This week I interviewed 6 members of a remarkable 100+-member self-organizing group that has sustained itself for 20 years and counting. I also interviewed one person who has witnessed, from nearby, this group in action. I still have lots more learning to do, so part 3 (of 3) of this post will be months from now. But for the moment, here’s a taste…

About this group

This men’s group started with 6 guys—church members—who decided to start meeting as a group once a week for breakfast. Twenty years later, the group has roughly 110 members. According to the church secretary, today only 10 to 20 percent of the group members are church members. The group meets 52 weeks/year, 1 morning/week, for breakfast (oatmeal). There are roughly 60 men in attendance on any given week, and they have weekly speakers and/or discussions. The group’s list of “rules” for itself is tiny: 1) meetings start on time and 2) no projects (we’re not coming together to work). Its list of rules for chosing potential speakers is also short: 1) no campaigning (if you’re a politician) and 2) no proselytizing (if you’re from any religious background). Basically, no trying to sell anything to the group. 😉 The age range for group members is mid 50s to mid 90s.

The group prides itself on its diversity—men from all walks of life, from different parts of the state and country, different religions and no religions, different cultural backgrounds, different political backgrounds, and different areas of expertise (doctors, cooks, engineers, judges, authors, pilots, organizers, etc.). The group prides itself on the fact that difference is actually enjoyable within the group. The group sees itself as a friendship/fellowship group and is dedicated to learning. Members come for different reasons—for the intellectual stimulation, for the friendship, for support, and even love—but it’s already clear to this observer that the group deeply matters to all the members I’ve talked to so far.

A discussion about what has sustained the group for so long

Member 1: Fellowship, the feelings we have for one another.

Member 2: We’ve got libertarians, we’ve got socialists, we’ve got democrats, a lot of democrats, and republicans. And we have our differences. And we have so much FUN talking about it. I do! I just enjoy, you know, [name of person] to no end.

Member 3: Yeah.

Member 2: Because he’s a far right republican. And I’m a progressive, I call myself. And it just tickles me to death when we get into a discussion. And it’s all friendly, you know, it’s all friendship…

Member 4: Well, anger is not ever part of the conversation.

Member 2: …and respect.

Member 5: And that part. We have mutual respect for each other’s views. And, I guess that’s part of being educated, maybe. [laughter]

Member 2: Well I hope so! Yeah. [laughter]

Member 4: It is a highly educated group.

Member 6: Oh, very highly educated. [laughter]

Member 4: And the wide diversity of backgrounds. We can’t emphasize that enough. I mean, it’s just unbelievable. Where people have been. What they’ve done. One of the fellows is a long time state department, many different postings. He brings a rich flood of. He’s given several presentations already.

Member 2: Well most of us have. We’re all.

Member 4: Yeah.

Member 5: You’re a bush pilot.

Member 2: Yeah, my memoirs. I read them. I gave two programs on that. Before, when we said we were a smaller group…

Member 4: There are several book authors.

Member 2: …And then it’s interesting, because you realize that we’re, um, our program chairs, are tapping into people and talent that we’re not even aware of…

[here they talk in detail about two specific women the group has learned from, as speakers—people they were surprised and delighted to learn are part of their larger community]

From this short snippet of conversation, what would you say sustains this 100+ member group? In the next post I’ll describe my initial perspective on the subject. Right now I’ve got to go cheer for the Steelers with my own self-org group. 🙂