Trouble in paradise – 3 sure signs of organisational misalignment.

Trouble in paradise – 3 sure signs of organisational misalignment.

The human services sector is one of the most demanding environments. Working with some of the most dis-enfranchised and maringalised members of the community creates all sorts of opportunities and challenges.

An accountable, progressive and when the organisational culture gets out of kilter, staffing, quality of service and outcomes for service users is close to follow.

Here are three early warning signs that it’s time to give culture a shake-out.

Not-me 1. An employee named ‘Somebody Else’
You know that feeling when you’ve heard for the umpteenth time
• ‘It wasn’t me, it must have been somebody else.’
• ‘It wasn’t there, somebody else must have moved it.’
• ‘Somebody else must have done that between shifts.’
• ‘Somebody told me it was okay to do that.’

Sounds familiar? Remember, we’re talking about professional and para-professional staff here.

Somebody Else is a symptom of a lack of responsibility within a blaming culture.

When Somebody Else is making decisions, there is no accountability. The longer you keep Somebody Else on the payroll, the bigger your headaches will grow.


hand-reaching-out-of-water2. Critical incidents are seen as a problem with clients
Let’s be really clear. We all know that people living with trauma histories, disability, pain and complexity will have times when it goes pear shaped. That’s normal. That’s one of the reasons that the sector has so much focus on safety, risk management and reporting.

The critical part of any critical incident is how staff react.

Because we’re expected to know what the needs and issues are for each of the people we work with and have things in place to support them and respond, a critical incident is an opportunity to reflect and check-in on systems and practice. It’s the time for asking ‘How did we manage that?’ ‘Would we do it the same way next time?’ ‘Do we have a good understanding of needs?’

So, if you start to see incident reports that focus on what the service user did rather than how staff managed, it might be time to pause and ask some deeper questions.


numbers-money-calculating-calculation3. Crying poor

I am still surprised to hear of CFO’s who develop program budgets without consultation with practice, senior staff who manage rosters but don’t know their program budget and financial delegations that don’t relate to the responsibility of the role.

You see, when the service agreement / funding agreement was signed, someone at some level, had reviewed the budget and signed off on it as being adequate.


If the budget is under pressure, it usually comes down to one of four factors:
• Staff costs blow-outs
• Lack of understanding of budget line items and limits
• Limited of understanding of the program’s needs at the time of making the agreement
• Robbing Peter to pay Paul (sharing costs across programs)

Education, delegation and accountability are the keys to keeping budgets off the headache list!

So, if any of these sound familiar, it might be worth an organisational health check. Remember, leadership, like happiness, is an inside job.


Author note: Maree Machin has worked with small to medium NGOs for over 20 years, contributing to the leadership and development of successful services.   You can contact Maree at

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