Relationships are the glue of organising

In 2015 I completed a course in organising with Marshall Ganz: Leadership, Organizing and Action. Ganz’ deconstructs organising into five crafts: public narrative, relationships (covered in this post), structure, strategy, and action. In this post I review Ganz’ treatment of relationships. All unsourced quotations come from the course.

Relationships are the glue of organising. Relationships foster the commitment that is needed for success. They allow us to understand the interests, values and motivations of others. This sets up a basis for a mutual exchange where we can use our resources to meet the needs of others — like supporting someone to take political action for the first time. We can all discover the resources of others to help meet our needs — you’re good with computers? Great — you can make some NationBuilder events!

I once heard of someone who said, “I’m an organiser, I just don’t do relational organising.” That’s like saying “I’m a carpenter, I just don’t do wood carpentry.” Organising is nothing without relationships.

What are relationships?

“Building relationships isn’t calculus – it’s not something new, it’s about bringing craft and reflection to something we already do.” – Marshall Ganz

Organising relationships are like other relationships! Like all relationships, they grow when we have shared purpose and regularly engage with and contribute to the relationship.

The two differences though are firstly, that organising relationships are intentional. The relationships exists in a particular context with a particular purpose and, while we can like each other as people, our primary intention for the relationship is about working together towards a shared goal. In organising we are deliberate about which relationships we invest in.

The second is that organising relationships are public. Organisers exist in an organisational context of formal roles and common goals, and their organising relationships are part of this. This requires a distinction between the private sphere and the public sphere. Of course, we should allow ourselves to be vulnerable, and to connect as real people — but if we are to hold each other to account and serve the interest of our organisation, our relationships must be defined by more than only friendship.

How do we build relationships?

There are various ways of building relationships in a team and between individuals. One-on-one meetings are the most important!

A one-on-one is a meeting between an organiser and a supporter to develop a relationship based around commitment to a shared goal. They are an important way of learning about each other, building rapport, and committing to take action together. But they aren’t a shortcut and require authenticity and genuine engagement.

Relationship-building also requires commitment over time. An organising relationship might start with a recruitment one-on-one which allows us to identify an appropriate way for a new volunteer to get involved. Maintenance one-on-ones happen proactively to debrief, check-in, and offer coaching — allowing us to grow in commitment and learn from each other. If someone is ready to step up in their engagement, an escalation one-on-one can be used to recognize their accomplishments, test their interest, and lay out new expectations.

The structure of a one-on-one

A one-on-one is structured around four stages: purpose, exploration, exchange, and commitment.

Purpose

Be transparent and upfront about why you are meeting, so that you can have the same expectations. Make sure that you know the purpose yourself — and also make sure that they know! Include this when recruiting for the one-on-one and at the start of the meeting itself.

Exploration

Most of the one-on-one is about asking probing questions to understand their story, values, and resources. Be curious! You want to get past the shallow answers that anybody could give to find that person’s unique story and background. This should be a back and forth — share your own story and values too. Give a public account of yourself.

In a maintenance one-on-one the exploration is more about the person’s current situation, as well as challenges and successes from their organising practise.

Exchange

What can we offer each other to support us in achieving our shared goal? Maybe I can help you to write a submission about coal seam gas, maybe you can offer your house to host a meeting. We all have resources of value to our movement — a one-on-one discovers these and connects them with our needs.

Commitment

A successful one-on-one ends with a commitment to particular actions by particular people by particular times. “So will you come to our house meeting at 6pm on Thursday next week?”

If you’re an organiser, you should be doing one-on-ones

Organisers develop leadership by building and maintaining relationships to grow commitment and capability over time. One-on-ones are a space for initiating organising relationships by exploring values and motivations to build rapport and find a basis for sustained exchange. Relationships help to sustain our volunteering, and create the trust that allow vulnerability and honest learning from our successes and challenges. Relationships are the channels through which leadership flows.

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