Strategy, emerging strategy or unstrategy? 3 approaches the Rhizome coop discussed at our last meeting. We didn’t reach unanimity. We didn’t push for a consensus decision – in the relatively short time we had together it’s unlikely we would have reached consensus anyway.
We’ve grown in recent months and at the meeting potential new coop members were trying to get a better feel for who we are and what we do. So the question of our strategy arose naturally and inevitably. After all there’s usually a document somewhere that contains a mission statement, a set of objectives and so on, that allow the reader insight into who an organisation is, and what they try to do in the world and how they go about achieving it. Perfectly reasonable to expect Rhizome to have one. And yet we don’t.
When we founded Rhizome, Carl and I took a decision that we wouldn’t write policies and mission statements. Instead we’d publish our values and the work we were doing, and be held to account by being as transparent as we can through this blog and elsewhere. This post is in itself part of that drive for transparency.
So we found ourselves in tension (and I don’t mean to imply that’s a bad thing). We discussed whether the time had come to write our mission statement and plot our strategy; whether we could work with an emerging strategy by stating our desired end point but being flexible as to how we got there – adapting to the terrain as time and events shaped it; or whether we shouldn’t even map out an end point and simply continue to state our values and use those as a filter for all of the decisions we make – a sort of unstrategy.
If we worked by majority I’d say we were moving towards the latter, an unstrategy, a conscious decision not to put energy and time into creating a detailed map of the world and the work we do in it, but to put that same energy into cultivating and holding firm to our collective values and using those as a compass by which we navigate whatever terrain we encounter. I like this approach – it works for me. If we ever come across new territory, marked only “here be dragons” we’re not paralysed because we always carry our values compass with us.
But there are downsides, and it would be foolish to pretend there weren’t. And these were strongly articulated, meaning this is very much a live discussion within the coop.
One argument is simply about our credibility. We are asked to support and facilitate others in their attempt to map out the world and their path through it to their desired endpoint. And yet we might not have undertaken that same process ourselves.
Another is about identity and consensus. Can we have a clear and shared identity and purpose without a clearly defined strategy? And if we don’t have that clarity can we really do consensus decision-making. After all the final safety net of consensus is the block – a veto to stop a group doing something that would damage their integrity. Many would say that the yardstick against which the validity of the block is measured is a group’s shared identity and purpose. If we go down the route of an unstrategy, we’re substituting that with shared values – is that enough?
The discussion will no doubt continue when we next meet. We’ll also be posting more on the individual perspectives we’re hearing as part of the conversation. It’s an important dialogue. It may be a make or break decision for those interested in joining Rhizome. And as always we welcome your wisdom…..
This is an interesting quandary. One thing I wonder about is the difference between being a cooperative and a different kind of organisation. I would think of a coop as a collective of folks who may have their own individual missions, but gather together because it’s mutually beneficial. Shared values seem to be the bottom line in such a gathering.
As a sole practitioner I’m really enjoying the freedom to work according to my own interests. I like that I don’t spend a lot of time in meetings about the work, I just get to do it. This may change over time as it makes more sense to work with others – but I’m wondering about the balance between individual autonomy and group agreements, including about strategy.
Although I’m all about valuing planning and strategy I don’t think it’s necessarily hypocritical that Rhizome doesn’t have a strategy. It depends on the ends involved, what helps you get there, and whether that is a collective project or one that individuals pursue in different ways, with the support of the group. Groups change over time and different structures and processes fit for these stages. Perhaps this a good opportunity for a storm that results in greater clarity.
Folks may find some useful insights in Grassroots & Nonprofit Leadership – I frequently do! http://www.trainingforchange.org/grassroots_and_nonprofit_leadership
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Thanks for being so honest and open about your business model and approaches to how/where you invest your energies;
Like yourselves, I’m not following some detailed startegic/buiness plan, but rather trying to be led by my values (and like you, have enacted several practices as part of that to openly reflect and invite comment or challenge from others);
I’m not sure that there are any clear definitive answers, but surely it’s the questioning that’s important in helping us to better understand and define ourselves into people who can fulfil out potential, do most good, and be able to sleep with our respective consciences at night?