camelon, coach, collaboration, community, development, Our Place, resilience, Support, tamfourhill

The trouble with groups

Steering Group.
Committee.
Board.
Working Group.

Apologies – those may be swear words to some people! To others, you may not even know what some of them are. And then there will be some of you who absolutely get these words, understand the need behind them, and will engage in their outworking.

The joy and challenge of my role is that all of those responses are completely fine! This makes for interesting times but it’s part of what I enjoy about this role. You don’t need me to tell you that Camelon and Tamfourhill is a diverse area. You just need to take a short walk around to see the differences in areas and people, often just within a stones throw of each other. So, how do we deal with this – and I do mean ‘we’!

When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticise it as rootless and stemless. We treat it as a seed giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don’t condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticise the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development.

Timothy Gallway, The Inner Game of Tennis

I completely understand that people want to get involved at different levels. Some of you will have no problem joining in with an activity or event and would be happy to ‘get your hands dirty’ with whatever is going on. However, you would run a mile if you were asked to be on an organising committee or do some paperwork linked to that activity. That is perfectly okay. We need all sorts of people to get involved. Leaders, helpers, organisers, planners, supporters etc. Just like the rose in the quote above, all are needed and all are welcome. (I wrote more on this in one of my earlier blogs back in July)

So when I’m helping form a new group or developing an existing one, the biggest potential difficulty comes when you assemble people from different walks of life. When they gather for the first time and don’t necessarily know each other, there will be feelings of uncertainty about each others motives and this usually leads to a hesitance to make strong commitments right away. Some may be a bit puzzled about the purpose and goals of the group. Others may not be sure whether they will have anything in common with the other members and might be reluctant to even find out.

To get going, the group needs to understand and/or shape their purposes and tasks in ways that make sense to them and are meaningful. As the members express what will undoubtedly be differing viewpoints, some areas of conflict may occur. There may also be some ill-feelings toward the person taking the lead if they are not seen as being fair or are siding more with one side or another. Whilst I’m here to enable people to have the skills to take on responsibility, I’m aware that the ‘lead’ person initially might be me. Rest assured I will always be impartial, fair and focused on the tasks at hand but am prepared to handle ill-feelings should they come my way! I’m also here to mediate if needed.

It is essential in any group that all perspectives are given serious consideration, and that efforts are made to accommodate the differences. If this is not easily achieved, the best thing to do is go back to the vision, mission and goals of the group. (Another previous blog talks more about this). If it then remains clear that not all members share the same basic vision and sense of mission, it may actually be better to split into smaller groups who can lead on different activities. In other words, rather than trying to dilute what you’re doing or waste time trying to work on differences in priorities, enabling two groups to work side by side on different projects can reduce the tensions and potentially enable even more people to get involved.

Bringing about large scale change is difficult and is achieved through relationships, championships, legitimacy, purpose, passion and patience.

Anon

Having successfully resolved any disagreements, the group will hopefully have a sense of togetherness with members being accepting of each other. In this situation, members should be able to make a stronger, perhaps longer term commitment to the group and would hopefully also be willing to take on greater responsibilities.  I’ll be there to support and train them as appropriate and support for as long as it takes. The result is that decision-making is easier and more effective with all group members empowered to focus on the vision, mission and goals. This all leads to the group developing a strong identity because they are much more than just a collection of individuals now.

That’s the plan anyway!

I could write loads more on this but I’ll save that for another blog or better still when I’m actually working with groups directly. For now though, I’ll leave you with these 5 core elements that apply to forming or developing any group and really, for any effective community to thrive:

  • Connection (We all need a sense of belonging)
  • Participation (We all need to be engaged in some kind of community)
  • Nature (We all need a safe natural world to live in)
  • Fairness (We all need to see justice in all its dimensions)
  • Dignity (We all need enough to live in comfort, safety and happiness)

If you want help forming, fixing or developing a group in the Camelon and Tamfourhill area, please do not hesitate to email me on communitycoach@tamfourhilltro.co.uk or call 07444 873151. Until next time…. Dan.