decentralize group communication

How Smart Groups are Surviving 2020: Decentralizing Leadership Empowers Members

We’re entering our 10th month of a global pandemic. It’s been disruptive to say the least. COVID has flattened our ability to move in the world freely, and to engage with our communities and families in the usual ways. The question for nonprofits, churches, recovery groups, and other active community organizations is how to be resilient right now. Successful and engaged groups are spending a lot of time reorienting their roles and responsibilities.   The normal ways of engaging are logistically difficult if not totally impossible, so we’re all finding clever workarounds.

Why decentralize control over group tools? Because life is unpredictable

For Groups, the urgency to open up access and empower members is more pressing than ever. Before, groups were able to chug along with one person in a hero role. Often, the group hero LIKES that role.  And often the group is thankful that someone is willing and able to be in that role. We are all familiar with the concept of the group hero right? They may not even be the official group leader! But they are the groups gatekeeper. The person that has all of the access, the passwords, the documents, etc. They know better than anyone else how to get things done, and nothing can happen without going through them for access.

The hero model is popular because it works well enough…for a while. Eventually the group running like this WILL fail.  When this hero gets sick, steps down, or becomes unable to perform their normal duties, the group isn’t able to rally. Collaboration is impossible when one person consistently edges everyone else out of responsibility sharing. The group has, over time, become totally dis-empowered. Everyone is completely reliant on the hero to find, organize, distribute, plan, communicate, etc.

Practically speaking, we are now relying more and more on handling things virtually. Having only one person who knows the passwords for all of the scattered group apps- the calendars, the chat platforms, the survey tools, etc- is a problem.  Access to the tools is hinging on the only person alive who knows how to log in.  We all live with the risk of getting sick or needing to momentarily pivot away from extracurriculars. For that reason, it is extremely precarious having one totally essential group hero without whom the group cannot function. Relinquishing a little control and empowering the group with good technology is critical right now.

Here are a few benefits of relinquishing control of the group tools:

  • Increased flexibility
  • Higher group morale
  • Increased information-processing ability/responsiveness
  • Ability to better cope with challenges
  • Development of expertise across all levels of membership
  • Shared accountability
  • Relieves burden on group hero
  • Results-driven, not hierarchy-driven

Decision-making is a critical part of any groups communication. The ability to make wise decisions efficiently skyrockets when everyone can pitch in and work across the group, and not just through the hero.  That’s because there are fewer roadblocks to participation.

Has COVID made your group go from a coordinated hum to a discombobulated sputter?

Your ability to thrive depends on opening up access to the toolbox

We have some ideas for how to help make your group unsinkable in the face of the current crisis. At the center of our thinking  is the idea that groups are stronger when their data centralized, but their leadership is decentralized. Think about it for a second.

Fact: When everyone has access to all of the group stuff- the docs, the lists, the calendars, etc- the group is able to collaborate more efficiently and roadblocks to participation are eliminated.

Fact: When everyone is crystal clear on the processes that keep group business running smoothly, leadership and taking initiative becomes a shared responsibility and not the job of one weary hero.

Fact: When the group proactively chooses to decentralize leadership, fear of collapse vanishes and engagement skyrockets.

Groups can get better, faster, stronger EVEN in a pandemic

Increase engagement and address control and access problems with these 5 steps

Doing just a few of these will help. Committing to all of them puts you way ahead of the curve:

1.Organize a list of ids and passwords that everyone (or a trusted few) can share

Time commitment: 1 clock out of 5

Depending on the size of your group, you may or may not feel comfortable sharing logins and passwords with absolutely everyone, and that’s ok! But make sure that there are enough people with the information that it is ALWAYS completely accessible to anyone who needs it. When the one indispensable knowledge keeper is sick or absent, and the passwords are also MIA, you’ve run into a completely avoidable problem.

2.Send out an all-hands-on-deck email to collect all scattered group collateral

Time commitment: 1 clock out of 5

The time it takes to send this email is definitely less than five minutes. Let’s be realistic and assume that you’ll have to send a reminder email or two to complete the job. That’s still less than ten total minutes.

If your group has been together for awhile, chances are there are bits and pieces of group info scattered among the tribe. Old meeting minutes, old event promotion materials, pics from past meetups and events, mailing lists, old demographic research, etc. Wouldn’t it be ideal to gather all group data into one pile, and to make the pile accessible to all members? That way, when members have the time and energy to contribute a fresh idea, they can look back to see what resources are already at hand. What’s worked in the past, what hasn’t worked, what they have, what they need- they are empowered to do the homework on their own….BEFORE bringing a half-baked idea to the group, and list of things-to-track-down to the leaders.

3.Cross-train for every position

Time commitment: 4 clocks out of 5 (mileage will vary widely based on group type)

If you ignore everything else on this list, at least DO THIS ONE!

This will pay dividends in the event that a key player in the group steps away. If there’s a chair, there needs to be someone else who is also a. trained to do that job and b. kept in the loop so that they may step in immediately if/when they need to. And if there’s a secretary, there needs to be a co-secretary. You get the idea. If there is a needed division of responsibility in your group, multiple people should be able to step into these roles. The only way that is logistically possible is if you make cross-training an ongoing priority BEFORE you have an emergency.**

**This cross-training will be much easier if you’ve also committed to transparent and consistent group processes. There shouldn’t be a quirky system for how X person keeps and logs the minutes from the meetings. There SHOULD be an easy and agreed upon process in place. Something like this: we upload the minutes to the shared group docs within 24 hours of the last meeting, and this is how we name the files to keep them organized.

4.Adopt a calendar system that is collaborative and tracks changes

Time commitment: 2 clocks out of 5

Researching the best tool for your group is the time commitment. Once you’ve decided which to adopt, there is no further drag on your time. In fact, you will end up saving time in the long run because you can save a lot of inbox overload and email back-and-forth over schedule wrangling. A collaborative group calendar will free your group from the headache of using multiple different calendaring platforms that do not communicate with each other. With a shared calendar in place, everyone can easily and clearly see what the group has planned and when. When something on the calendar shifts, the group is updated immediately. No more members slipping through the cracks due to fractured communication.

If your group has links to other groups, you can put their events on the schedule too. Does your Crossfit box often collaborate on community meets with another local gym? Make sure you put their events on the calendar too. Put recurring annual events on the calendar, and put other relevant organizations events on the calendar too.

5.Establish a repository for collected collateral

Time commitment: 3 clocks out of 5

After you’ve done the group data collecting we talked about in step 2, you’ve got to decide where to put it all. Consider what amount of storage you’ll need. Some tools offer a certain amount of cloud-based storage for free, and then charge once you’ve exceeded the limit. Depending on how much group stuff you have to upload, consider breaking this job up among several people. You’ve committed (or re-committed) to shared responsibility and open accessibility. Great! Having multiple people share a large job is a good way to put your values in practice!

Has your group found any winning strategies for staying organized and keeping engagement high during COVID? If so, tell us about it in the comments!

Happy grouping,

The team at Groupeasy


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