West Harris Trust: A Collective Leadership Case Study

Harris is the southern and more mountainous part of Lewis and Harris, the largest island in the Outer Hebrides. West Harris is an area with a population of roughly 150 people.

The West Harris Trust is a community, land-owning charity responsible for managing 7225ha of land on the West side of Harris. They’ve been in existence since 2011 and their main aim is to tackle a declining population and limited opportunities through local endeavour. In this time, they have also been striving to become less reliant on grant intervention and to create sustainable development.

In terms of leadership, the West Harris Trust operates using a collective leadership structure. Collective Leadership typically describes the distribution of power within an organisational structure. Collective leadership usually involves:

  • Participation from all members of a team without a clear leadership structure.
  • Consistent journaling and reflection.
  • Focus on the behavioural and relational aspects of an organisation.
  • Encouraging creativity and innovation.

Linda Armstrong is the —– manager at West Harris Trust and she is responsible for overseeing the organisation’s staff, buildings and developments. In this role, Linda also works with a board of directors and updates them on the progress of the projects the Trust has taken on.

In terms of sharing responsibility, those involved with the Trust each have a role that they are responsible for overseeing. There is a project administrator and staff that are specifically involved in certain projects. Linda’s job is to manage the staff and report back to the board directors. Despite these well-defined roles, oftentimes everyone will pitch in together to get the work done.

Linda sees sharing responsibility as important as no one person can or should do everything within an organisation. She says that there needs to be that crossover to make sure that everything doesn’t fall apart when one person is off.

West Harris Trust has recently began looking for ways to get younger people involved in their projects. It is their aim to create a ‘youth committee’ with the ultimate goal being to teach younger people about community land ownership and why it’s important to their area. By being involved at a younger age, they may perhaps be more inclined to join the Trust when they leave school.

Linda says that one of the benefits of having younger people on the team is that it allows everyone to have a say. It allows the public to see that the Trust aren’t just a faceless organisation doing irrelevant things. By including younger people, it brings in their families and gets them interested in what the Trust is doing.

When it comes to reflection, Linda says it’s an ongoing process. They are usually very aware of what has worked, what didn’t and why. Through reflection, the Trust Look at levels of staffing and work with the board to better understand if their time is being utilised well and is having the desired impact on the community. Linda says that reflection is important as if you don’t review what you’ve done wrong then its easy to make the same error again.

Linda says that, in general, the Trust has been something of a success story. Despite only been in existence for 10 years, the difference in the services and assets available for the community now compared to before is quite remarkable. According to Linda, this is all down to everyone working together and utilising their skills. Without this, things would likely be much different.

To learn more about the West Harris Trust please click here.