Blog: Building the Free Tibet team

The Free Tibet team doing Tea for Tibet

2nd December 2016
Post by Eleanor

There are ten people in our London office, including me.  Some work for Free Tibet, some work for Tibet Watch and some work for both.  I know some people think we have a really big team; there are plenty of Tibet groups that have no paid staff at all and rely on the efforts of two or three volunteers.  On the other hand, Amnesty International employs 177 staff in its UK section alone, Greenpeace employs around 90 people in its London office, and Save the Children has 1,151 staff in the UK.

So, objectively, we have a small team!  This means that recruiting the right people is really important and we had two posts to fill during November – one in our campaigns team and one in fundraising.

Putting a team together can be a bit like cooking:  The ingredients have to be balanced, and while a little bit of salt can make the whole dish taste better, too much will ruin it entirely.

The process alone can be very time consuming: checking job descriptions, writing adverts, reading and assessing applications, shortlisting, writing interview questions, creating tests, assessing test results and interviews.  We need the person who has the best professional skills and experience, but also someone who will fit in well with the rest of the team.  And, of course, in this organisation we also need someone who is interested and passionate about Tibet! Putting a team together can be a bit like cooking: the ingredients have to be balanced and while a little bit of salt can make the whole dish taste better, too much will ruin it entirely.

The Free Tibet team

Working in a small team like ours has its challenges. For example, in a larger organisation you can hand work over to colleagues when you go on holiday.  That isn’t always possible here, in fact it rarely is.  We all have so much on our plate and are focused on our different areas of expertise, so everyone needs to really be willing to go the extra mile and do whatever is needed. In a larger organisation people have fixed job descriptions and firmly defined responsibilities, but in a small team like ours people have to be much more flexible, and not everyone can handle that.  It can mean having to learn new skills that wouldn’t normally be associated with your role, or having to figure out a lot of things on your own because you’re the only person who does digital security, or finance, or political lobbying.  It can mean having to make tough decisions that would normally be someone else’s responsibility.

When you have a group of ten people trying to affect the policies of one of the most powerful governments in the world, everything needs to be just right in order to stand a chance. 

On the other hand, it can mean being allowed to make those decisions.  For the right people, small teams provide a great opportunity to take on more responsibility, gain experience, be creative and develop more quickly.  Small teams can be much more dynamic and more nimble in their communication and decision making, but only if you get the balance right and don’t add too much salt.

When you have a group of ten people trying to affect the policies of one of the most powerful governments in the world, everything needs to be just right in order to stand a chance. Fortunately we have a great team here and I’m looking forward to having the two new members join us in January.

Before then we have Human Rights Day (10 December) coming up and I’ll also be joining the Tibetan Community to help celebrate the anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s Nobel Peace Prize, which falls on the same day.  I hope lots of you will also be getting involved on 10th December, either in person or online - If you live near London, please join us for a protest against torture - details available here.

Eleanor is Director of Free Tibet and also of our research partner Tibet Watch. She joined the movement professionally in April 2013, having previously been Director of Casework for legal charity Amicus, where her work focused on the death penalty in the US. With a law degree and an MA in human rights, Eleanor has worked for many other campaigns and projects, including One For Ten, PeaceBrigades International, the Burma Human Rights Documentation Unit and the British Institute of International & Comparative Law. She has been a supporter of Free Tibet since her student days and has supported the Tibetan cause for over 20 years. Read updates from her on Twitter and each month on our blog.