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Updated: Feb 21

What does organizational capacity building mean? We talk about it a lot in development, and it ends up being a stand alone goal many times. Institutional capacity building, organizational capacity building, human resource capacity… What do we mean by this? We mean establishing more effective and efficient ways of working that improves communications, results, quality, transparency, and accountability. There is typically a measure of improved financial stewardship and management as well. In working with organizations and even government, there are many factors to consider:

Institutional culture:

Institutional culture is the way that an institution makes decisions, consults its staff or members, is organized and structured, and incentives (or not) staff and leadership. When addressing organizational capacity building, it is critical to observe and take note of institutional culture, especially understanding dynamics around decision making and leadership. Who is proactive on the team? Who influences others? What motivates staff and leaders to make change?

Culture in the classic sense:

Culture in the classic sense is also important to grasp. How important is hierarchy, and age, gender and title? How the youngest interact with senior, or women with men? How are decisions made – through consensus, or are there one or two decision makers? Is there a culture of email and message, or face to face? Do people tell stories or write documents. How the culture of the society impacts the culture of institution is critical to dissect and understand.

Modeling behavior:

Modeling of behavior between the person or organization asked with building capacity and the organization being supported is an essential element of coaching and ongoing support. Do you communicate proactively and clearly? Do you model the kind of decision making you are promoting? Are you transparent, clear and open to feedback? Anything you are asking the organization to do you should do too.


Trust among members of an organization or group is critical for change to occur. Do they listen to you, believe you have their best interest at heart, and think that you know what you are talking about? If not, they’ll never achieve the change you seek, because you won’t share a vision of how to get there.


Relationships are the foundation of trust. Even when an organization recognizes a need to change, they won’t change unless they trust you. And they can’t trust you unless a relationship has been formed. What is the basis of a relationship? Believing the other person or actor is interested in your success, regardless of the official relationship linking you. This kind of relationship can only be established through face-to-face interaction, time, and genuine interest in the group you are working with.

Ultimately, organizational capacity building comes down to relationships and trust, which can only be established through genuine interest and respect in the people being engaged with. And that can only happen through understanding the influence of institutional culture and culture with a capital “C.” Once these are understood, we can model the change and the behavior we seek to influence and support.

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