Group problems: lists and listlessness

Recently Sostenga and CooperativesUK released a “Greener Together” toolkit for people wanting to get an environmental group going (whether it was to get some allotments, help reduce energy bills or whatever). According to the toolkit

“Some common problems you might come across include:
Lack of funding
Not having space for your office or activities
Problems working with other groups
Encouraging participation in a project
People not doing what they say they will
Financial mishaps
People not coming to meetings
Not having clear rules or group agreements
Not being able to pay bills
Interpersonal conflict”

It’s a good list, but by no means exhaustive (not that it claims to be). It’s also, in my opinion, important to explore different expectations of what is to be achieved, what can be achieved, different peeling off points. It’s important to acknowledge there’ll be different abilities, different willingness to do the hard work, on time. (You don’t get rewarded for hard work, and it’s easy to game the system, free-ride, free-load etc).

And it’s impossible to give detailed ‘solutions’ to all of the above. Much of the time there are too many variables, and anyway, the implementation is more important than the quality of the advice itself.

And this is the kicker for me: Those problems will sink almost anyone, yes. But if there isn’t a strong strong desire to tackle the interpersonal issues, if there isn’t an aching desire to “WIN”, then the advice will fall on stony ground, and it’ll just be more smugosphering.

And I believe (perhaps wrongly) that there’s a limited window of opportunity to get a group on a solid footing. After a while, once patterns and invisible hierarchies have been laid down (ESPECIALLY in the groups that claim not to have hierarchy), then attempts to address these problems will be a waste of energy and time. But maybe that’s just me…

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5 Responses to Group problems: lists and listlessness

  1. rhizome says:

    I think I agree about the narrow window of opportunity to create a good and accessible foundation for a group. It probably is possible to turn around a group at a later stage but only with a significant change of people – enough of the old guard shipping out to make way for a new dynamic. But even then there can be problems. Ironically the very people who were desperate to make change in a group and tried until they were disillusioned and exhausted can become the problem for a new generation. They can sometimes carry with them residual anger, resentment, cynicism and suspicion which can have a huge negative impact on group life.

    The one useful piece of advice I can offer is to look below the surface. Most of the items in the Greener Together list are symptoms and not the disease, and it’s the disease that needs treating. I find it useful to ask “Why are people not doing what they agreed to do?” (or whatever) and then be open to the possibility that the answer may lie with my behaviour rather than theirs….

    • dwighttowers says:

      Thanks, and certainly we must examine the impact of our own behaviour/way of working on other people and how it might be de-motivating. That said, 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].

  2. rhizome says:

    Of course you’re right. And as someone who has traditionally taken the picking-up-the-slack role in groups my nut is equally done!

    Accountability is a huge issue and there’s a fear of it in some non-hierarchical groups because it smacks of leadership (who am I to appoint myself the person that holds others to account?)…..and 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.

    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”. And 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
    *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
    *lack of adequate summaries/good minutes meaning that they leave the meeting with a task which later they realise they don’t really understand
    *hypercritical groups – people would rather lunch them out than risk doing the task and being told in graphic detail that they’ve done it wrong
    *poor power dynamics in a group leading to this kind of behaviour becoming one way of attracting the attention of the group

    Years of poor meetings inevitably create a culture where that kind of thing is at least acceptable if not the norm, so there’s a real need to find ways of moving forwards. Possible strategies include – airing the issues; asking rather than assuming to find out why it’s happening; offering mentoring/buddying or other support around roles and tasks; setting clear expectations in meetings (including deadlines, quality, accountability) using a decision making process that people are actually committed to, a culture of constructive feedback for shared learning and group development; and so on.

  3. Pingback: Account ability – excellent suggestions from Rhizome «

  4. Pingback: Lunching out on accountability | rhizome: participation|activism|consensus

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