already been successfully implemented. Others, like the redesign of the volunteer model and of the one-off donor experience, are still in the experimental phase and will soon be realised.