Self-Organising System, mandates, healthy teams and meetings. Resources for you and your team. From starting off, to resolving issues to the best practices we have for building and maintaining healthy teams.
- Healthy Teams: An Overview
- Exit Process
- Mandates in more detail (and how to write them)
- The Self-Organising System in more detail
Healthy Teams: An Overview
Upon taking on a role within XR, you will find yourself joining a team. This can be daunting for some but being a part of a well-functioning team can be incredibly empowering!
What Makes a Good Team?
You already know your answer to this. Take a moment to consider the following:
- When have you felt comfortable/uncomfortable working with others?
- What stood out to you?
- What was it that made you feel this way?
- Think about a behaviour that you find difficult to deal with in others:
- Have you had any past experiences connected to people showing such behaviour?
- What do you think you can do to better understand such behaviour?
- Think about a behaviour that you exhibit that others may find difficult to deal with.
- Why might they find it difficult to deal with such behaviour?
- What can you do to check such behaviour?
- Imagine that you are working with others to create a dream team:
- What values do you think should help guide the team?
- What do you want this team to know about you? How will you share this? Keep your idea of a good team in your mind as you look over the following resources - how do they fit into your experience and understanding?
Our Ways of Working
In order for our work to come together in a cohesive way, we use a Self-Organising System. This is essentially a collection of rules around how we organise and work together. We have these shared structures and processes to help us each hold something small and manageable; but collectively we can achieve our bold goals!
Your Place in the Big Picture
You can explore the XRUK structure using the interactive tool Glassfrog. By clicking on each circle, you can zoom into that space and see the circles nested within. In this diagram, you can see that The Hive is the widest circle within XRUK and so encompasses the widest purpose.
(Note: it is a misunderstanding to say that they hold the most power; their scope is too wide to be able to wield much power over anything in particular.)
You should be able to find the circle you are working within in this diagram, whether that be a team focusing on arrestee support in the East of England or a team advocating for Citizens' Assemblies across the UK.
Not every role is entered into Glassfrog as this takes a fair bit of time, but most aspects of the work being done are represented or at least the circle they sit in is.
The information about groups held by the Hub is now taking over from Glassfrog. And the word "group" is taking over from the word "circle" in some places.
Interacting Between Teams
As you can see, our structure is a series of circles within circles. Each circle contains the role of External Coordinator who attends the meeting of the wider circle. So your External Coordinator (EC) will be feeding the progress your team is making into the wider circle, and the EC of that circle will do the same, and in this way information is passed through the system.
External Coordinators also feed from the wider circle back into your team so you can understand how your work fits into the teams close by.
Note: This should not be the sole interation between teams. It is recommended if you are working on something that overlaps or sits close to a team many circles from you, that you reach out to them directly. Your External Coordinater should be able to find their contact details.
While exploring Glassfrog you will be able to see the purpose and accountabilities of each team and role in the system. These are part of what makes up the Mandate of that role or team.
We use mandates to distribute power through the movement. They help us manage without managers, and make our organisation transparent and accessible, with no mysterious 'black boxes'.
Simply put, a mandate outlines your purpose within the system, what is expected of you and what you are responsible for. It is typically split into the following:
- Purpose Statement - Why does this Role/Circle exist, what is it for?
- Accountabilities - What will this Role/Circle do, what can I expect of them?
- Domain - What does this Role/Circle control, what do I need to ask them before I do?
Mandates are never set in stone; they are as dynamic as we need them to be. When you pick up a role in XR, you will likely be given a mandate with it. You can (and probably should) make this your own, either by handing back accountabilities that you don't feel you can meet, or by adding things that you think you can do to help.
To change a mandate, the desired change simply needs to be brought as a proposal to the meeting in which that role or circle sits. For example, if my role were to schedule trainings in the South West and I also wanted to do the scheduling for the Heading for Extinction talk, then I would propose that change in the SW Talks & Trainings meeting.
Want to know more? See Mandates in more detail (and how to write them).
There are several different ways we make decisions in XR, and you will likely come across each of these fairly quickly.
Role Mandated Decisions
"Does this need to be decided by the group?"
Many of the decisions you come across do not need to take up time in a meeting. The first thing to consider would be if anyone has a mandate for the decisions that need to be made. It may be that you can make that choice without consulting the team because you have the responsibility (or mandate) for that thing. Or it may be that someone else does, in which case you should ask them what should be done.
These are used to make very simple group decisions. The question is usually phrased as "How do you feel about..." and then the group displays their enthusiasm by either raising their hands (positive) or lowering them (negative). A neutral response hovers around the middle.
These are often used to gauge how controversial something may be. If everyone is hands-up happy then there is no need to dive deeper into a longer process. But if some people have concerns, then it's advisable to move to the Integrative Decision Process or something similar.
Integrative Decision Making
This is a more indepth process for making group decisions. The object is to find a solution that everyone thinks is "safe to try." The process follows these steps:
- Stating Proposal - Whoever is making the suggestion brings their proposal to the group.
- Clarifications Round - Everyone in the meeting is then asked, in turn, if they need anything clarified to fully understand what is being proposed.
- Reactions Round - Everyone then has a chance to react to the proposal, what they think of it, how it may affect their work, any forseeable problems etc.
- Chance to Ammend Proposal - The person who brought the proposal has a chance to make any changes to it, any additions or changes to phrasing etc. They can also choose to withdraw the proposal or bring it back in another meething.
- Objections Round - Everyone in the meeting is then asked if they approve or object to the proposal. Objections must come from the role the individual is holding (not a personal view) and they must be concrete objections, either that the proposal will cause harm to the movement or it will stop existing work from being done.
If there are no objections to a proposal, it is passed and enacted immediately. However, if someone raises an objection to the proposal, the group comes together to try to integrate that objection.
- Integrating Objections - The objection is stated for the group and the floor is opened to suggestions on how this objection can be integrated into the original proposal. It may be that the wording needs to be changed or that the scope needs to be limited in some way.
The outcome of this process will either be the original or an ammended proposal passed by the group or, if the facilitator or person bringing the proposal choses, it can be taken away to be worked on between meetings and brought back at a later date.
Your Power Within the System
We have created our Self-Organising System with the intention that every rebel has a voice. On an individual level, there are several things that you can do within the system.
- Any rebel can bring a proposal to their team.
- Any rebel can ask to bring a proposal to another team - by contacting the Internal Coordinator.
- Any rebel can ask for an election for a role - if they wish to step back or feel like someone isn't fulfilling their mandate.
- Any rebel can give back Action Points if they are unable to complete them.
- Any rebel can refuse to take on anything new and give back things they are struggling to fulfill.
Want to know more? See The Self-Organising System in more detail.
What do you bring to your Team?
Task vs Maintenance
The two key parts of effective group operation are task roles and maintenance roles. Each role is really a set of behaviours to pay attention to in meetings and activities. Generally, task functions keep groups headed toward decisions and action. Maintenance functions help build a group's sense of identity and develop the social relationships in a group.
|Task Roles||Maintenance Roles|
|Initiator - Starts things off or helps to change direction.||Encourager - Provides warmth and accepts different points of view|
|Coordinator - Clarifies suggestions and seeks agreement to move ahead||Harmonizer - Tries to reduce conflict by encouraging sharing and respect|
|Energizer - Inspires and stimulates group into discussion||Welcomer - Draws out quieter members and suggests processes to promote equal power.|
|Information Seeker - Gives or seeks to find out certain information||Self-Discloser - Shares experiences to break through on a personal level "This also happened to me..."|
|Clarifier of Opinions - Encourages people to be specific "It seems like you are saying..."||Process Observer - Helps to unblock the group and get conversation back on track|
|Summarizer - Clarifies and checks what has been said||Standard Setter - Expresses best practices for the group|
Maintenance group roles and behaviors function to create and maintain social cohesion and fulfill the interpersonal needs of the group members. To perform these role behaviors, a person needs strong and sensitive interpersonal skills. These roles include social-emotional leader, supporter, tension releaser, harmonizer and interpreter.
- Think of a group you have been a part of in the past; what roles have you taken on?
- Think of a group you are in now; do you think most of the roles in the group are Task focused or Maintenance focused?
Knowing your skills
When joining a new team, it is often hard to know where to start, what to pick up. Especially if that team is already established, how do you know what they need help with or what you are qualified to hold?
The first thing to remember is: They asked you to be there and so they WANT your help!
Now that we are clear on that, take a moment to think about what you CAN and what you WANT to offer the team. Here are a few examples you may come up with:
|Knowledge (I know...)||Functional Skills (I can..)||Peronal Traits (I am...)|
|Java / Python||Facilitate Meetings||Creative|
|Conflict Resolution||Manage Projects||Patient|
Note: Just because you can offer something doesn't necessarily mean you want to; it is important to set your own boundaries in order to avoid burnout.
Now that you know what you want to offer the team you are joining, we recommend going along to a meeting and letting them know exactly what you can offer them, both within and beyond the role your are stepping into.
Listening vs Speaking
Extinction Rebellion is not like your usual working environment, and we say this in both a positive and negative way! It can often be a bit of a culture shock if you are not used to how we work. So here are some quick hints to get you started:
- Our meetings are all facilitated; if you have something to add, raise your hand or type into the chat and the facilitator will come to you. This stops us all talking over each other - especially in video calls!
- Try to be actively listening to others when they speak; think about what they are adding and ask your questions thoughtfully.
- Try to be okay with staying silent; just because you have something you could add doesn't mean that it is needed in the meeting. Ask yourself if your comment adds to the discussion before you raise your hand.
- Try to own your contributions by speaking only from yourself. Try using "I think that we should..." or. "It seems that..." rather than "We need to...".
Being able to give and to receive feedback is important when working with others. It allows us to build trust, understanding and lets us make progress towards our goals. Without feedback we can't judge the impact of our own work and we just don't mesh well as a team.
That said, giving and receiving feedback is not always easy. Here are some suggestions which may help.
When Giving Feedback
- Own what you are saying; use "I" statements "I think..." or "I feel..." and try not to use "You" statements since they can come across as an accusation.
- Don't only comment on the critical. People really benefit from positive feedback or being noticed when they have achieved something.
- Think about your intention and what you want to say; sometimes it helps to write it down first.
- Give feedback in a 1-1 setting; people can often feel vulnerable or put on the spot if singled out from a large group.
When Receiving Feedback
- Try not to take any feedback personally; they are giving you information to help you improve at something.
- If the feedback has upset you, try to process it on your own. Sit with your feelings and process them before responding.
- Be aware that giving feedback is not easy - they are saying these things to you because they value you and are comfortable enough to say something.
What if I don't know to whom to give my feedback?
If you have feedback about something and you do not know who is directly involved, you should first talk to your Internal Coordinator (if it relevent to your team) or your External Coordinator (if it is relevent to a wider issue). They will most likely be able to either pass it on to the right place or signpost you to that place.
How can you best work together?
Every team is different because every team has different people in it. It may be that your team works well with brief meetings, mostly digital interaction, and minimal coordination, or it may be that your team needs longer, more discursive meetings, regular check-ins and some social spaces to let off steam together.
All teams work in different ways; the key is to identify and agree upon the way that works for your team.
Having group agreements sets expectations for how you are going to work together and what to expect of each other. This is where you can personalise the dynamics of your team to suit the members in it.
Some groups will have agreements in place when you join and others may not; it's always worth asking. Any member of the team can propose an agreement. Here are a few examples that you may wish to bring to teams that you are in.
- Meeting Length 1 - We will keep our meetings to a maximum of 60 minutes.
- Meeting Length 2 - Our meetings will be for 120 minutes with a 10 minute break at the halfway point.
- Meeting Format 1 - All meetings will start with a minute of silence to ground group members.
- Meeting Format 2 - All meetings will start/finish with a round of Check Ins/Outs to build relationships within the group.
- Minutes - We will rotate the minute-taker each meeting to ensure that everyone can participate fully in the majority of meetings.
- Agenda - the agenda of each meeting must be set 3 days prior to give members a chance to read any documents given.
It is important for the smooth running of our teams that we are explicit about the roles each of us holds. This not only allows us to share out the responsibilities but also provides clarity for who is doing what. As a new rebel, your team should always welcome you by doing a round of role descriptions, letting you know what their role is in the meeting and providing some understanding of how things are set up.
As mentioned in the Mandates section, each role is adaptable; you can add to it, take things away that you can't do, as well as pick up multiple roles in a team.
There are a few core roles that you will find in your team with XR. These are typically suggested as the first roles to be filled when a team forms. Since a team usually starts off with 2-4 people these can often be shared fairly easily.
|Internal Coordinator||To ensure that all aspects of coordination are met by the team|
|External Coordinator||To represent the team in the wider circle and be first point of contact for the team|
|Integrator||To actively look for new team members and welcome them|
|Budget Holder||To manage the financial requests of the team|
As you join the team, you will likely be in contact with either the team Integrator or the Internal Coordinator. They will introduce you to everyone else and you should consider them your first point of contact if you have any questions about the team or your role within it.
Aspects of Coordination
One of the big things we share as a team is the coordination. Despite having roles such as "Internal Coordinator" as part of a team, this does not mean that the person holding that role coordinates everything. It is the responsibilty of the team to coordinate itself.
Here are the different aspects of coordination that each team will encounter:
|Representing the Team||Making connections and feeding back to the wider circle|
|Project Management||Keeping track of progress and highlighting any barriers|
|Checking In||Problem solving in 1-1 sessions as two brains are better than one|
|Team Building||Strengthening the wellbeing and relationships of those in the team|
|Structure||Keeping track of mandates and updating the team's structure on Glassfrog|
|Budget||Managing finance requests and keeping track of budgets|
|Minutes / Facilitation||Ensuring meetings run smoothly and a record of decisions is kept|
|Integration||Welcoming new rebels and ensuring that they land on their feet|
|Communication||Keeping track of team email adresses and ensuring team is contactable|
It is highly recommended that each team shares these responsibilities amongst themselves; so, if you feel that your skills match well with an aspect of the team coordination, please let your Internal Coordinator know.
You will soon notice that each XR meeting you are in has a facilitator. This helps us have ordered and efficient meetings where we don't talk over each other or waste each other's time. We are all very aware that we are here on a voluntary basis, often in our spare time or between other responsibilities. Our time is precious and our work important, so good facilitation is key!
Some teams have a consistent facilitator whereas other choose to change facilitators each meeting to give everyone the change to hone this important skill.
One tool which is universal within XR is the use of handsignals in meetings, both online and in person. The most common handsignals are in the picture on the right.
We have many facilitation tools at our disposal. Here are some which you might encounter or may wish to use.
- Rounds - A round (or go-around) is a tool when everyone in the group is asked to give their thoughts or reaction to something, going one after another in a seated or online arrangement e.g. clockwise around a circle. This is a great tool in making sure that everyone in the group has an equal opportunity to speak and should be used often.
- Pyramiding - Start with an individual brainstorm (a few minutes is usually enough), before going into pairs and comparing ideas. Then, two pairs come together to form a four and between them they share ideas and select their collective favourites. Then this four can share their top ideas with the rest of the group when it becomes time to present back.
- Reflecting - Often helpful when there is a misunderstanding or conflict to let people feel heard. Do a round where individuals can express their feelings on the topic; after each individual has spoken for around two minutes another person reflects back to them what they have said. Doesn't offer opinions or solutions but simply reflects what they heard.
Good facilitation is a skill to be learned and practiced. One important thing to know is when you need help. We have plenty of facilitators in our movement, and sometimes it is most appropriate to ask someone external to your team to facilitate you through a specific process or meeting.
If you are planning what could be a difficult session, or feel like your team is loose in it's use of good facilitation, we encourage you to reach out to either your wider circle or the SOS team of facilitators and someone will be able to step in to help.
There is facilitation training available on the Rebellion Academy, you can find it Here. There is also training available from our SOS teams, so if you are interested in some more in depth sessions.
Culture & Support
Think back to the start of this page, when we asked questions about what made you comforable/uncomfortable in a team and what values would your dream team hold.
Hopefully, you now have an idea of the tools at your disposal to forge that dream team, sharing responsibilities, playing to each others strengths and making open agreements on how exactly you are all comfortable with working together.
This is the start of building the culture of your team.
Sparking a Culture
When we think of our dream team, some of the same words always come up:
Trust / Motivation / Purpose / Direction / Respect / Cohesiveness / Fun / Openness / Safety / Energy / Efficiency
These are often shared values but it can be hard to know how to make them happen within a team. So here are some suggestions, but there are many many more.
Inverting the Question - So it may be hard to know how you build trust in your team, but if you ask "What would erode trust in our team?" it surprisingly seems much easier. Some examples of answers may be:
- We don't do the things we say we are going to do.
- We use violent language or are rude in meetings.
Now that you have identified what would hinder the building of trust, flip them around. If your team did the following things, would you be more likely to trust it?
- We do the things we say we will and, if we don't, we are honest and hand them back.
- We are calm and kind to each other in meetings and celebrate our successes.
These statements can then become the basis of your group agreements as you start to create the culture of your team together.
- Leading by Example - It may be that you want to create a culture where you feel safe to express your emotions or to share the more personal side of your motivations. There is no better place to start than with yourself.
- Often people feel uncomfortable sharing because it's not something they are used to in professional settings. Maybe you start off a round of check-ins by opening up about how you truly feel that day? If you start with "I actually feel exhausted and vulnerable because..." then the check-ins that follow are likely to be deeper than if you started with "Yeah, I'm tired, but okay..."
Remember, XR is not just the work we do but the experience of doing it! We are not here because of an undying passion for spreadsheets (or at least most of us aren't). We are here to change the world, to find a community that shares our values, to connect, to laugh, to cry, to play, the list goes on.
At the end of the day, we are here for each other!
Here are some things we have found during lockdown that have allowed us to get together without the work, blow off some steam and have fun!
- KumoSpace - Invite your team to a video call where they can move between conversations.
- GatherTown - Same as above but you can customise your space and add interactive boardgames and whiteboards.
- Skribbl.io - Online pictionary, slightly competitive and hilarious if you add your teammates names to the custom word list!
- Psych! - An app for your phone which pits you against your team asking silly questions about each other.
This page was written by @Raenyah please contact me if you have any questions or think something needs to be added.
Help I need to step back!
Step 1 Tell your Coordinator.
Step 2 Fill out This Doc to help your team pick up where you left off.
Step 3 Breathe.
We are all volunteers in XR. This comes with some benefits and also some drawbacks. The benefits are clear and include the ability for us to step up when we have time and step back when our circumstances change. We can tailor the time we give to suit our lives, give the things we want to give, and hold back as much as we need for ourselves. There are a lot of aspects to our volunteer structure that are inherently regenerative in nature: after all, we are all crew, we are a family.
However, sometimes we will offer to do things that take much longer than we had expected, or our other responsibilities change after we step up to be a part of a project. There are often conflicting responsibilities for volunteer teams, and this can mean that the team membership changes a lot, or that there are some months where the team just doesn't have the capacity to meet its goals.
We never want to blame our individual volunteers for this. It is not our fault when our situations change. However, we want to make sure that we can change our commitment to XR with the least impact on our teams.
Below are two suggested processes to guide Rebels in stepping back smoothly.
The Gradual Change of Focus
We often step into a team or role in XR to work on a specific project or for a fixed term. As the project or term ends, we may want to change what we are working on or move to another project. We don’t want to leave the role suddenly but we do want to transition our attentions to elsewhere.
- Let your Coordinators know you plan to change focus. It is useful to give as much warning as possible if you plan to move from your team, because they can then redistribute tasks in your absence. But also make a firm end date for yourself - it is all too common for there to be that one last thing to clear up and it could take months for a clean separation! Don’t be afraid to leave some things unfinished.
- Find your new home! If you don’t already know what you want to dive into next then check out the Volunteer Website. You may have used this when you joined XR but it is also a great way to see where help is needed in different parts of the movement.
- Find your replacement if necessary. If your team or project is continuing without you, it would really help if you can help to find someone to replace you. This may mean holding an election for your role or onboarding a new Rebel. Don’t be daunted by finding someone new - we can help!
5 Steps to finding a New Rebel:
- Write up a short role/project description.
- Ask your integrator or IC to post it on the Volunteer Website.
- Once you get a response, reach out to them for a chat, send them the Rebel Starter Pack and give them a run down of the project.
- Introduce the new Rebel to your team and let them shadow you for a week or two so then can slowly pick up the role.
- Make sure you step back at the date you had planned. If possible, stay in contact with your replacement when they need help but make sure they know that the role is now theirs and they should fly!
- Wrap up your loose ends. Take an hour or so to track down the loose ends that you will leave to your team (or teams). This will not only help your team in picking up where you left off but it will also give you a sense of rounding off so that you don’t have to worry while your mind is needed elsewhere.
- Making note of conversations you were having;
- Linking to any documents you were working on;
- Copying over your to do list and any unfinished action points or to-dos;
- Adding a couple of sentences on what your goal for the next few weeks was going to be.
This template loose-ends document may be useful.
Say goodbye to your team. Plan a small social or activity for your team to round off your time with them. We recommend Kumospace to bring larger teams together in a natural mingling way, or an intimate Zoom drinks party. Or you can host an activity, play a game or a gratitude sharing space.
Stay in contact. XR works due to our interconnectivity. In your new role you won’t only bring yourself but you’ll also bring your experience and knowledge of your previous teams. Use it! Make connections, start collaborations and most of all have fun!
The Swift Retreat
Sometimes the need to step back comes quickly and unexpectedly due to family responsibilities, mental health, job applications or many other things. Here is a roadmap for a swift exit which doesn’t leave your team in the lurch.
- Let your Coordinators know that you need to step back. Ideally give them a date (end of the week, after the next meeting etc.) but, if you need to go instantly, that is also okay. The important thing is that your team knows to not expect you to continue doing the work you had been.
- Compile your loose ends. Take an hour or so to track down the loose ends that you will leave to your team (or teams). This will not only help your team in picking up where you left off but it will also give you a sense of rounding off so that you don’t have to worry while your mind is needed elsewhere.
- Making note of conversations you were having;
- Linking to any documents you were working on;
- Copying over your to do list and any unfinished action points or to-dos;
- Adding a couple of sentences on what your goal for the next few weeks was going to be.
This template loose-ends document may be useful.
- Set up auto replies. On your Mattermost or your XR email address set up an auto reply saying that you have stepped back and who to contact instead. This will allow any contacts to connect with your team once you’ve gone. Consider writing a short message in a document that you can copy into your texts or emails if someone contacts you from XR but you cannot set up a generic auto reply for that account. For example:
I’m sorry but I have had to step back from my XR work for the time being. If your question is about X please forward it to email@example.com and if it is about Y then connect to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Love & Rage,
- Take a breath. You have now done everything to help your team continue the work without you. Thank you! Take a moment to yourself to reflect on the amazing things you have done with XR and don’t be surprised if a few Rebels reach out in the coming days to say thank you! Come back when you are ready or good luck in the next adventure!
Mandates in more detail (and how to write them)
We are based on autonomy and decentralisation. Mandates are the building blocks by which we decentralise and mitigate any concentration of power.
We divide all the different types of decision we have to make into mandates, and then we distribute these mandates to the people best able to carry them out. We trust them to do just that, and we hold them accountable if they don't.
So the mandate for a circle or role defines which decisions it can make.
Taking care of our mandates -- recording them, communicating them, updating them -- is critical to how we manage ourselves without managers.
What's in a mandate?
A mandate has three parts:
- a purpose -- the result we want to bring about (e.g. for XR UK the purpose might be 'Achievement of the three demands');
- some clear accountabilities -- the activities we will do to bring about the result;
- some domains, if they’re needed -- the resources (e.g. PA system) or spaces (e.g. website, social media presence) to which we need to regulate access.
What makes a good mandate?
- Short -- rebels need to be able to scan mandates quickly to find the right team, so try to make this easy.
- Clear -- use plain does-what-it-says-on-the-tin terms that rebels don't need training to understand.
- Specific -- each circle or role has a purpose which is part of, or contributes to, the wider circle or which it is part. So focus on what your part of that wider purpose is, and avoid overlapping with areas that other circles might think are part of their mandate.
- None of this means that your team cannot create richly described visions of the world you would like to bring into being, or the strategy by which you might do this. If that helps you achieve your mandate, do it. But it is separate from your mandate, and serves a different function.
- If circles do feel that their mandates are overlapping unhelpfully, then we count this as a tension and one or both circles may work on a proposal to resolve it. This is part of the wider Self-Organising System.
Tips for writing mandates
Everything starts with the purpose. This is the outcome that your team exists to bring about.
Try answering one or more of these questions:
- What would it look like if your team were wildly successful?
- If I fulfilled my purpose, there would be… [what?]
- We imagine a world where… [what? but keep it specific: remember this is what you and your team are creating, not the whole movement]
You should be able to use your answer as a purpose statement.
You can do whatever it takes to achieve your purpose.
Accountabilities are the things that a circle or role does day-to-day, the most commong activities to achieve the purpose.
Try completing the sentence, "I was watching the team (or role) for a while and I saw them…"
- contacting…, communicating…, coordinating…
- creating…, producing…, designing…, making…
- identifying…, analysing…, evaluating…
- supporting…, assisting…, caring for…
- planning…, deciding…
Try to avoid words like 'ensuring' because they usually imply controlling someone else's work.
Think about all the work your circle/role needs to do to fulfil its purpose.
Again, try to keep each accountability to a single concise sentence, so that all rebels can grasp them quickly.
The holder of a mandate has the authority to do whatever it needs to get its accountabilities done, unless it impacts someone else's domain.
(Still want more? Check out this blog post from HolacracyOne for some further guidance on writing accountabilities.)
Domains are things that a role has exclusive control over. These could be physical things (like a PA system or greenhouses) or more abstract things (like payment processes, or event lists).
Only add a domain to a mandate if there is a clear reason for it. Most mandates don't have domains.
What harm would be caused by having no exclusivity? If a role wants the PA system for an event, but finds it has been taken to another event, the former role experiences harm. If lots of people can add, edit or delete events from a list, there could be harm (e.g. from mistaken deletions), but there may not be. Is it safe enough to try?
Scope - important
A circle cannot delegate a mandate that has a wider scope than its own mandate:
- it can't give a role or subcircle a purpose that is not a part of achieving its own purpose;
- it cannot make someone accountable for doing something that it is not itself accountable for;
- it can't add a domain to mandate unless it already controls that domain.
Let's say our circle has been giving a mandate to organise a fundraising party.
We decide we need a role for finding the venue, which we’ll call Venue Finder. Now we need to give the role a mandate so that someone has the authority to find the venue.
Purpose: The party is held in a location with space for dancing and awesome acoustics.
- Contacting, and maintaining a list of, potential venues
- Evaluating the potential venues in terms of access, cost other criteria agreed with relevant roles
- Booking a venue for the date of the party
Should the Venue Finder role might have ‘Food and drinks tables’ as a domain? If they did, the Catering role would have to get permission from the Venue Finder if they wanted to move the tables or buy more tables. It is for the circle to decide, when creating the mandate, whether this is necessary or would prevent the Catering role from fulfilling its own purpose and accountabilities.
The Self-Organising System in more detail
How the SOS empowers rebels and enables us to operate within our principles of being based on autonomy and decentralisation, and of mitigating concentrations of power. How the system distributes power and makes decisions
Empowering the Movement
XRUK’s Self-Organising System (SOS)
There’s a climate and ecological emergency. We can’t waste time. We need to organise in the most effective way to achieve our demands, to be the most successful we can be.
So what works?
XRUK has adopted the self-organising system, because we recognise that this is the best option available to us. It empowers everyone to contribute, it enables people to work autonomously but with accountability to our Principles and Values and to each other. It allows for agility and flexibility, so we can respond to events quickly. XRUK needs empowerment and it needs flexibility.
Let’s learn from those who have gone before us in other civil disobedience movements. A huge amount of research has been done, on all the major civil disobedience movements of the last 100 years. Four main principles seem to be universal:
- We need to be large and broad based. We need many more people to join us, and when they do we will need a robust system that can absorb and empower them.
- Non-violence is much more effective than violence. The SOS enables us to build a non-violent culture in the way we work and communicate with each other.
- We need a large variety of non-violent methods. XR is good at being creative, different, eye-catching, and that is why so many people are drawn to us.
- We need to be highly organised, maintain discipline, and maintain our organisational infrastructure even under pressure. This is where the SOS comes into its own.
The importance of structure
Well-known feminist Jo Freeman has written a lot about this, the tyranny of structureless groups, and how informal structures allow for informal hierarchies to develop. Small groups may be able to organise themselves effectively, but when about ten or more people are trying to organise, they need a structure. And we have to actively choose the right structure before the wrong structure chooses us.
Having the right structure is important because number 7 of our Principles and Values says that we actively mitigate power. (Link to P&Vs). We are against hierarchical power, which we are all familiar with, from school, from work and many other places, and it takes a change of mindset to work in a different way. We need a cultural shift. We can’t swap the structural power of hierarchy for a vague idea, it simply won’t work. We have to find something equally powerful to act against it. Without that, what tends to happen is that the loudest voices in a group rise to the top, and with no system, it's difficult to change that. If an unelected person is running things, people will become unhappy and start leaving the group. We have to actively work for group cohesion, because without that we will achieve nothing.
In fact we can’t mitigate power. Power exists. Power exists in groups as much as anywhere else. It’s power concentrated in just a few hands that’s damaging, because it means everyone else is disempowered. If power is spread to everyone, that is empowerment, which is good. ‘Power to the People’ we say. The self-organising system is about spreading power through the whole movement, so that the people doing the work have the power to make decisions. We don’t have bosses. We are all in charge, which means we have to work things out together, which can be hard sometimes, but it’s worth the effort.
Autonomy and decentralisation
Number 10 of our Principles and Values is about autonomy and decentralisation. These things are at the heart of the self-organising system, and in fact we need a self-organising system in order to live according to this principle.
So how do we go about this?
What non-hierarchical options are there? We could work by consensus, where everyone has to agree to every decision. Again with a small group this can work, but with a large group it is very slow, cumbersome, laborious. With the thousands of rebels we have in XRUK as it is this clearly wouldn’t work, and as we grow bigger it would obviously be daft.
The self-organising system works by spreading power to different roles or working groups, who can make decisions within their roles. They have complete autonomy within their roles, while being accountable to the shared purpose we have, and our principles and values. We see XRUK as a circle (The Hive), with smaller sub-circles within it (e.g. Operations circle), and yet smaller circles within those (eg Actions circle, which again breaks down into more specific roles). The nations and regions of the UK are also sub-circles of the Hive, and the local XR groups are smaller circles within them. The smallest circles communicate with the next widest circle, which communicate with the circle above them and so on. Circles within circles, each having power to fulfil their specific roles. The bigger circles set up the smaller circles, give them roles, written down as mandates or role descriptions, and give them the authority to perform their role.
Consent-based decision making
Most decisions are made within the roles or working groups, but decisions about how we organise things need to be made by the whole group. These decisions are made by consent. If someone wants to set up a new role or working group, the group asks not ‘Do we all like this?’, but instead ‘Is it safe enough to try? Will it cause harm?’. Harm, here, means that it will prevent someone fulfilling their role, or will act against the shared purpose we have. By saying ‘Is it safe enough to try?’ we set the bar low for proposals to get passed, and decisions can be made quickly. The person given the role can then go and work on their role with confidence, autonomy, and creativity, and be innovative. They have no power over anyone else, and no-one has power over them. Everyone knows who’s doing what, which should avoid confusion and the things that need to be done falling between the cracks. If things don’t work, we can change them. A role holder can ask advice from those with more expertise than them, or from people who might be affected in their roles by their decisions, but if we take the advice process too far we end up with a consensus type of working, which will slow us down.
Keeping the self-organising system healthy
Once a self-organising system is set up, it will need constant revision. Needs will change, capacity will increase or decrease, but the system is designed to adapt to change. It is fluid, evolving, and like a garden it keeps growing and we have to choose what work we’re going to do in it, and how it’s going to look.
Healthy ways of working lead to healthy groups, where every voice is heard. Inclusivity is important in XRUK. Groups have meetings. The way we conduct our meetings is fundamental to a well-running self-organising system. Some people feel more confident at speaking up in meetings than others, which may be to do with culture, language, personality or background. A good facilitator will make sure that the meeting is efficient, so as not to waste people’s time (we don’t have time to waste), that everyone has their say, and the meeting isn’t dominated by a few people.
Groups also need good coordination, and should elect an internal coordinator to manage the good functioning of the group and its roles, and an external coordinator to represent the group to the next widest circle. Elections every 3 or 6 months are important, as they allow for other people to take a turn at coordination, and prevent power building up with one person.
Building a Regenerative Culture
Good facilitation and coordination mean we can have a good working culture within the group. We need to take care of each other. This means thinking of people’s needs, and spending time together socially, whether in person or otherwise. This is how we build a regenerative culture in practice. We say ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. If we don’t have a healthy working culture then however good our strategy is it won't work. We work at the speed of trust.
There is much more to say about the self-organising system, and the Self-Organising Systems team in XRUK can provide training, advice, and more resources.
Let’s organise to be the best we can be.
Organising your meetings
These guidelines and resources are designed to help you organise your meetings and keep a record of decisions and action points. They may help you establish a routine where, at the end of each meeting, you have a set of minutes ready to go for the next meeting… because, who likes to write up minutes after a meeting?!
The guidelines include
- a suggested agenda structure for your meetings
- notes on each point in the structure
- a template that you can copy and adapt for your own use
Usually your Circle/Team name and the date
Make it easy for team members to find the links they will need most frequently:
- Time, date and zoom/teleconference link for regular meeting
- Link to Comms Hub page -- so it’s easy for everyone to find the team’s mandate, role descriptions etc
- Review dates for role elections and policies
- Link to team's agenda template, so it is easy to copy for each meeting -- some teams put it at the bottom of the minutes document.
- Archived minutes -- if you keep the current minutes document under 50 pages it should still run quite quickly (longer documents are slow to load and scroll).
Some teams keep their quick links on a single linked page, using start.me or similar services. Here's the SOS team links for example.
A. Assign facilitator & minute-taker
It’s best to name the facilitator at the end of the previous meeting so the facilitator has ample time to prepare. Reviewing the context from the last meeting may inform how the new meeting runs. If this hasn’t been possible then before the new meeting starts, make sure that you have chosen a facilitator and a minute-taker.
It’s better if the minute-taker is on a PC/Mac for ease of access rather than a phone or tablet.
If you are the minute-taker, please type into your team's minutes document.
First, record who took which roles at the meeting:
Minutes: Facilitator: Present:
Everyone present checks in by saying how they are feeling, or what would make it easier for them to be present in this meeting today. This could also include any barriers/things that stop people from being fully present and therefore able to absorb everything including neurodiversity, sensory or physical impairment.
If not everyone knows each other, the facilitator may remind them to state their name and preferred pronouns.
Sometimes check-ins may include each participant mentioning one thing they’re grateful for.
Check-ins helps to enrich the culture, build trust, deepen relationships and prepare the ground for richer, respectful meetings.
C. Culture Reminders
As collective preparation for the meeting ahead, we generally have a reminder of how we aspire to treat ourselves and each other in our work and relationships. We have a series of reminder texts:
- regenerative culture reminders
- vision reminder
- empowerment reminder.
These are included in the meeting template. Please decide within your team which you would like to use. Some teams use this space to do short guided meditations or other regenerative exercises.
The facilitator of the meeting asks someone to read out the reminder or lead the experience.
D. Name the purpose of the meeting
The facilitator checks for broad consent on the purpose of the meeting:
- to go through as many agenda items as possible?
- Or get deep into one?
- Or maybe team connection is more important today?
- Or what?
E. Actions Review of the Minutes of the last meeting
To check that all oustanding action points are in hand and identify steps to deal with any that are not.
This should not develop into a discussion. The facilitator may propose that an agenda item is added for action points that are stuck and defy a quick solution, but then move on, rather than searching for a solution.
The minute-maker may strike through action points that have been resolved -- to do this quickly, select the Action Point and then (PC) press Shift+Alt+5, or (Mac) Command+Shift+X.
F. Feedback from external coordinator on wider circle meetings
To pass on anything relevant to the group's mandate that has come up at other meetings the External Coordinator has attended.
To save meeting time, the External Coordinator may write a short update into the minutes document before the meeting starts.
The the discussion need only cover any clarifications or reactions to this update. If there are none, the update is noted and the meeting moves on.
G. Feedback from link roles
Some teams have roles with a mandate to link to other teams whose work is frequently related to this team's purpose.
As with (F), the Link Roles may write a short update into the minutes document before the meeting starts, to save meeting time.
H. Project updates and reports from subgroups
Again this is not a discussion. Nor is it an opportunity to explain what's been keeping them busy -- unless
- they have been stuck with an issue or tension that the team may be able to help with (this issue may be added to the agenda if it cannot be resolved on the spot) or
- the project is likely to have an impact on others in the team.
Again short written project updates in advance of the meeting can help make the most of meeting time.
I. Build and work through the Agenda
In line with the purpose of the meeting (see D above), the facilitator supports the meeting in integrating and prioritising agenda items
- left over from previous meetings,
- added by participants before the meeting, and/or
- arising from E, F, G or H above.
Items can be prioritised on a scale from 1 (most urgent) to 4 (least). Normally priority 1 & 2 items need to be resolved today; priority 3 & 4 items may be held over to a future meeting without harm.
The name of the person who proposes an item for the agenda needs to be added next to their agenda item.
It really helps if the person bringing an agenda item is clear whether they are just sharing information, looking for feedback or suggestions, or asking the group to make a decision.
The facilitator may request that each agenda item is ‘time-boxed’, e.g. 10 mins - to avoid one item dominating the meeting. Time-boxing gives everyone an indication of whether something is taking too long in the context of the limited time available for the meeting.
As the meeting works through the agenda, the minute-taker needs to type in a summary of the discussion under each of the Agenda points. (This can be rough at first and cleaned up afterwards).
The minute-taker can stop the discussion and ask for clarification if they need to.
J. Date and time of next meeting
Before you close the meeting, always set the date and time of the next meeting and ask for a volunteer to facilitate the next meeting. This allows for ongoing group continuity. The internal coordinator of the group will set up the next meeting and inform/remind the group via Mattermost (and if still using them - Signal/WhatsApp/Telegram group chats, Basecamp etc.), and this will also inform any absent team members when the next meeting will be held. If you have a Telegram group, you can schedule messages so the reminder can be composed right after the meeting and sent later. Just hold down the send button and the option will appear.
K. Culture reminders
As with C above, the facilitator asks someone to read one of the reminder texts, included in the meeting template, to bring the meeting to a close .
L. Closing round
Closing round sharing gratitude for something that has happened in the meeting. (This can just be 1-2 words if time is short.)
M. Preparing for the next meeting
It's helpful if the minute-taker can set up the template for the next meeting. This might include
- collating the action points from the meeting into a list
- copying the blank agenda template and writing in the next meeting date in the title area
- copying the list of action points into section E
- copying any agenda items not discussed into section I