Finding Fulfilling and Impactful Work in Large Organisations

Updated: Dec 2, 2019

Every fortnight, we hand over the blog to one of the London Shapers, to give you a flavour of what they do, how they think and what's really going on in our hearts and minds. Today's piece comes from Mary MacLennan who is a a consultant to international organisations including the UN and the OECD.


Earlier this year, London Shaper Gemma Milne wrote about finding fulfilling work and avoiding ‘just doing your time’. Her blog speaks to her personal experiences and draws wider conclusions about staying in a role in order to advance, while not adequately reflecting upon whether the position is right, and potentially taking a step toward better suited - and perhaps untraditional - options.


This discussion resonated with me as I reflect upon lessons learned in my varied career, particularly working in large organisations.

I have almost a decade of experience working with governments, international organisations and academia, and have always been motivated by making impact. I often struggled with this working in large institutions, especially in the confines of older/well established and relatively rigid environments. However, at times, I found the scale of impact made through large organisations can be compelling - there have been instances in my career when I have been able to influence policies/programming impacting thousands of people seemingly overnight. When the machines of these large organisations work, it can be exciting.


Technology companies seem to be where many young people who are driven by change and impact work and I have as well, however, I remain working with large organisations as an advisor to the UN and governments. While I am still figuring out my role and where I best fit, having worked in a variety of contexts I’ve found that being authentic and following the below approaches to be helpful in finding fulfilling and impactful work.


1. Locating pockets of people in the organisation doing work aligned with you and your interests

Within the organisations I’ve worked for, my satisfaction has been related to tracking down people who believe in institutions doing things differently. Although not always easy nor feasible to move within an organisation, I found that finding where like attracts like (even potentially just down the hall) is the first step. For instance, I am currently working to establish a UN behavioural science group and collaborating with a number of dedicated and like-minded individuals who have coalesced around this work.


2. Finding a good cultural fit is very important

For me, it has been key to be surrounded by supportive and uplifting people and to be in an environment where I fit. Even if I am not working in my preferred area of technical work, an environment like this can make a big difference in terms of satisfaction and providing opportunities for growth. The converse is true as well. In the UN group I am helping to establish, we are working intently to foster a supportive and inclusive culture, attempting to ensure that everyone’s views are supported and included from the beginning, often going against traditional approaches and at times hierarchies.


3. Going in and out of a role/job can provide helpful perspective

Having completed a number of contracts, I’ve been able to test out a variety of work areas and environments which has provided me with perspective, opportunities and new areas of interest, as well as unique chances to learn from other fields. Serendipitous moments have occurred throughout my career, such as when I started a contract in Australia and stayed for months altering my career trajectory. Institutions often offer secondment and sabbatical opportunities which can be greatly beneficial on both professional and personal levels and worth the invested time. Or, if possible, even working as a contractor for a while can provide a useful view and opportunity for reflection.


For those interested or currently working in large organisations who are driven by making an impact, through searching for pockets of aligned people, exploring the culture of teams and seeking opportunities to provide perspective you may be able to get closer to finding more fulfilling and impactful work. In a world of many options and a constant feeling of the grass always greener, these approaches may help to make reflections, decisions and actions a bit easier and manageable.



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