I have worked with a variety of groups over the years, many of them during college. One of my most valuable experiences was working in a class company called the "IBC" (Integrated Business Core) to create, market and sell a product to benefit a local charity. I learned a LOT about groups in that semester - group dynamics, group communication, group motivation. It's been a few (ahem) years since my college days, but the memories all that group work is starting to come back to me now. I just hope that I can put some of the lessons I've learned in the past to good use in our Transition Town OKC initiative.
One thing I've learned is that in any organization, it's not just the goals and the passion that keep us going, it's the company we keep. The people we work with invariably are either a push or a pull to participation. They can become our friends, and we will work harder to make sure everyone is happy, or they can rub us the wrong way and make us start to "forget" our meeting times. If everyone pulls their weight, and the organizors make sure that everyone has a job to do, the burden lifts off the shoulders of the few. If not, burnout and resentment become virtually inevitable.
A good leader can promote group cohesion and participation by instituting group traditions, facilitating a group identity, and making sure everyone feels included and recognized. Most people who volunteer are eager to belong to a group - it's one of the fundamental urges we have as a species. But the modern human is also touchy and egocentric and we need to feel important and loved, too.
Every time I work with our group I am happy that I am no longer a lone voice, that others are willing to share the work and lighten the load, that we share a vision. If nothing else ever came of our movement (heaven forbid!), I would be glad that I had the chance to meet these people and connect with others who are working to make a difference.
As our Transition Town OKC ball gets rolling, and we have more work to do, I'm discovering that a diverse set of skills really comes in handy while trying to manage a task of this magnitude. It also helps to have people from different backgrounds and who have different perspectives - business, government, non-profit, healthcare, religious, ethnic, gender and political viewpoints. Luckily, my Co-Chair and I don't have to have all these abilities/perspectives - the people on our Steering Committee are starting to really step up and get involved.
Here are some of the key roles we're starting to take on and some of the skills that are proving valuable:
- The Networker who knows key people and groups around town.
- The Strategist who asks key questions, thinks about the big picture, formulates a vision for the group to work toward, reminds everyone of our scope and goals, and periodically stops to evaluate the path.
- The Technical Expert who can answer peak oil/ climate change questions in detail.
- The Marketer who can present information well and advertise properly to ensure a turnout at events/speeches/presentations.
- The Project manager who knows how to pull together an event.
- "Sales" people who can meet with key players, assess their concerns and get them to buy into your vision or go along with your group's request.
- The Writer who can craft grammatically correct, brief and convincing sentences.
- The Creative type who makes websites, blogs, PowerPoint presentations, and displays.
- The Facilitator who runs meetings in an upbeat yet timely manner and who can keep an agenda and meeting notes.
- Volunteers who are willing to show up at "whatever" event to staff tables, answer questions, and who take on whatever task is needed.
- Speakers who are knowledgeable and are not afraid to talk to groups.
- A Historian who, as the group changes over time, acts as the collective memory of the group.
- Social butterflies who help the group bond and enjoy working together by organizing social events, promoting morale, and generally making everything as fun, pleasant and rewarding as possible.
- A Treasurer who is willing to take in, dole out, and account for money.
As you develop your Transition Town groups, keep an eye out for people who have these talents or who can serve these roles. Of course, some people have multiple abilities and take on multiple jobs. If you don't have people who already have the skills, you'll have to develop them from scratch, which may be harder. One Transition Town principle is that "whoever shows up are the right people" - but the leaders still need to make sure that the group is functioning well and has all the tools to succeed. Our TTOKC group could probably use a Marketer - anyone care to apply?
Speaking of skill development, I had to give my first public speech in a long while - to a church group of about 25 Unitarians. My Co-Chair and I traded off speaking on the PowerPoint slides that we had created. I was nervous at first, but at some point I just tried to start connecting with specific people in the audience - that helped. The response was positive, not hostile, and people showed interest by asking questions at the end.
What have your "group" experiences been like? What have you learned that has been useful to you?