Working Together: group exercise to bring out discussions around dynamics

DSCF4302.JPGA few months ago I dusted off an old group dynamics exercise that I’d almost forgotten about – the Tinkertoy game. I first came across it in the hallowed pages of the (now out of print) Resource Manual for a Living Revolution. Somewhere in the intervening 20 years it had slipped off my radar. I’m very happy it’s now firmly back on the radar again.

Not even knowing what Tinkertoys were, I immediately translated it into Lego (other plastic block-based construction toys are available).

The game works on lots of levels and is perfect to help groups and facilitators diagnose some of the core issues in a group. It focuses on roles, communication, and the tension between getting the job done and how it gets done….

I used it again the other week, and here’s how….

  • Make yourself a Lego model. The more complex you make it the longer the challenge will take. I kept mine relatively simple.
  • Give every small group (not teams – any  competition should be of their making, not yours) all the blocks they need to build the model, plus a few more for good measure.
  • Place the model where it can’t easily be seen by the group – inside a small cardboard box, or behind a screen, for example. Create an intermediary station (table and chairs?) between the groups and the model.
  • Introduce the roles and the rules of the game…. each group needs to build an exact replica of a small Lego model in the time given. However the people building the replica, the builders, aren’t ever going to see the original model themselves. They’ll be relying on the lookers to be the eyes of the group. But the lookers can’t communicate directly with the builders. They will meet with the messengers at the intermediary station, share their knowledge and impressions of the model, and the messengers will then talk to the builders. The lookers can come no closer than the intermediary station. These conversations can be just that – back and forth, structured or unstructured as people prefer. Then there’s the answerers. Answerers can go anywhere and interact with anyone, but on strict terms. They can only respond to direct questions, and then only with 2 possible responses “yes that’s right” and “no that’s not right”.
  • The minimum size for the group is therefore 4, but you can have multiple builders and can throw in an observer or two to help with debriefing later.
  • Give the group some time to meet and plan – I gave them 10 minutes.
  • Then get them building. I gave them just 20 minutes on this most recent occasion.
  • After 20 minutes I invited the groups to take another 10 minutes to meet. They were barred from talking about the model itself, but encouraged to talk about anything else that would help them improve the way they worked together.
  • I gave them 10 more minutes to finish the job, which both groups did, having used their 10 minute interval well.
  • Then debrief according to the issues that arose or the purpose of the training.

Try it sometime…..

 

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I say, I say, I say…

I-statements. To quote Wikipedia:

“I-messages are often used with the intent to be assertive without putting the listener on the defensive. They are also used to take ownership for one’s feelings rather than implying that they are caused by another person. An example of this would be to say: “I really am getting backed up on my work since I don’t have the financial report yet,” rather than: “you didn’t finish the financial report on time!” (The latter is an example of a “you-statement”).[3]”

Seems like a great idea, and it’s no surprise that some of the groups contacting Rhizome are keen on I-statements. And yet they ( the I-statements, not the groups) are irritating me.

OK, let’s back up. There’s no doubt that in some situations (many situations) clear, assertive and yet sensitive communication is just what’s needed to help a group recognise and then deal with conflict. And, as always, we’d welcome your experience on the subject. Disclaimer over.

So what’s the problem?

Like several other established group tools, such as handsignals and groundrules, we’ve critiqued over the years they can become part of the problem they seek to overcome.

I recently worked with a group in which people would suggest from the sidelines of a conflict “use I-statements, use I-statements”, and it rang alarm bells for me. What I felt I was detecting was the faint hint of moral high ground. My sense (which has been known to be wrong) was that in conflict if one party used I-statements and the other didn’t, then the group would have more sympathy with the former, awarding them the moral high ground. I-statements were part of the code of acceptable behaviour for this group. Dealing with conflict, emotion, values without them was less acceptable behaviour.

It felt like I-statements were a tool of the mainstream of the group, and as such could be used to strengthen their mainstream power and position at the expense of others for whom this mode of communication wasn’t the norm. I also felt that the concentration on I-statements had the potential to defelct attention from the real underlying issues of the conflict. There were some unhealthy, even oppressive, dynamics at work, none of which I heard recognised and expressed in I-statements or otherwise.

I also worry about the control an I-statement brings to communication. I know that on one level it’s meant to moderate (and therefore de-escalate) a situation. But don’t you feel sometimes we have to let rip. It’s not just a carefully constructed sentence that expresses how we feel, it’s the body language, the tone of voice and, yes, sometimes it’s the passion and vehemence (some might say violence) of the expression that communicates just what we’re experiencing. I’m sure I-statements can be used this way with enough experience, but almost all of us lack that (not an excuse for not working towards it, I realise.

Another day, another group and a participant leaves the room, storms out even, slams the door and shouts “C*nt!”. No I-statements to be heard. But pretty clear communication, and valuable communication. No-one’s under any illusions as to the depth of emotion being felt. I’m pretty sure that the suggestion to “use I-statements” in this moment would have aggravated the situation, would have been unwelcome restraint and confinement and would have made it harder for the participant to rejoin the group.

So the message if there is one? No group process or tool is a panacea and that applies to I-statements as much as any other. If I-statements empower the least powerful in your group to be heard, then encourage and celebrate them. If they’re just another way to confirm the superiority of the powerful then I can live without them!

Matthew

The Facilitator’s Dilemma

In Rhizome we have recently been sharing with each other the work we have done and how we felt about it. Common to us all of course is working with, facilitating, training, supporting groups of people. Some groups have many tensions unexpressed within them , power struggles, individuals feeling excluded or disregarded, mistrust, misunderstood or vague objectives leading to ineffective meetings and decision making and sometimes explosions of personal emotions which shatter the supposed task to pieces and all one can do is forget the task and start working on building group trust and respect .

As an external facilitator, brought in to help with a decision or a sticking point in a strategy development process, or to help define and clarify roles and responsibilities, it’s often obvious that the group has not spent enough time getting to know each other, exploring what they want or need, some members are marginalised and the group is dysfunctional.  I liked Cruxcatlyst’s article on this issue, When Groups Go Bad, recommending Jamie Oliver among other good suggestions, and also her piece on dealing with black hats!

Nothing helpful is going to happen while people’s defences are raised or they are in attack mode. Their adrenals are fired up and they are in ‘fight’ mode. Others will go into ‘flight’ mode, withdrawing from a hostile situation either through non-participation, or physically leaving.

By all means, allow a group, or factions within it, to vent about the situation. Right at the start of the session, let them get it off their chests – they won’t be taking anything else in while they are silently aggravated anyway. Then ask the group if they are willing to put that in a metaphorical jar on a shelf just for the time being, while the group works towards the outcome sought.

Be aware of which ego states various people in the room might have moved into (and of your own state), and use nonviolent communication techniques to guide your verbal and non-verbal responses.

And, as an external facilitator, it’s really hard to move away from the task that you’ve been brought in to do to what really needs doing and especially if there is not enough time allotted.  But the one cannot be successfully achieved without the other. A quandary, one which I struggled with recently, ending up giving more time to the people aspect and less to the task. Although this was something of a disappointment for the group, they did feel  they had got to understand each other better and agreed to take the task on to another meeting. Not much of a catalytic intervention, and another occasion when offering on-going support to the development of the group’s health was what I really wanted to do! This is the constant dilemma – to accept with caveats the parameters set by the client, even though you know it will not work, or to hold out for more time and more focus on the group itself before even contemplating starting a decision-making process.

Jo

 

essentials of conflict resolution

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Matthew and I have been doing some work with a food coop; helping voluntary team leaders review and add to their conflict management tools. We’ll shortly be running our third workshop. Here’s what we work with people on –

Aims

  • To develop the understanding and application of appropriate states of mind (consensual, non-judgemental, solution focussed)
  • To develop the understanding and application of active listening and dialogue skills
  • To enable participants to know when to apply these skills; and to what degree
  • To enable participants to identify their further learning needs (if necessary)

 

Approach used in training

  • Using small and large group discussions, activities, role plays and debriefs.
  • Supporting material to back up learning. All participants to get material on State of Mind and Active Listening and the principles of cooperative conflict resolution.
  • No slides – learning by doing.
  • Two trainers – for support, to facilitate skills demonstrations, to maximise feedback to participants, for some variety

 

Outline session plan

  • Introduction – housekeeping, people, negotiating how we’ll work together
  • What is conflict resolution? Different approaches to this – focus on the models more appropriate to cooperatives – facilitative styles; person and group focussed.
  • States of mind – exercises to build internal understanding of being non-judgemental, consensually focussed, solution focussed, unbiased, people/work orientated.
  • Active Listening – listen, reflect, clarify, summarise, explore, produce ways forward, agree on them, action them. Go through these phases and make explicit why different to everyday conversations.
  • Practise sessions – rounds of work on threes or fours with peer to peer work and peer observers giving feedback, along with the trainers (if needed), on realistic role plays.
  • Review sessions – check ins on understanding of material and its application.
  • Co-designing a process to deal with small scale conflicts and knowing when to refer them to personnel.
  • Evaluation session.

All of the handouts we used, are available on our resources pages. Use and share.

Carl

Group as nation state: newcomer as immigrant

Ever travelled to another country or culture? For some it’s exhilarating, exciting, full of interest and new experience. For others it stressful, full of uncertainty and the potential to offend. Visiting a partners family for the first time can provide a similar experience – especially if it’s for a significant event or festival. You thought you knew how Christmas, for example, was celebrated and then you discover a whole new way of going about it.

And what’s this got to do with groups and newcomers? Simply that every group has a culture of its own. It has a blend of certain personalities, in-jokes, power dynamics, sexual tensions, jargon, assumed aims and priorities and much more. In many ways a group is like a nation-state – it has a definite character and sometimes its culture, like a border, can prevent a real barrier to the incomer, the immigrant would-be group member.

So how do groups integrate newcomers? There’s a real danger that like many immigration debates the default option is intolerance and xenophobia – at best “they can come in as long as they conform to our way of doing things”. I’m not suggesting that’s an official group position, but it can be the message the group’s culture puts out if there’s no attempt at cross-cultural communication.

Some newcomers may be willing to get involved on those terms. Others, like many immigrant communities, will want to retain links with their heritage. In this case it may be the way they’ve done things or witnessed them done in other groups.

Successful integration is going to involve a bit of give and take, a healthy dose of curiosity, time and effort given to communicating, and flexibility. The result? A group that is strengthened by its diversity, not weakened by it. A group whose culture is open and inviting. A group that grows and flourishes.

What does that boil down to in real terms? Here’s a few things to add to the to do list:

  • Realise that strong groups pay attention to their culture, so if you’re not aware of what yours is, pause and try to see your group from the outside. Better still ask recent recruits what they thought of the group at first. Even better still, ask those who came along but fell by the wayside what it was about the group culture (if anything) that stopped them crossing the border.
  • Think back to your ‘first meeting’ experiences – how did you feel? What were the obstacles? What would have helped you integrate into the group more easily? Having said that, remember not everyone is the same – your experience is useful but not universal. If you’re the kind of traveller that finds new cultures exciting, don’t forget those for whom they are daunting.
  • Take the time to talk to new folk, to ask questions and take an interest in the answers – show a willingness to learn from their previous experience and try new approaches. Cultures can grow and develop and each new member has a contribution to make.
  • Many groups offer few opportunities for newcomers to get involved in roles that offer real responsibility and real opportunity for interest and development. Be careful not to create hierarchies based on ‘time served’ with the group. You don’t want to equivalent of qualified, but immigrant, teacher and doctors working as cleaners because your nation-state doesn’t recognise their experience and qualifications. Find out what folk want to offer (and want to learn!) and make use of their energy, ideas, skills and talents. How do you find out – ask!
  • Evaluate! Each meeting and event should have at least a few minutes dedicated to finding out how it worked for those involved, including (especially?) newcomers. However don’t offer this opportunity unless you genuinely intend to listen to the feedback, and if need be, make some changes. Anonymous written evaluations are a safe bet. If you can create a culture where folk can speak their evaluations (so you can ask follow up questions), great. Whatever works for the group members.

How many trainers does it take to change a lightbulb?

Actually the question I’m pondering should be “how many minutes do we need to switch on the lightbulb in the minds of those we train?”. Jo wrestled with this question recently as she wrestled with delivering a short workshop. I spent Saturday afternoon delivering another very short workshop for Greenpeace Network Co-ordinators. The topic was dealing with “difficult behaviour” and increasing engagement in meetings though Jo’s 60 minutes makes my 75 minutes seem positively luxurious.

Some (wiser?) facilitators might have politely declined the request. Others might have taken the time to explain the folly of such time limits. A younger me would have set off at breakneck speed to cover as much ground as possible. Nowadays, for me and my Rhizome colleagues, it’s about catalytic interventions. Cumbersome phrase, but one that came up at our first meeting of the expanded Rhizome coop and has reasserted itself many times since. Can we catalyse meaningful change through our work? Big ask in 75 minutes. I wouldn’t dream of suggesting that Saturday’s workshop will lead to sustained change in knowledge, skills and, of course, the attitude of those attending. But it was possible to get the lightbulbs at least flickering if not shining by keeping it simple and going for a little depth over covering breadth. And of course by keeping it as experiential as possible. You can learn a lot from a little doing.

At Greenpeace’s request we spent the last few minutes gleaning top tips from the group to give their peers who were attending other workshops something to work with. The tips also help give me a useful insight into what had been learnt. They reassure me that it was a useful 75 minutes. Of course there’s more to be done, including dialoguing with the client on how to reinforce this work, but its a start:

difficultbehaviour

click on the image for a clearer view

engagingpeople

click on the image for a clearer view

I was also roped in as a scribe for a workshop on “catching and keeping” people in local action groups. One thing that came across strongly in both sessions was that people don’t evaluate their meetings. Newcomers have no opportunity to say how the meeting worked (or didn’t!) for them. Neither do others who struggled with the meeting for whatever reason and may well have been labelled as a “difficult” person because of their struggle.

Ironically the 75 minute time restraint meant I opted not to formally evaluate my session. Perhaps a bad call (and bad example?). I’m relying on the evaluation of the day as a whole, plus my intuition and observation, and these top tips to guide me in future sessions. Is that enough?

Matthew

Oh, time it is a precious thing…

Having limited time to deliver a workshop focuses the mind wonderfully. What can actually be achieved, in terms of getting people thinking differently and then doing differently, if you only have 60 minutes? This was the situation for a short capacity building workshop for LeedsTidal at their Crisis Opportunity event in late October.

If it is a group who don’t know each other well, if at all, how do the vital things, like making sure everyone knows everyone’s names and where they are coming from (in many senses) and feels safe and comfortable, come about? If a facilitator concentrates on that important process, only 40 minutes will be left at most, and probably only 35 if we start late due to toilet or smoking needs, people getting lost and so on.  So the choice is whether to sacrifice a high quality start to a workshop, getting people feeling welcomed and included, or trust that in the ensuing activities relationships will form and the group feel empowered and safe.

Another choice is the type of activities. Do you play safe, knowing that if the temperature in the room isn’t right, certain things may not work, especially something that is a bit more challenging than an ideas storm? Do you try role plays or even a forum theatre approach when, without the time to get people feeling really comfortable with each other, they might shrink from this? Or do you trust that the urge to learn and experiment will carry people through? Do you negotiate? “We don’t have much time, we could do this or this, what would you like to try?” “How would you feel about over-running by 10 minutes to enable us to reflect on our learning?”

I opted for a fairly traditional kind of facilitated discussion with a focus on thinking about motivation and what people want out of groups. We explored though private pair discussion and the use of post-its what made everyone in the room get involved in a group, what they actually wanted out of joining something. We looked at a couple of classic motivational theories –  Maslow and McClelland – then broke into small groups to think about an imaginary group member and how the group might meet this person’s needs – I handed out “character cards” for this – and ended with an ideas storm about what a group can do to make a new person feel welcome and involved, what roles or tasks they could be offered. On the wall, a flip sheet diagram to show the tension between task focus and people focus worked very well to help people see what needs doing to keep a group healthy.

I admit I was exceedingly anxious and spent far too long working on the design of the workshop, all the time worrying about the lack of time. I apologised frequently about having to be directive and pushing discussions along too fast, but at the same time noticed there were very thoughtful comments and exchanges in the discussions about how to meet the needs of various imaginary characters, and the suggestions for ways of including new people were sensitive and creative. Maybe I was focussed too much on the lack of time, and had not been trusting the creative cooperative spirit of the participants!

Jo

games for activists and non-activists

Inspired in large part by Augusto Boal’s Games for Actors and Non-Actors and Improv practice, we proposed a games workshop to Co-operatives UK for their Big Fun Pod at last week’s International Co-op Conference. Rather than writing a reflective piece, I’m just going to describe what we did and provide some pointers for readers who want to explore the field of games. If you want to use these, think about how you might debrief the exercises. For example, “What did you observe about your desire to lead/to follow/to withdraw etc?”.

Intro – Wander around the space and say hello to everyone, without touching them. Continue wandering, but this time say hello non-verbally. Continue wandering, but this time shake hands with someone. Before you let go of their hand, you have to have held someone else’s before you release your first hand.

Control and co-operation – wander around the room and follow the instructions of the games ‘leader’. Instructions start with ‘stop’, ‘go’, ‘forwards’,’backwards’,’up’, ‘down’. Let this play out for a while, then pause and say that now everyone is to do the opposite of the command. Continue for a while and then shift the energy by saying some new commands – shapes, letters and numbers. People get into the shapes, letters and numbers.

Co-existence – in pairs, one A and one B. A starts by putting their hand about a foot in front of B’s face. B follows the (gentle) movements of A.

Swap over. Then say – “Now you have to mirror each other, there is no leader and there is no follower.” Then pairs join together and mirror each other.

Group work – put enough pieces of paper on the floor so that everyone can just stand on it. Stand on one yourself and say, “The rules of this game are that you must be in touch with the paper, but not the floor”. Everyone gets up and stands on the paper. Then take half of the paper away and repeat the exercise. Gradually diminish the paper. If the groups talks about the problem and searches for solutions which observe the rule, they’ll solve the problem.

If they don’t, there will be some mayhem.

Circle time – in a circle play Bippety Bippety Bop. One person in the middle. They point to someone and either say, “bop” or “bippety, bippety bop”. If they say “bop” the person pointed at has to stay silent; if they say “bop”, they’re in the middle. If the person in the middle points at someone and says, “bippety, bippety bop”, the the person pointed at has to say “bop” before they have finished saying,”bippety, bippety bop”.

You can add other games into it. For example, we added ‘James Brown’. If you say ‘James Brown’ to someone, then before you count to ten, they have to wiggle and sing, “I feel good”, whilst the person to their left and right does a small dance. Any player who does the wrong action or fails to do the action by the time you’ve counted to ten, is then in the middle.

Remaining in a circle, on person stands in the middle. The rest all agree a sound and keep vocalising it. The person in the middle moves around and within the circle. As they get nearer to someone the sound increases; and decreases as they move away from someone. Someone else moves to the middle when a different sound evolves. (Note – this means you have to tell the circle to evolve the sound).

Then change the circle rules to be about movements and evolve them.

Attraction/distraction – Get everyone wandering around the room. Say that this time they’re like magnets. As they get within a foot of someone they are magnetically repelled. Let it play out, then swap to – once they get within a foot of someone they are attracted and stuck to them. See what happens. Then get people wandering again and ask them to be equidistant, see what happens and how long it takes for the group to settle. Then say, “Choose two people with your eyes, without letting them know. One is A and one is B. Now get as close to A and as far away from B as possible. You have ten seconds.” It’s fun.

Other games – we played some variations of these too, but you can find more in –

Games for Actors and Non-Actors by Augusto Boal

Improv by Keith Johnstone

And on the Organizing for Power website

And a host of other resources accessible via goggling.

Another one for the blogroll… Natasha Walker

I found a moment to look around for more interesting blogs to read the other day. Why, I have no idea, as I barely keep up with the couple of dozen blogs already in my feed reader. But I’m glad I did as I came across Natasha Walker’s blog with interesting posts on Teaching facilitation and Playing with workshop dynamics, for example. I like the emphasis on facilitation as a state of mind, on genuine connection, on service and humility. Here’s a brief snippet from her great list of the must have abilities of a facilitator:

“How to appreciate people who talk a lot, who dominate or burst with an almost uncontrollable need to push their opinion forward. And how to appreciate introverted people or people who would prefer to be anywhere else than in your meeting. How to hold back judgement even when you’re “warned” about certain participants. How to support all the individuals in the group to be part of the whole. You don’t want to change anyone, but you enjoy watching them learn and grow”

Matthew

 

Autism and the social change group

I spent the afternoon in a workshop on autism and social change groups. The trainers were all on the autistic spectrum (diagnosed or undiagnosed), as were several other participants. The rest was a motley crew of activists and activist facilitators like myself – or NT’s as I now know that we’re known (neuro-typicals). As well as the first hand experience we were able to tap, one benefit of trainers who were on the spectrum was seeing the significant differences in the way their autism presented itself to the group – a clear message that autism defies stereotypes or assumptions.

The big down side of the workshop was simply that it was too short. We were given a good theoretical introduction to autism, helpfully peppered with anecdotes and examples. We had a chance to work through a couple of scenarios and discuss group responses to difference. We touched on solutions to including those on the autism spectrum without alienating others in the group. What was missing was an opportunity to practice and embed the learning through experience.

One obvious piece of learning from the first half of the session was that the many implicit social rules that most of us take for granted are a source of significant stress for those on the autistic spectrum, many of whom simply don’t have an innate understanding of the cues and etiquette of social situations. Translate this to social change groups: What assumptions do we make? What processes, in jokes, roles and responsibilities are implicit? Time to make these things explicit if we’re serious about accessibility to those on the autistic spectrum. And if we make ‘rules’ explicit there’s a need to stick to them. Rules that are changed or broken lead to confusion. But being explicit about the rules doesn’t need to be difficult or lead to conflict. It was observed that it is possible (and necessary) to be explicit and polite.

The workshop raised other issues which sadly we didn’t have time to explore and resolve. Many of them, to me, are issues to do with diversity and not autism in particular

Once again I saw hints of the view common in activist/activist facilitation circles that hand signals are a panacea, a way of ensuring that we could guarantee equality of participation. We’ve critiqued hand signals before. Whilst, on balance, I advocate their use, without the co-operative values that underpin them, and without a genuine commitment to diversity, they don’t do all that we claim they do. I worry that it’s too simple to promote them as a solution to including autistic group members and helping avoid the alienation that “different” behaviour can cause (both in the person of difference, and in those struggling to deal with that difference). Yes, hand signals might provide a structure that reassures the autistic. But they’re a rule that we often need to break. It’s far too simple to say “we’ll take your contributions in the order you stick up your hands” or “If you put up your hand you will be heard”. What if the first ten hands that go up are all male? Do we really wait that long to break the rule and include a female perspective? What if I put my hand up for the 5th time? Do you really guarantee I’ll be heard when there are other people putting up their hands for the 1st time?

There was also a slight tendency to ‘dump’ the bridging of the gap between NTs and autistics on the facilitator rather than leaving the whole group better equipped, more tolerant and more understanding of diversity.

Another interesting conversation was about building group cohesion. This was the challenge set to the group: how to build and maintain group cohesion in a group containing someone on the autistic spectrum? Activist groups use socialising (fraught with implicit rules) as their main mechanism for establishing and maintaining group cohesion. But what if that doesn’t work for you? The alternative suggested in the group conversation was to build cohesion as part of the ‘work’ of the group. Another topic we didn’t have time to explore fully.

An interesting afternoon – more questions raised than answered, but that’s how it should be.

The trainers had elicited some thoughts from folk on the autistic spectrum who were involved in social change groups. Here’s one of the responses:

I was in various local groups in environmental issues… for many years I kept “trying harder”, thinking I would eventually fit in and/or be taken seriously. I wrote studies and tried to work with everyone. I wasn’t trying to please anyone in particular; just had my eye on the overall goals that seemed rational to me – justice, safety, etc. I quit when I found out about autism and realized I was different on a much more fundamental level that I had previously thought…

Other pre-workshop reading was also valuable, and I include it here. Happy reading.

The perfect group? A dangerous fantasy?

The MindTools website is a useful source of all kinds of resources, articles and ideas. I’ve just read the latest e-newsletter on beating self-sabotage which has a great article on perfectionism in it. Read the article and then translate it from the business world to grassroots groups. Recognise any situations? Here’s a few of the characteristics of perfectionism the article lists which I see groups struggling with day-in and day-out:

  • You don’t like taking risks, because there is then no guarantee that you can do the task perfectly. You stick with safer tasks, because you know that you can achieve them.
  • You don’t enjoy the process of learning and working; you only care about the result…
  • You often exhibit all-or-nothing thinking: either something is perfect, or it’s a failure…
  • You don’t handle criticism and feedback well…
  • You may apply your own unrealistic standards to those around you, becoming critical when colleagues don’t meet those expectations. As a result, you may not have many close relationships at work.
  • You have a difficult time delegating tasks to others.

All of these are a recipe for dysfunction in a group, for alienating and driving away new members, for preventing groups achieving sustainability and resilience. Here’s an example:

For instance, imagine that you never delegate tasks to your assistant, even though this is why you hired him. You often stay late at work to finish tasks that he could have done. You don’t delegate tasks, because you believe he’ll do them incorrectly, and you’ll look bad.

Forget assistants and think instead of “the rest of the group” or “newcomers”… a very familiar problem in groups as this manifests itself in terms of control, unwelcome micromanagement, lack of genuine access to skills and responsibility, lack of support, and informal hierarchy.

The article goes on to talk about strategies for dealing with your own perfectionism and has more wise words many social action groups could learn from, such as:

Don’t Fear Mistakes

Mistakes are part of life. They can even provide rich learning experiences, if you have the courage to examine them. Your mistakes can teach you far more about life and your abilities than your successes will.

Make a real effort to learn from each mistake that you make. You’ll grow as a result.

So maybe the perfect social action group is not desirable after all? What we’re looking for is the group that’s imperfect, comfortable with its imperfection, and with good processes to grow, learn and share.

Quotes from the article with permission: © Mind Tools Ltd, 1996-2012. All rights reserved.

On being a facilitator

In early February, Matthew and I delivered a facilitation training for staff at the World Development Movement,  which had developed out of a Rhizome discussion last November with all seven facilitators. We had talked then about the difficulties of delivering meaningful training in a few hours, a single day. We understand why this happens – releasing significant numbers of staff and volunteers from their day to day jobs has a real impact. So we then talked about how we could have an equally real impact in a relatively short time. The phrase we used was making catalytic interventions. How do we ensure that our work catalyses real change?

Our training design changed because of this discussion, manifesting  in the training for WDM which in turn built on a recent facilitation training with 38 Degrees .  It was more playful and more powerful. It was not the traditional, logical progression of facilitation training but nevertheless clear, shared learning took place about what it means to be a facilitator as opposed to doing facilitation. We’re into ‘states of mind’ territory here, and that feels like a place where change can happen faster than when we’re training in technique and toolkits.

Maybe considering an analogy between photography and facilitation helps to explain this more clearly. Suppose you love photography, are fascinated by the work of say Shirley Baker or Diane Arbus, Mitch Epstein or Clement Cooper. You want to be a photographer, so you research in depth what tools your role model uses, which cameras, meters, lenses, equipment for reproduction, techniques for cropping or colouration, digital enhancement etc. But to be a photographer you need more than just the tools; you need to be able to see, to observe, to notice, to frame, to take risks, to wait, to trust yourself, to act at the right moment.  It also involves luck, fortuity, serendipity, happening to be in the right place at the right moment. The only way to be a photographer is to be a photographer – having a photographer’s state of mind, the instinct and the vision. The tools are only as good as the artist who uses them.

Being a facilitator is similar. The tools are useful, but unless you really are focussed on being a facilitator the tools will not work on their own – a facilitator needs to be open, listening, observing, taking risks, know when to speak or wait, sense the dynamics and energy of the group… it’s a state of mind.

A participant asked us during a break in the afternoon whether you could actually be trained to be a facilitator or was it a matter of having the right kind of personality and skills already. Through many years of running different kinds of training, I have several times come away with the feeling that some people there could not be trained to do or be whatever it was we were working on. Underlying this is the idea that someone has to “know” already whatever the training is aiming at, although they may not be conscious that they know it. In the course of the training they will recognise what is being developed and thus become conscious of their own understanding. The trainer’s role is to open people’s inner eyes, to make explicit what is already understood, to affirm their own understanding and enable them to voice it and thus to build their confidence, their trust in themselves. This is not to say that the people I’m thinking of could not be trained but maybe only that they were not at a point in their own development which coincided with what the training was saying. Maybe a month, a year further on it fell into place or began to make sense, maybe not.

Our agenda didn’t offer an explicit list of facilitation tools, but activities to get people thinking about group dynamics, power and decision making, mainstreams and marginals, listening and sensing, and most of all how everyone in the group is actually involved in facilitating. The question that the participant put to us seemed to show that, for her, it had worked, as did feedback from the organiser:

“Thanks for yesterday, it was really great, lots of people told me how much they enjoyed it and we already saw benefits in our meeting today. “

So how was it received? Some of the comments, either on the learning that people took away with them or what could have been improved on are:

“There are lots of ways of facilitation – I like the idea of shared facilitation, co-facilitation”

“The holiday graph visualised the complexity of a meeting”

 “More on how to facilitate groups… where there isn’t a shared culture”

“Lots of useful things we can use in practice – these have built my confidence”

“In the weather reporting discussion the question was too difficult and led to confusion”

“Time for us to talk about how we could apply what we’ve learnt”

“Problem behaviour session could have been longer”

“Shape and structure of the day – moving from the conceptual to the practical worked very well”

And as always we, the facilitators, sat down together to reflect on and learn from what we had experienced before running for our trains home.

Jo

 

The Empowerment Manual

Whilst we’re plugging books, here’s news that Starhawk‘s latest book will be out soon. Once again she returns to look at group process in The Empowerment Manual: A Guide for Collaborative Groups. Starhawk’s previous work is required reading on consensus, and has been mentioned on this blog in that capacity, so expect good things.

She’s also put a bonus chapter of the book online for you to take a sneak peek: The Five-Fold Path of Productive Meetings which you can download as a pdf.

We’ll be doing our reading and letting you know what we think.

Nonviolence for a Change

From September 2011 to June 2012 Turning the Tide in collaboration with Huddersfield Quakers and other local peace and social justice groups are hosting a series of workshop called ‘Nonviolence for a Change.’ This is a training programme for people with some experience of working with others to address injustices and make changes.

Dates and Themes for the Huddersfield 2011 – 2012 course

  • 24 September 2011: Nonviolence, a dangerous idea
  • 15 October: Playing with power 1: Understanding the system
  • 19 November: Playing with power 2: Changing the system
  • 17 December: Campaigners do it together! How we make change
  • 21 January 2012: Don’t just sit there! Exploring direct action
  • 17- 19 February: Is everybody happy? Tools for effective group work (This session is residential and for year-group only – see beolw)
  • 17 March: The living revolution: building the alternative
  • 21 April: Inner and outer: spirituality and activism
  • 18 – 20 May: We can do that! Empowerment for social change (This session is residential and for year-group only)
  • 16 June: Celebrating nonviolence

Year-long or Drop-in

As in previous years, you can sign up for the whole course, or just dip into the sessions that interest you. This course tends to be oversubscribed and we anticipate a similar response for the 2011-2012 course. So get in touch as soon as you can if you’d like to participate either in the whole course or particular workshops.

Fees and application process

Year-course: Participation on the course is via application due by 10 August 2011. The fee is £350 for the year; £35 per workshop, and concessions and payment plan options are available. February and May residential are for the year-group only.

One-day: Spaces for one-day participants are limited, so please get in touch to put your name on the one-day list as soon as possible. We get in touch before the workshop to confirm that you are still able to come and take care of some administrative business.

For more applications materials and more information see our website, or email: denised_AT_quaker.org.uk or stevew_AT_quaker.org.uk, or call: 020 7663 1061 & 1064

Sharing values, Graphic Guides and Common Cause

Following our earlier phone meeting which I blogged about at the time, I met with Steph and Jeannie today to progress work on creating “effective meeting” resources for Transition initiatives.

Steph and her son have produced a great 3 minute video – a Graphic Guide to Groups which draws on John Adair’s action centred leadership but adds a values twist:

There’s the promise of more to come.

Steph’s also created a values-mapping activity that helps groups sort out what are their group values and what are their personal values. I plan to try it out soon and will report back on the blog.

This took us on to discussing the dangers of values-based groups. It’s a short hop, skip and jump from values to high horses and a fundamentalism of sorts. In short we can become judgemental and that alienates people. The values of compassion, common humanity, diversity, and open-mindedness can sometimes get lost.

And whilst we’re talking values, we also spent a little time talking about the Common Cause report which explores campaigning from a values standpoint, and more particularly campaigning in a way that reinforces the more selfless values. If we’re going to make bigger-than-self changes we need to appeal to bigger-than-self values.

Lunching out on accountability

I recently left a comment on Dwight Towers blog. It turned out to be quite a long one and had the makings of a post in its own right. So I’ve taken it and made it even longer. The problem as posed by Dwight:

there are also some people [and their track record goes on for years in different groups] who persistently don’t do what they say they will, and “lunch out” repeatedly. And in the NVDA/non-hierarchical subcultures I’ve seen, this is tolerated far too much. We have no real accountability structures [and it does my nut].

Accountability and leadership

Dwight’s right. Accountability is a huge issue in many groups, and especially those at the non-hierarchical end of the scale. There’s a real fear of it in some non-hierarchical groups because it smacks of leadership and leadership is a dirty word. Without leadership how do you hold someone to account for anything (“who am I to appoint myself the person that holds others to account?”)?

There’s an association of leadership with leaders – people that take power over others, or are given it by flawed (s)election processes. Groups that eschew those processes in favour of, say, consensus, can also eschew the very concept of leadership, leaving themselves vulnerable to lack of accountability and a lot more besides, including the “lunch out” culture Dwight describes.

That kind of thinking can seriously paralyse groups and whole movements. Ironically it can lead to more hierarchy and less accountability because the more “sorted” people will often just get together and make stuff happen cutting out those they consider unreliable altogether. This in turn leads to accusations of elites, hidden agendas and so on.

(As always) ask yourself why

But anyone that consistently volunteers and consistently fails to deliver has some kind of issue. They don’t just get out of bed and say to themselves “today I’ll go and bugger up a meeting”. The only way we can solve the problem is to find out what that issue is and put in place appropriate support.

Possible issues might include:

  • genuinely wanting to help but not receiving adequate support to do so. There’s a classic problem in many groups and organisations of lack of support for volunteers (and in some cases even staff). It’s a sink or swim approach, and not everyone sees that kind of water as enticing. People are busy changing the world. They don’t have the time to babysit other people (in all probability, no-one babysat them…) and there’s no sympathy to spare. Besides, being able to do a task doesn’t make me automatically able to show others how it’s done. All very understandable, but not a sustainable approach to working in groups
  • poor consensus process leading to people “agreeing” to things they don’t really believe in, so once away from the pressure of the meeting they let it slide. Sound familiar? This can happen for several reasons
    • poor process can lead to very long meetings. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence of meetings in which, after 3 hours people would happily agree to hack off their own arm if they thought it would get you home this side of midnight… I exaggerate, but you get the point
    • it can also be caused by peer pressure. This in turn can be aggravated by some of those tools becoming increasingly common in some groups’ practice of consensus – handsignals, temperature checks. Useful in the right moment, used in the right way. But they can bring an unwelcome “weight of majority” that we’re not all assertive enough to resist
    • and of course poor listening can turn a half-hearted expression of interest into a firm commitment to take on an action point in a very short time indeed, leaving our half-hearted group member trapped into a task they aren’t committed to
  • lack of adequate summaries throughout a meeting, alone or in combination with poor minute taking allow people to leave a meeting with a task which later they realise they don’t really understand, and if there’s no between meeting support system in place….. They can also leave a meeting with a task they hadn’t realised they’d volunteered for. More on that below
  • hypercritical groups – people would rather lunch them out than risk doing the task and being told in precise detail that they’ve done it wrong. Of course these judgements (“you’ve done it wrong/to an unacceptably low standard”) are often very subjective. “You’ve done it wrong” may just mean “you’ve not done it as I would have”. In the long-term this pattern of behaviour means that people simply stop volunteering (and possibly stop attending). Another manifestation of this can be a culture in which not volunteering for tasks leads to criticism, so everyone feels pressured to take something on even though they are fully aware they can’t deliver
  • this is often combined with lack of sympathy to people’s commitments. The ‘lightweight syndrome’ – changing the world is the most important thing and your kids/partner/sick relative/job/time off/health problems aren’t recognised excuses in our hard-core group, so get with the programme and take on the task
  • poor interpersonal dynamics in a group can lead to people behaving in this way as one way of attracting the attention of the group
  • volunteering people is another problem – it’s easy to say “Matthew will do that. I’ll ask him later”. Matthew gets minuted as taking it on, but does he ever get told that? If he does get told, does he have any real sense of ownership of the decision or the task? In a month’s time when he faces the ire of the group for failing to deliver (surprise, surprise!), does anyone actually remember he was volunteered rather than volunteering himself?

Years of poor meetings creates a culture where lunching out on tasks, and many other problems, are at least acceptable if not the norm, so there’s a real need to find ways of moving forwards.

What’s the solution?

Possible strategies include –

  • air the issues – easy to say and hard to do, but part of the problem is often that no-one’s willing to break a group’s bad habits. You have to start somewhere and whispered conversations in the pub, or rants to your partner or housemates when you get home from a meeting don’t make any difference (except to your blood pressure). If you can raise the issue and deal with it sympathetically, great! Of course raising the issue in a ‘pointing the finger of blame’ way won’t help in the slightest
  • ask rather than assume – don’t guess why it might be happening. If you’re not sure ask the person or persons involved. It could be a quiet chat outside of a meeting. Be calm, listen carefully, and above all be willing to hear that some responsibility may lie with the group. There’s at least 2 sides to every story
  • offer mentoring or buddying between experienced and less experienced people (or other appropriate support around roles and tasks). We have to find the capacity to coach and mentor volunteers, and offer any other support they need if we’re to build long-term movements for change. And of course, if we don’t then we create an informal hierarchy of the skilled – those willing to dive in to the water and swim
  • set clear expectations in meetings (including deadlines, expected quality of the outcome, systems of accountability) using a decision-making process that people are actually committed to
  • recap after each agenda item to ensure that people are happy with the tasks that (you think) they’ve agreed to. Watch for body language, facial expressions, or tone of voice that may contradict their agreement to take on a task and be willing to voice that difference. Recap again at the end of the meeting and make a point of getting in touch with anyone who had to leave early, especially if you know that the minutes take a while to get sent round
  • distribute accurate notes of the meeting quickly – make them detailed enough to genuinely remind people what they’ve agreed to. If tasks have short deadlines think about using more than one method of communication. It only takes a work crisis,or a hardware problem at home cutting of the broadband and someone may not see the minutes in time. Pick up the phone if need be
  • create a culture of constructive feedback for the ongoing learning and development of the group. If you’re involved in preparing the agenda, suggest that the group sets aside the final 5 minutes of each meeting and start evaluating them to set an example. Take on board the points raised and make changes. Extend that culture bit by bit, perhaps asking for feedback on a task you took on. Perhaps offering a few words of constructive feedback on a task in private until the group is happy to have these conversations in public
  • have a realistic expectation of what the group can achieve. This stops the group demanding more of people than they are in a position to deliver
  • see the whole person – remember that for many people their activism is one facet of their lives, so put it in perspective and make room for socialising, fun and other types of meeting that don’t create such a weight of expectation and action points. Be grateful for what they can offer. If you choose to offer more that’s your choice and shouldn’t be a judgement on others
  • and if nothing else works and the problem does simply lie with an individual who has an unreaslistic view of their ability to deliver on promises, be brave enough to say so when they volunteer for a crucial task and gently explain the problems it can cause and the resentment that can creep in. Value the contribution they do make by attending meetings and any roles they take on during meetings

Supporting groups to tackle the problem

If you support groups with this problem as a volunteer or staff member you could do worse than to consciously set a good example. This might involve:

  • delivering on the tasks you agree to take on
  • offering a sympathetic ear to struggling volunteers
  • asking for feedback on your work and acting on it
  • offering constructive feedback to the group
  • getting good quality minutes of meetings and events out within 48 hours of the meeting
  • mentoring people through tasks they want support in
  • biting the bullet and asking the uncomfortable question – why is this happening?
  • facilitating the odd meeting for the group and including clear expectations on minute taking, detailed descriptions of the action points that need taking on, summaries and so on
  • and of course using your network communications to highlight groups who are avoiding or tackling the issue successfully

On a larger scale there’s a need to step back and look at the model of group you promote, consciously and unconsciously. Does that in any way send out a message? Does it encourage healthy group dynamics? If you don’t explicitly promote a model of healthy groups people will fall back on the norm, and the norm is not great.

I don’t mean to make it sound easy. Often these problems are entrenched. One person’s ‘failure’ to complete tasks has met with an unsympathetic response. That’s caused more tension and the problems deepen and grow. Left for months or years this can seriously damage a group. However, the standard response of tolerating it and hoping it goes away (or more specifically hoping the ‘problem person’ goes away) will not work. If the original problem lay in the group even if that person leaves the problem remains.

Take that first step…

“Take me to your leader!” 2

It’s easy to point out all the potential problems for groups with hierarchical models of leadership. It’s less easy to know what to do about them. If you support groups, whether on a local or regional level, or as part of the team at a national NGO or community organisation what’s to be done?

A lot of organisations start by changing the language of groups organising – moving away from Chair(man), Secretary, Treasurer to less formal and traditional words such as ‘co-ordinator’, ‘steering group’, ‘core group’. Well worth doing to send a message that your groups work slightly differently. But it seems to me that more needs to be done to actively counteract the norm.

Like it or not, the assumed model is one of leadership from the top down. Even if members of a group don’t particularly share those values that’s what’s likely to happen by default, simply because there’s not that much experience out there of the alternatives. So you might try:

Clearly articulating why

Tell both your groups and the wider organisation why you want change. And I don’t mean just ideological sentiment about power and leadership. I’ve nothing against that at all, but if you can give clear and practical reasons they carry a lot of weight both with the ideologically committed and those who have no problem with the good old-fashioned committee structure. But tell them they can attract and keep more members, have more effective and enjoyable meetings, increase the level of skill within the group, and sustain their activity for longer, and more…that’s pretty irresistible. If the bottom line is that you’ll make more change in the world this way, what campaigner’s going to say no?

Yeah, I know there are some that will say no because their power base is threatened or because they’re feeling anxious about doing things a different way. But it’s been a useful exercise because what’s just happened is that you’ve brought to light deeply entrenched group dynamics issues. And you have more chance of dealing with them now they’re in the open.

Modelling shared leadership

Walk your talk in the way you structure your team, put on events, communicate with your local groups, make your decisions. Is the way you’re currently set up genuinely a partnership? How participatory is it for local activists? Is communication a conversation or a monologue? Does your practice change in the light of what you hear from the grassroots?Are events planned with activists or for them. Who sets the agenda? Where does the power lie in the relationship? You get the picture.

Check out the Ladder of Participation and see where you sit.

Of course there’s a lot of tension here for those of us that work in capacity-building and network support. Our teams may go to great lengths to model the values and the practice of shared leadership, but be part of bigger organisations that adopt very traditional power-relationships. We’d love to hear about your experiences of that tension and how best to navigate potentially choppy waters.

Offering relevant training

Provide training in the necessary skills supported by relevant materials. And not just facilitation skills, although that’s a good start. It’s still possible for the Chair to simply morph into ‘facilitator’ – meetings are more inclusive but the underlying power structures don’t change.

So think about other group dynamics related training; training that opens people’s eyes to the roles that they play in groups; training that equips people to value diversity and be able to draw on that diversity to strengthen and not weaken the group; training which opens up groups to those on the margins as well as those in the mainstream.

Elsewhere on this blog we’ve talked about values over technique. Ideally your training will pass on the attitudes and underlying values of shared leadership and not just a set of tools. Tools that can be used to forge shared leadership, but can also be used to create a poor impression of shared leadership because the underlying state of mind isn’t there.

Highlighting where it’s working

Reinforce the message in your newsletters, emails and websites. Make shared leadership so prevalent in your communication that it feels odd to do it any other way.

What else has worked for your organisation or group?

You might also want to read “Take me to your leader!” – first post in the series.

Modelling shared leadership

Greener Together

The community development folk at Sostenga, in co-operation with Co-operativesUK, have produced a new resource for greening up your act – The Greener Together Toolkit to complement their website.

What I particularly like is the focus on making collective action accessible to newcomers, on proactively involving them, and on assuming that they may have skills and insights to offer a group. Refreshing.

It’s a topic we’ve posted on before:

Breaking and entering (or why newcomers need to be old lags)

A couple of weeks ago there was an attempted break-in at a neighbour’s house. This prompted the local police to drop a ‘Burglary Alert’ leaflet through all our doors.

OK, so you’ve just checked the web address and confirmed you’re on the Rhizome blog and not some neighbourhood watch site. What’s all this got to do with participation or activism or consensus?

Well a phrase jumped out at me from the leaflet that brought to mind a topic we’ve talked about before on this blog and will inevitably return to because it’s one of the biggest problems campaigns and activist groups face – making our networks, our groups, and our meetings accessible to newcomers.

And the phrase? Try looking at your house through the eyes of a burglar. Of course the police want you to get into the mind of a burglar and then lock all potential avenues of entry to make your house impenetrable. For activists and campaigners we need to reverse the process – try looking at your network, your group, or your meeting through the eyes of a potential newcomer; then unlock all entry points and make your ‘house’ fully accessible. Newcomers shouldn’t need experience at breaking and entering to get active and get involved.

Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to have been part of many networks and groups and to have been paid to help support others. My experience is that most community campaign groups aren’t thinking first and foremost about their group dynamics and about access and participation. And that may be entirely appropriate. After all they exist to campaign not to discuss process. However many of them are simultaneously concerned by their inability to attract and/or keep new members. But when pushed to think about the reasons why that may be the case, they often externalise the problem. I’ll paraphrase a few reasons I’ve been offered in the past:

“we can’t attract young people because there aren’t many young people living here, they’ve all moved away looking for work….

…they’re busy with jobs and starting families – they’ll join the group when they retire…

…we get lots of new people to meetings, but they don’t come back…. we think it’s because people today find all this talk of human rights abuses shocking and depressing…

…people live busier lives today that they used to, it’s not surprising our group is getting smaller…

Now there may be some truth in all of these, but further dialogue with the group usually uncovers some deeper group dynamics issues, all of which pose barriers – locked doors if you will – to newcomers getting involved. We rely on the sheer weight of  newcomers’ passion for the issues to drive them to break and enter the group or network. But for each one that successfully does so (often only to find themselves frustrated by the meeting they attend) how many more turn away at the locked door and go elsewhere, or worse still do nothing?

Making change in the world isn’t supposed to be an elite club that requires the passing of an endurance test before membership is granted. It’s not supposed to be like one of those masochistic Japanese game shows, or have an “I had to put up with it to prove I was serious, so should they” mentality about it. Everyone should be offered countless opportunities to make change every single day.

So groups – take a deep breath and look at yourselves from the outside. You may have fantastic publicity, but if the reality of the group’s meeting don’t match the publicity you’ll still lose people. You may have great, accessible meetings but fail to let the right people know about them. Or you may need to change both how you attract people and then the meetings and events you attract them to.

Change is not easy. It may help to remember your own experiences of joining the group. How easy was it? Really? Of course Everyone comes with differing expectations and needs, so we can’t assume they’ll share that experience. You may have been used to a certain meeting culture, for example, which made your group quite comfortable to join. Others may not share that experience. Then put your house in order – unlock windows and doors, put a welcome mat out and stick the kettle on.

And those that support groups? We need to take the time to create safe spaces for a little self-reflection to happen, so that groups can face the challenge of opening up their meetings, accepting that they are sometimes the reason people don’t return for a second reason. That’s a tough conversation to have, but an essential one and one that can ensure the longer term survival of the group, and the continuation of the campaign to another generation.

One against the many? Changing the culture of groups

Not for the first time in recent years I spent some of the time at the Transition Dreaming Circle advocating the design of some training to support individuals in making change in their groups.

As a trainer I regularly find individuals coming to open workshops searching for some ideas on how to change the culture, habits and dynamics of their group.  I also frequently work with a specific group and hear the anguished cry of “the people who most need to be here haven’t turned up”. Sometimes the need for change is urgent – groups are on the verge of collapsing for lack of new people, but seem incapable of attracting and then holding onto newcomers. Sometimes groups are functioning but it’s a painful experience for anyone sensitive to group dynamics.

Can we really expect individuals or minorities to turn around their group on the back of attending a single workshop in facilitation skills, or effective meetings or consensus decision-making? To me the answer’s a resounding “No”.

So we need another layer of learning, as a stand alone session or woven into the fabric of our other training. That layer needs to help people understand the obstacles to change, and how to make change attractive to groups.

So this post is an invitation to share ideas around creating that layer of learning. It’s a problem faced by all groups and networks of groups. A few of my own thoughts follow, which I hope to develop over coming weeks and months.

  • Is the group the real problem? All this  talk of groups needing to change is potentially very arrogant. Often I just encounter a single person who thinks the group needs to change. It’s worth supporting them to check that this is the right group for them and that their expectations of the group are reasonable for a group of its kind. Is there work to be done around the role they play in groups?
  • Understanding the problem. Any individual or minority wanting to make change will only fully succeed if they understand the situation that they’re trying to change. They then have the difficult task of getting the group to understand the situation.
  • Empathy v judgment. By the time an individual gets so frustrated with a group that they’re spurred on to take action to make change they may already be finding it difficult to empathise with those they see as needing to change. Blame may have crept into the equation. It’s easy to assume the worst – that those needing to change like the group the way it is. And worse, that the poor group dynamics serve some selfish, even devious, intention on the part of those same people.
  • Safe space to change. In reality people in dysfunctional groups are often unhappy but simply don’t understand what the problem is, or don’t know how to go about changing it. A lack of change shouldn’t be confused with a lack of desire for change. However, even if that desire is present, the dynamics of blame and pressure may set off defences that hinder change. So we need to support our changemakers in creating safe spaces for change to happen. Trying to impose change will only create a different negative dynamic.
  • What’s in it for them? One way to create a safer space for change is to ask yourself “What’s in it for them? why should these people, this group, change?”. For some it may be enough to articulate ‘noble’ rationales – to demonstrate that more campaigning activity may happen if things change, that more people will be reached and catalysed to action. Other people may be convinced by more personal arguments – you can spend less time in meetings, you can safely shed some of the burden of responsibility, you will still be respected and valued as an important part of the group.

So a few opening thoughts and the beginning of a framework for a training session: reflection on the personal role in groups and how we might contribute to the problem; developing empathy – understanding the problem from the perspective of those we might see as ‘the problem’, creating a safe space for change; in part by asking “why should they change?” and then communicating all of that in an accessible and supportive way…..

Let me finish by reiterating the invitation to share your ideas and experiences. Thanks.