Well, my Steelers lost. Sigh. Continuing from Sustaining a self-organizing group for 20+years (1 of 3)
From my perspective, this 20-year long, 100+ member group appears to sustain itself because the group is contagious (in a good way). Group members themselves are drawn to it, and the group draws nearby others to it as well. Together group members:
- Keep learning. Within this group, members appear to value collective learning above individual expertise—and time spent with the group teaches and reinforces this value. Also, continued learning means drawing different people to the group, not people exactly like the people already there, and group members know—or quickly learn—this. Individual expertise is valued too, though, and members are asked to give presentations on their own areas of interest and expertise.
- Have a rewarding and fun time together. Members use the term fellowship to describe the group–a word that I, for one, haven’t heard in quite some time. They enjoy the experience of being together and learning together so much that their energy and enthusiasm is palpable, naturally draws them closer to each other, and that energy spreads to those they touch.
- Demonstrate a collective self. Members get so much out of being together that they’ve opted to stay together long enough to learn how to lead, laugh, and move in the world as a collective. They value the needs of the group at least as much—and clearly at times more than—their own individual ideas, beliefs, and opinions. They rapidly forgive and forget difficulties. Leadership–if you can call it that–moves around naturally. That is, when a need is felt, those who feel the need the most take the lead automatically. Sometimes group members talk about what needs to be done, often they don’t–they just get done what needs to get done. Members appear to have allowed the group to move them past/through focusing on individual fears, doubts, bias, and prejudice when they’re together—to the point that they become capable of and comfortable speaking on behalf of the collective without approval from any individual.
- Demonstrate healthy growth. The group limits its own growth—recognizing that enjoying being together is what keeps members coming back and what draws others to them. Instead of getting as large as it possibly could get, the group consciously grows slowly. Today they limit membership to people outside the group’s immediate community (they’re prioritizing greater diversity) and by invitation of a group member only. They make one exception–for members of the church building that they meet in. The group also fosters growth around itself by fostering other self-organizing groups. Healthy—this group deeply gets—means healthy for the group itself, for individual group members, and for the community around them.
- Recognize and regularly honor a larger collective self. This group values, honors, and gives back to the community that supports it as a natural course of operation—and it has from its very beginning. For example, they meet weekly in a large room owned by a Christian church. They’ve bought new equipment for the room and for the church kitchen (where they cook their weekly meeting’s breakfast), they make an exception to their membership rule for members of that church, and they close each meeting by saying The Lord’s Prayer (eventhough their members are of various religions and no religion).
- Tap the diverse strengths of a 50-year membership age range and members into their 80s and 90s. All the self-organizing groups I study have membership across several age groups/decades (for example, members in their 20s, 30s, and 40s). This one has a 50-year difference between the youngest and oldest member (from guys in their 50s to their 90s). I’m not entirely sure what to make of this yet, but (28 groups in I’m starting to trust my intuition a bit), these factors seem incredibly important to the longevity of this large group. The wisdom and recognition of the importance of groups like this–not to mention the time to devote each week to keep the group running and meeting 52 weeks each year–seems built into the very being of the members I met in their 70s and 80s. My own groups have members from their 20s into their 60s. Thought to myself in the moment “What the heck have I been doing?! I need my own group members in their 70s, 80s, and 90s!”
Tips For for discovering, creating, and/or sustaining your own self-organizing group:
- Self-organizing groups will visibly demonstrate many of these things in the moment, not just talk about them. They are both practices (done consciously) and ways of being (done without conscious thought yet still demonstrated). For me, a small several-person self-organizing group is more amazing and powerful than a 100,000-person organization that talks the talk but cannot walk the walk.
- You will visibly demonstrate many of these things when you’re with your self-organizing group members, not just talk about them (in fact, you may not talk about them at all). If you don’t demonstrate any of them, don’t worry—your just not with your self-organizing group yet.
- To my eye, if you want to focus on a smaller number of practices than six, the first two appear to matter most. If a group can continue to draw in difference—while maintaining the ability to have a great time together—it seems that there is no limit to their continued learning. Also, the other practices appear to grow pretty naturally on their own if the first two are happening. Upon reflection, all groups I study demonstrate 1, 2, 3, and 4 in their own ways. Practices 5 and 6 may be keys to the longevity of this particular group. Group size seems to be directly related to the needs of the group, individual members, and the community around them–which appear to vary from group to group, individual to individual, and community to community.
To learn more:
- Sustaining a large self-organizing group for 20+years (1 of 3)
- Sustaining a large self-organizing group for 20+years (3 of 3) (coming soon)