By Claire Milne:
The success and longevity of the social and ecological renewal Movement rests, to a large extent, on the health of our groups. This has been one of the key learnings of the Transition Movement over the last 10 years. It goes without saying then that it is vital for us to pay careful attention to the health of our groups. But how many of us actually give our group the regular spring-clean it needs to de-clutter and make space to be able to function in a way that supports us to become increasingly effective, creative, nourished, innovative, resilient and transformative?
A spring-clean of our groups gives us an opportunity to reflect on the year gone-by and to de-clutter our group to make space for new energy, projects and ideas. So many of us just keep adding more and more projects, dimensions, relationships and responsibilities into the life of our group, without taking the time to explore what we need to let go of to make space for the new.
It’s helpful to consider such a spring-cleaning of our groups in the context of an Action-Reflection cycle (see right). This simple model helps us become more aware of the habitual tendency so many of us have to just keep doing more and more stuff, taking on more and more responsibilities and planning yet more exciting activities before we have even got close to actually finishing what we are already doing. So many of us habitually bypass the vital stages of slowing down to reflect, rest, digest and spring-clean before planning and getting on with yet more stuff.
Following natural cycles
Spring-cleaning our groups can happen at any point in the year, but as the name suggests, nature already mirrors for us natural times of the year to implement each stage of this Action-Reflection cycle, through its inherent embodiment of the life-death-life cycle.
Most of us have a long way to go to become fully aligned with these natural cycles again – and patience and compassion in this transition are key. But integrating these key phases of rest, reflection and spring-cleaning alongside all our exciting activities will almost certainly radically transform our groups for the better. Even if this simply means, for example, taking a couple of weeks in; November and/or December to slow down and do some reflecting on what has happened this year and noticing how you have felt within it all; in Jan and/or Feb to really rest and do very little other than digest and perhaps make some meaning of the year passed; and between March and May to spring-clean and do some de-cluttering and planning for the year ahead.
This still leaves us the rest of the year to get on with doing stuff – but will help ensure we are learning along the way and getting the rest we need to be nourished enough to function optimally. Creating a schedule for our group along these lines could be one of the most helpful things we can do to ensure our success and longevity as a group – and Movement.
What might spring-cleaning our groups look like?
Spring-cleaning is the ’emergent’ phase of the Action-Reflection cycle. Ideally we are emerging from an autumn and winter of rest, reflection, digestion and hibernation and feel rejuvenated, ready and inspired to set intentions for the year ahead.
In spring-cleaning we take stock of what we have learned throughout this slower more reflective period – and integrate these learnings into our intention setting and planning for the year ahead. We identify and celebrate what is working well and want to continue with. We de-clutter, identifying what’s not working – or what’s complete, that we want and need to let go of to make space for any new projects we want to initiate and begin.
A useful tool for this is STOP;START;CONTINUE*
Groups Health Check
A vital part of this spring-cleaning process is checking on the health of our group. We need to devote some time each year to explore how we are doing in terms of integrating the processes, structures and self-awareness that are needed within our group to support us to feel nourished and be effective in our work together.
How would it be to email your group now to suggest you book in a regular time each year to go through this Health Check as a group?We have developed a useful Groups Health Check to support this process. Along with integrating an Action-Reflection cycle within your group’s work plan, it’s probably the most important thing you can do to support the success of your group.
It feels important to at least touch on some of the myriad reasons that contribute to so many of us struggling to integrate this Action-Reflection model into our group.
Most, if not all of us have grown up in hierarchical and Patriarchal family units, education systems and work places. Millennia of Patriarchy means we have become conditioned to operate hierarchically. This means those of us committed to co-creating new ways of relating, organising and sharing power in groups are like parent-less children: unsure of what we are doing and mostly without elders around us to learn from. We need to have compassion for ourselves, and those we are collaborating with, rather than beat ourselves and each other up for not getting it all right straight away.
Transformation of this magnitude takes time – generations in fact. Transforming how we organise ourselves in groups is one of the greatest challenges of our times. It requires much patience and humility and a willingness to open our hearts to courageous and compassionate conversations and conflicts that can at times feel very uncomfortable and counterintuitive. And yet, what is required of us in these times is a willingness to turn towards these uncomfortable dynamics and feelings with the compassion, curiosity, humility and courage that underpin a true embodiment of the collaborative ways of working we are aspiring to.
There are a multitude of elements and dimensions in this move away from hierarchy and Patriarchy that contribute to our groups feeling too overwhelmed and chaotic to have the clarity and wisdom to integrate an Action-Reflection cycle. These include:
- The complications that come with being volunteer-run rather than run by paid employees, for example limited resources and capacity and a tendency for some group members to exhibit less accountability and be less reliable than when being paid;
- Limited experience of how to make decisions outside of a hierarchical management structure;
- Limited skills, experience and awareness around how to communicate in a way that supports collaborative group working;
- Limited self-awareness of our behavioural tendencies in groups – and particularly our relationship with power – and how this impacts others and the group as a whole;
- Limited knowledge and experience of integrating processes and structures into a group that support collaborative working rather than hierarchy;
- Experiencing time exclusively as linear (at the expense of cyclical and deep time) which creates a sense of urgency and a prevalence of excessive ‘busyness’ resulting from a strong work ethic and because for many of us, to stay still, rest and reflect risks revealing feelings we would rather not feel.
These aspects of group life are a natural byproduct of being right in the epicentre of our collective transition from hierarchy to more collaborative, fair and life-enhancing ways of co-existing on this precious earth. It is these dynamics that lead to a sense of chaos and overwhelm that often prevents us from prioritising the rest, reflection and spring-cleaning phases of the Action-Reflection cycle – ironically the very things we need to be able to create the nourishing context required for this Transition.
It’s also important to remember that hierarchy developed for a number of reasons, which include a sense of life being simplified by concentrating power into the hands of a select few whilst controlling and silencing the contributions of the many. When we move away from this controlling model of power we open ourselves up to immense complexity – a true reflection of the complex and diverse universe we are part of.
Collaborative groups therefore need to include structures and processes, like the Action-Reflection cycle, to help us to navigate through the complexity and chaos we unleash when we remove the constraints of hierarchy.
In light of all this, it seems essential that we prioritise time for our group to gain the skills, knowledge, self-awareness and experience required to create the healthy, compassionate, nourishing and transformative groups our hearts know are possible – and which our collective future rests on.
Has your group done the Groups Health Check? Was it helpful? Does your group integrate an Action-Reflection cycle? Would you like to? What gets in the way? We’d love to hear your ideas and experiences …
* STOP; START; CONTINUE
A useful tool for spring-cleaning your group is STOP; START; CONTINUE.
For this process to work most optimally, you will have gone through some reflection, rest and digestion during the autumn and winter period.
This simple process has three stages:
1) Exploring what we want to continue with: what aspects/projects are going well and/or are feeling challenging but important to continue with?
2) What’s not going so well? What aspects/projects are not going so well and feel like they are no longer a good use of our energy and should therefore be stopped to create space and energy for new projects? What do we need to do to complete these projects healthily?
3) What new projects/themes/aspects do we want to start? Which if any of these do we have enough capacity to initiate? What do we need to find out to make an informed decision about this? What criteria will we use to prioritise if we have more ideas than capacity?