So many of us are looking for ways to work together that are collaborative, moving away from hierarchy and power over and force and ‘should’ (the legacy of Patriarchy), and towards sharing our gifts, responding to needs, staying within capacity and flow.
In so many places where these experiments are happening, I see beautiful things happening, but sadly also conflict and burnout and struggle. Without the structure of authority which is all most of us know, we need some other form of structures in place to support the co-creation and flow that we want to find. Without any structure, we inevitably will fall back to informal and invisible structures will develop over time, recreating the systems that we have been trying to avoid. (I recommend reading the classic essay ‘The Tyranny of Structurelessness‘ for more on this.)
It can be so tempting to skip over this step and focus on tasks that need to be done. I hear often ‘but we are all nice people, we will just keep talking’, and i love that, and also see often it is not enough. It is sad to see conflict, burnout, stress and tension coming in when the initial intentions of projects and energy people bring has felt so hopeful.
The way I support groups to organise is based on the work of several people/organisations whose work I value, most notably Miki Kashtan (Nonviolent Global Liberation) and Frédéric Laloux (Reinventing Organisations). The following is a brief overview of some of this learning, with links to follow if you want to know more. Please get in touch if you would like some support to work through this process with a group you are part of, or for support with existing conflict.
For new or existing groups, a starting point can be to looking for shared clarity on the foundations of what the organisation is and why it exists. This from Miki is the most precise and clear description of the key elements I’ve found…
- Vision: where we’re heading – what we want to see in the world over time.
- Purpose: why we do what we do – what inspires us to get up in the morning and do the work.
- Mission: what we do – the nuts and bolts of action, including strategy, goals, objectives, and action steps.
- Values: how we do what we do – what we orient towards to operate with integrity in service to our purpose.
- Theory of Change: why we believe in what we do – the rationale for the mission as a way of accomplishing the purpose.
In addition to getting these clear, it is also super important that anyone involved has awareness and easy access to these principles, so that the framework can support everyone when confusion and conflicts arise. Within all of this we stay aware of willingness and capacity, our strengths and limitations, so that what we do is not asking anyone to stretch beyond what’s healthy for them.
From these shared foundations, we then look for the minimum organising structures to put in place so that we can get started. These can be lightweight and simple, or more complex, depending on the context. Again, Miki’s work and Reinventing Organisations guides us through finding the systems and structures we need to support us to align systems to purpose. Here are some of the key structures and questions to bring into the room…
- Decision making: Who will make which decisions and how?
- Information flow: How will we ensure information is accessible and transparent to everyone who might need it?
- Resource flow: How will we generate and distribute resources?
- Feedback system: How will we know what is and isn’t working for people?
- Support system: How will people get support in a way that is within our capacity?
- Conflict system: How will we respond when there is conflict?
There is often a mix in the group between people who want more structure and people who want less. This can be a cause of tension, but also a useful balance. A model i find helpful in thinking about this is ‘The Chaordic Path‘ – in the sweet spot between too much chaos and too much order is the chaordic, where there is flow and creativity, conditions for emergence.
“As we move between chaos and order, individually and collectively, we move through confusion and conflict toward clarity. We are all called to walk this path without judgement – some will feel more comfortable with chaos, others with order. Both are needed as, together, we walk the edge that is between these two toward something wholly new.”
Each group will need to find this place for themselves, creating just enough structure to support people to understand how they can contribute their creative ideas and energy in a way that supports the mission of the group.
Please get in touch if you have feedback, questions or are interested to find out more.