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…..



How to – get on a training about working with conflict


We’re offering, with Co-ops UK, a course called Communication and working with conflict. A bit of a gob full, but nonetheless it’s been tested and evaluated by worker co-ops in the last year or so; and elements of the programme have been used with community and campaign groups for the last 15 years.

We will work with you to (re)discover your own skills at working with contention, differences and arguments in a way which’ll help to solve them, not grow them. It doesn’t always work in solving matters, but everyone gets a lot clearer about what’s going on.

Unlike other programmes in this area we do not follow a dogmatic or branded approach. Our years of talking to and with people, has been stuffed into some easy to use and learn approaches to working with both what’s going on in your head when dealing with conflicts, and some steps to working with other people in conflict.

We like training it, we think you’ll like working with us. Sign up here.

Carl and others

Training activists with Labour Behind the Label

A few weeks ago I spent a weekend with Labour Behind the Label a Bristol based co-operative who campaign to support garment workers. They focus on efforts worldwide to improve working conditions and campaign on a range of issues, from getting compensation for the survivors of the Rana Plaza disaster to fighting for a living wage.

They have recently recruited a group of Regional Co-ordinators across England to raise awareness in their local communities of the issues garment workers face and to encourage people to take action. They invited Rhizome to help facilitate a two day training workshop for the volunteers to develop their confidence and skills in speaking to people, running awareness raising workshops for local groups and putting on public actions to generate interest.

The workshop was a mix of information giving about garment worker’s rights and the changes Labour Behind the Label are campaigning for and skills building and practice activities. We practiced giving out leaflets to members of the public, adapting information for different audiences, and designing and delivering a mini-workshop. By the end of the weekend the group has also generated a number of ideas for public actions and shared experience of putting on successful fundraising events. The group took well to this “learning by doing” approach and feedback was generally pretty positive, though the task of delivering a workshop was quite challenging for some. One piece of feedback was that more modelling or examples of good practice would have been helpful, which did make me reflect on how I set up the task and think about how I could incorporate this next time I run a similar activity.


Campaign Bootcamp

campaign-bootcamp-logoCampaign Bootcamp is a week-long training programme for young campaigners. They’re looking for young people who care about social change, want skills training, mentoring and are ready to work hard.

The first Campaign Bootcamp will run from 16th-21st June about 30 minutes outside of London.

For more info and full application details -check out the website. The deadline is 26th April.



Just a quick heads up about deep:black’s new blog. deep:black are a fellow co-op whose work overlaps ours. In their own words:

“deep:black works using the arts to create dialogue, develop communication and build connection across difference and diversity.”

If that sounds like your kind of thing, take a look at their workshop programme.

Facilitating from privilege

I’ve commented before that training around power and privilege in groups and society has been gathering momentum in activist circles here in the UK. We’re lagging sadly behind our peers in the States and elsewhere, but at least it’s happening.

I’ve been consciously building elements of this work into my group-work trainings for a while now, as have other Rhizome folk. But I’m left with a question about the privilege that many of us social action facilitators have as individuals. And yes, that most definitely includes white, male, heterosexual, middle class, educated me. The simple fact of the matter is that if we (I) are honest many of us have still got a very long way to go on our own journeys of exposing, understanding and acting on our own privilege. And yet we’re simultaneously trying to support other activists to do the same. Ordinarily, with any other training, I’d see that as potentially powerful thing – walking side by side in the journey. The problems arise when I reflect on some of the work I’ve done with other facilitators or alone.

Yes it’s done some good. Groups have learnt and shifted. Individuals in groups have learnt and shifted. And I have most certainly learnt and, hopefully, shifted. But I’m aware that some cruel ironies have occurred: that when working on margins and mainstreams I’ve sometimes unconsciously failed to adequately support the margins; that when working on power and privilege I’ve sometimes left the least privileged feeling the most vulnerable or, at best, equally as shaken up as the most privileged. Why? Because in designing and facilitating this work in I’ve inevitably done so through my privileged filters and experience which are more attuned to how the work will impact on people like me – the privileged.

I’ve frequently thought and said that a good facilitator doesn’t need to be an expert in the topic a group is working on, just in creating a space that helps the group to learn from its own experience. Nothing too profound there – many of you reading this will share that view. But with work around privilege I find myself a little more wary. Are the risks of us privileged facilitators blundering about with a subject like this too high? Yes, I learn each and every time, but I can learn as a participant, a trainee. Facilitating others isn’t, and never should be, therapy for me.

In the immediate future I’ll keep working on and with power, privilege, rank, margins and mainstreams. I’ll endeavour to tread as sensitively as  I can. But I think I’ll also be looking around for those from/with whom ‘the movement’ can learn better.

One such opportunity should happen this July, when Training for Change’s George Lakey runs a weekend skillshare around this very topic. More on that when the details are confirmed.

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.



The 99% Spring

100,000 Americans trained in nonviolent direct action? It’s not a fantasy. It’s planned for 9-15th April.

Thinking that we need the same thing here in the UK? You’re not alone, and the conversation is in a fairly advanced stage. What it lacks at the moment is funds. So, in all seriousness, if you have a few grand to spare (or connections with funders who do), get in touch with us at Rhizome and we’ll get it to the right place.

Hat tip: Casper ter Kuile

Reporting back from UK Feminista

I co-facilitated a short taster in nonviolent direct action (NVDA) at the UK Feminista Summer School, alongside Gill. It’s the first time we’d worked together. Bit of a baptism of fire, given that we had over 50 people and not enough time (just 75 minutes), but that’s the way with conference sessions. We walked down the canal, back into Birmingham and had a natter afterwards. From a co-facilitation perspective we agreed we’d be happy to work together again – always a good sign.

We focused on giving the participants a taste of the realities of NVDA – potential confrontation, physicality, exploring where power lies, how we can best use our bodies and voices, and so on. It seemed a sensible choice as there’d already been a panel discussion on the whys and wherefores of direct action., so we wanted some doing to accompany the thinking.

We haven’t seen the official evaluations, but the participants left buzzing. And here’s one of them quoted in the Guardian, talking about our session:

After just one day of classes at her summer school of choice, Emily Birkenshaw had already learned a crucial lesson: how to “go floppy” when facing arrest. “You’re heavier then, so you can’t be carried,” she said, with the genuine delight of a new recruit.

The 24-year-old been practising by linking arms with her classmates and singing loudly at a pretend policeman. “It just felt really empowering,” she said. “If that happened [in real life] – and I hope it wouldn’t – I’d know how to do it without getting hurt.”

A space to learn about Open Space

Here’s a shameless plug for an event I’m facilitating in Birmingham on September 1st on Facilitating Open Space as part of the Environmental Training Network’s wider programme.

The last couple of years seem to have seen a real growth in interest in Open Space Technology in the campaigning NGO community, and we’re receiving regular requests to facilitate it. However, in the spirit of putting ourselves out of work as quickly as possible we’d also like to encourage organisations to develop their own skills and capacity. This is one such opportunity.

Here’s the June 2011 to March 2012 ETN Programme, including booking details. Hope to see you there.

Catching up…..

Seems like a while since I got round to reflecting on the work we’ve been doing on the blog, so here’s a quick catch up. Common Ground Since its inception Climate Camp has been an amazing experiment in working by consensus, a kind of petri dish or hothouse. It’s tried to create a process capable of bringing together hundreds of activists spread across the whole country to plan and carry out very complex action camps as well as many other activities. The process has had to be capable of dealing with large group consensus,  and a structure that has included spokescouncils, emergency spokescouncils, working groups,  a neighbourhood system, and open meetings. All that on top of the usual challenges that face a group using consensus decision-making. Inevitably it’s had its highs and lows. And some of those highs and lows have seemed exaggerated – as you might expect from anything grown in a hothouse. I still meet people for whom Climate Camp has been their introduction to consensus decision-making, who have found it empowering and liberating. But the process hasn’t managed to build a coherent and united community, which effective consensus should. As a result, in early June there was a meeting of some of the survivors of the process, coming together to take stock, reflect and begin to move forward. Myself and Emily Hodgkinson, mentioned elsewhere on this blog, and doing her first piece of work under the Rhizome banner, co-facilitated the 2 day meeting. We negotiated considerable time and space for looking at process (not enough by any means, but a significant proportion of the overall agenda). Climate Camp has had action at its heart. Any activist movement has a huge momentum for doing. Being and processing often suffer as a result. Besides, what’s the point of having a process oriented psychologist on the facilitation team if you don’t tap into her considerable skill? It was a useful weekend for everyone involved. I continue to learn loads from the process work approach to groups and what at first seemed almost mystical is now making loads of sense. They’ve invited us back for the next meeting, so it can’t have been that bad an experience for them. Evaluation comments included the very affirming “Wow, incredible stamina, energy and capacity to ground the group”, and “Very impressed with the focus you managed to inspire and great diversity of methods” to a couple of comments suggesting we “intervene a bit less, sum up less” and a challenge to explore the dynamic of own working relationship more deeply “Perhaps Matthew – as a white male you could look out for moments where you appear to be silencing or overriding Emily”. That provided the topic of conversation for the journey home…

The following weekend I was facilitating a 1 day workshop for Transition Towns folk, and related groups on Facilitating Consensus. A follow on from an introductory workshop last October, this one drew folk from Transition Leicester and Chesterfield as well as the local Steiner School community. My sense of the day was that the participants found it useful. There was a wealth of experience in the room (isn’t there always?) and the interactions between participants were clearly very valuable, and once more I’m reminded that our role is simply to put structure to those interactions. I was left aware that the group was quite diverse and that finding scenarios that worked for everyone in the various experiential sessions was a challenge. I certainly didn’t get it ‘spot on’, and that impacted on the depth we go to. We played with doing some of the group ‘discussion’ activities in silence, which had a profound effect on the group dynamics and opened people’s eyes to how they usually work. As is my current wont, we focused primarily on the role of facilitation in cultivating the co-operative values behind consensus rather than the ‘technical specification’ of the decision-making model.

definition of facilitation negotiated by the group in silence

The last few weeks have been dominated by some work we’ve taken on for a large NGO with whom we have a long-standing relationship. We’re supporting them in involving their grassroots supporters to design a participatory approach that gives those supporters a more effective voice in the organisation. We’re currently engaged in a consultation exercise, though time constraints mean more is being done by phone and web than face-to-face. We’ve brought in Perry Walker, originator of Crowd Wise, and we’ll put a raft of ideas that emerge from the consultation into regional Crowd Wise sessions where the grassroots will get a second chance to engage: shaping, prioritising, and merging proposals into one front-runner that has widespread support.

What’s coming up in the near future? We’re at the Peace News Summer Camp, UK Feminista Summer School, facilitating some training for mediators, and facilitating an Open Space and skill sharing day with the NGO Capacity Building Forum….

Facilitate local, change global…

The last couple of training sessions I’ve facilitated have both been local. They’ve also been with groups I’ve worked for before: Transition Leicester’s Footpaths project and the local Steiner school interest group.

I’ve spent a good number of years running round the country working with a large number of diverse groups. That’s been a fantastic experience. It feels like a positive contribution to have made, and of course I’ve learnt loads. I’ve rarely made significant local connections. But increasingly my work is about community-building and the irony of not being active within my own geographical community has become too much to sustain.

So a week ago I ran a morning’s skillshare with 2 of the Steiner interest group’s core group, coaching them through a deepening of understanding of the role of facilitation in groups including the realisation that ‘the facilitator’ doesn’t need to do all the facilitation. We covered a lot of ground in quite a short time in what felt like quite a lively session. It helped that both Tamsin and Susan were very eager to learn and have a genuine commitment to making the group’s processes participatory and equitable.

And this weekend I co-facilitated a second training for Footpaths project facilitators. We’d learnt a lot since the first one last year. The agenda was more spacious and also more focused on the facilitation of change. After all the volunteer facilitators are working with a group to make behavioural changes in order to make ecological change. So we spent a little time looking at the stages of change drawing on a model developed out of work with addiction. The extra space we created allowed us to look at the rank and privilege material we had to heavily edit last time around, although we changed the language this time (to inclusion and diversity). It was a thought and emotion-provoking session that took people into their discomfort zones, but it was valuable stuff and gave everyone a taste of the strong feelings that such material can inspire. Of course the practice sessions, in which participants facilitated for each other, were full of learning for everyone.

If there were an underlying theme I’d say it was consciously taking the group into an uncomfortable but fertile space. This is at the forefront of my mind having recently spent a weekend exploring Training for Change’s direct education approach, one important aspect of which is building  a strong ‘container’ for groups – that is creating and holding a space in which it’s safe to be uncomfortable and to take risks. Given the task of the Footpaths groups being comfortable working with discomfort seems important. They’re working with challenging material both about changing personal behaviour for the greater good but also about working together to make change in communities. Neither is easy or comfortable.

My co-facilitator, Emily, took the evaluations home with her. Once she’s done I’ll get my turn. Then I’ll share them with you.

Emergent design

I’ve been pondering what Training for Change call emergent design a fair bit of late – comparing it to what I do at the moment, wondering how much further I have to go to be allowing the flow of a workshop to be genuinely emergent. I often plan in detail. I have argued in the past that it’s that planning that allows me to be flexible: it builds my understanding of the group, of the aims of the day, of a variety of possible approaches – so that when I’m with a group I can change my plan with relative ease and confidence. So Johnnie Moore’s recent post Time grabbed my attention. A snippet:

Until I am sitting in the room with the participants, I don’t really have a clear idea of what I want to do, moment to moment. Once I am in the room, I find the next activity usually suggests itself

Now that feels like a step beyond what I’ve described above, and one I’m keen to play with. I’ll be at a weekend event in April, looking at Training for Change’s direct education model, which includes emergent design. Who knows, perhaps a catalyst for playing around and trying out a few new steps? I’ll let you know how it goes.

On the threshold of consensus

I spent Saturday night and Sunday with a Dorset co-housing community – The Threshold Centre. Their numbers have soared in the last year, from around 8 people to over 20 so they felt it was appropriate to pause and reflect on their group decision-making process. 18 of the community came together for the workshop.

The converted farmhouse - communal space

The 'Village Green'

One of the new houses

The Centre is housed in a converted farm. The farmhouse contains communal living, dining and kitchen space as well as bedrooms for long and short-term guests. The community are housed in a row of cottages, originally converted by the farm into holiday cottages, and a row of purpose-built houses on the site of 2 barns (and using the brick and roof tiles of the barns). The whole thing sits around ‘the village green’ and gives it the feel of a small hamlet – a real sense of community living.

Threshold also run courses on co-housing as well as other topics that relate to the skills and interests of their residents.

We spent 6 hours on Sunday coming to a shared understanding of what consensus decision-making is, and how this group might use it. About an hour and a half was taken up with ‘technical’ stuff – looking at the consensus process and answering a series of questions. The rest of the time was spent working on the essential skills and states of mind that underpin consensus – listening, empathy, willingness to put aside the personal agenda for the group, understanding the margins and mainstreams of a group, and exploring how to deal with potentially opposed and entrenched positions.

A couple of useful questions emerged – the first is one that Threshold folk already ask – “can you live with it?”. The other,for when discussion gets heated and relationships strained, is “is this issue more important to you than this group?”. It would be easy to look at these questions and think they’re calls to compromise. In a strange way they are. Consensus asks us to compromise on our personal ambitions in order to build a stronger, more creative collective outcome. So maybe we could say it’s about compromise within the process in order not to compromise the final decision.

The level of ‘group’ awareness was high as might be expected from people who have chosen to live communally. Plus there was a much higher than average number of people working in process related fields – psychotherapy, facilitation, training and so on. All this bodes well for them to use consensus as it’s meant to be used. However even a group of this nature still struggled with some of the activities.

I’ve been playing with an activity around using empathy and listening to move a group beyond entrenched positions. The format is quite simple – one larger group of people represent a majority position. One or two others represent a minority. The minority stand at one end of the room. The majority at the other. They’ve chosen a discussion they can all relate to, and within it 2 competing positions. The majority take one, the minority another. They dialogue and if the minority feel that space opens up for them to be heard they take a step forward. With good listening and empathy a supportive ‘bridge’ is created and the minority can walk across the room, not because they have changed their position, but because it feels as if their position is heard, understood and respected.

My observation of people using it is that they dig in deeper before they start to realise that the first thing to do is stop digging and start listening. Some groups I’ve worked with have never even made it to this realisation. And even when the listening begins, it’s not always obvious – in one small group at the Threshold Centre participants stated that they were feeling empathy but didn’t manage to do so in a way that allowed the minority to feel empathised with.

As an added twist I threw in a facilitator role. I usually have an observer role in this activity, to improve the quality of the reflection at the end. This time I asked one (or more) of the observers to step in once the dialogue was established and facilitate the group to deeper levels of mutual understanding. It was a tough ask, but people did take on the role and it did make a substantial difference to the quality of dialogue.

Other issues that arose included: how to successfully give working groups a clear mandate and hold them accountable whilst balancing that with trust and support; the tension between time spent in the decision-making process and quality of decision made; and the possibilities for starting the decision-making process outside of meetings using tools such as community noticeboards.

The energy at the end of the session was high, despite the group having already met the previous day for a 4 hour meeting. Evaluations were positive though, of course, not perfect. Comments ranged from: “can’t think of a single thing that didn’t work”, “full of energy, vitality, fun and very valuable insights”, “the flow was fantastic” and “well led, inclusive, clear and interesting” on the plus side to “short exercises don’t work well for me, so maybe fewer but longer”, “some group work was too comfortable” on the negative side. There was also a little criticism of specific exercises, particularly one around personal values and group values which 2 of the group didn’t find useful.

I’m aware that I left the group with a long conversation to have about how they will apply the consensus process now that they have a shared language and understanding of it. I look forward to checking in with them at some stage in the future to see how it’s going.

Look out for our upcoming series of posts on consensus over March and April: what it is, how it’s used, the state of mind of a well-functioning consensus group, and more. Feel free to contact us with your questions or comments about consensus and we’ll try to address them as we go!

Studying direct action at the University of Life – in Sheffield

Following the support we gave to Leeds Uni students at the end of last year, we were asked to facilitate a 3 hour nonviolent direct action (NVDA) workshop on Saturday, as part of a weekend of activities at Sheffield Uni. People & Planet staff were on tour supporting their university groups. Our workshop made up a part of the programme.

I think it went well, and the overall energy and ‘vibe’ from the 24 participants were good. They were engaged and threw themselves into the practical exercises with enthusiasm. And I kept it very practical with the exception of a more discursive opening activity to explore personal definitions of effective action.

I was acutely aware that some of this group have an action in mind for the not so distant future,and it seemed appropriate to ensure that they had some experience of working together behind them.

Yes we could have used more time. There are so many facets of nonviolent direct action we could have covered. I was particularly hoping to get time for a quick decision-making exercise. It’s a favourite of mine which teaches a practical skill whilst giving the group an experience which can help bring them closer and point up any group dynamics issues they need to be wary of. But what we did cover was covered in-depth. We finished with a legal rights activity which led to loads of questions. The group had plans to eat together, and the table reservation saved me (and them) from a long discussion. Sadly it also knocked my 5 minute evaluation on the head, but feedback received by email has been good.

The group was very mixed – some exploring NVDA for the first time, others already veterans of several actions. One or two had been at the Leeds workshop. It felt like a safe space for all concerned. The more experienced were both generous and supportive in sharing their experience without alienating the less experienced.

I’ve already been in touch about next steps – possible workshops with students from Leeds and Sheffield (and elsewhere?) on odds and ends we’ve not had time to cover, plus legal support and legal observing. You’ll hear about it here.

“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

“Decruitment”, far easier than recruitment

Here’s a quick signpost to Dwight Tower’s latest addition to the English language: Decruitment. His post Decruitment: sarcasm and social niceties is well worth a read for a few ‘how not to’ notes on welcoming people to groups….

It also brings to mind a fun activity a trainer friend of mine is fond of – the reverse ideastorm. Ask the group to ideastorm around creating the problem rather than solving it. So in this case ‘how do we decruit rather than recruit?’. Then work from there to solutions….

Decruitment: sarcasm and social niceties

Nuclear Resistance Teach-in & Skillshare

This just in:


A chance to learn and share info about why we urgently need to resist new nuclear build and promote sustainable alternatives, and skills to help us do it.

  • Workshops from 10am Saturday to 4pm Sunday
  • Crash space available Friday night to Sunday night)
  • Venue: Grow Heathrow, Sipson, Middlesex (just outside London – public transport from London terminals)
  • Vegan meals will be available. All food will be vegetarian.
  • Costs: Whatever you can afford. Donations towards food, speakers’ travel expenses and use of venue; plus separate donation towards possible travel pool to help skint people who had to travel from further afield.

BOOKING YOUR PLACE: Register your interest by 12 February so we get enough grub in, and so we can send you details of the programme, etc and can inform you of any changes / public transport problems, etc.

SPECIAL REQUIREMENTS – Please get in touch ASAP if you have any particular requirements, e.g. dietary / mobility / sensory impairment / religious /children

SLEEPING: Cabin crash space available Friday evening to Sunday evening, plus lots of camping space. Bring sleeping bag / thermals. Bring a tent if you want to camp.

You can probably stay longer if you want to – if so, please get in touch with Grow Heathrow direct, via their website (see link above).

WORKSHOPS – These will start on Saturday morning, from 10am, and finish on Sunday afternoon, around 4pm.

Probable info / discussion workshops:

  • Why resist nuclear power?
  • What are the low / zero carbon alternatives? Are they practical?
  • Current situation and resistance: Hinkley Point and Sizewell|Boycott EDF|Nuclear waste|Resistance to nuclear weapons and uranium (‘DU’) weapons?
  • Other campaigns

Possible skills sharing workshops:

  • Planning a campaign strategy
  • Basic Non-violent Direct Action (NVDA) skills – affinity groups, blockading, quick consensus, etc
  • Getting up trees, tripods, etc
  • Legal implications of taking NVDA
  • Getting creative

Other suggestions??

E-mail: london [at] stopnuclear
Mob: 07506 234 091

Kick Nuclear / Boycott EDF

Stop Nuclear Power Network