3. Congregations

Video Transcript

Welcome back! In this video, I'm going to share with you some more information about congregations. So I'll get into some of the detail about how we organize within our congregation and also name a few different case studies, so you can hear about some of the different contexts where people are using microsolidarity practices.

So first up, just to recap, what is a congregation? It's a group of up to about 200 people. The main thing we do is congregate. We come together occasionally and those congregation gatherings function like a dating pool. It's an opportunity to meet new crew mates. So you get new connections and new opportunities and you might say, Hey, would you be interested in forming a crew with me?

That is the main purpose of a congregation: it's to support crews to form and to support them to exchange lessons and opportunities. That's the primary objective of your congregation. I put such a focus on that purpose because of my experience with communities over the last 10 years or so, noticing that community members who don't have a crew are often the ones who tend to be isolated and disconnected and miss out on a lot of the opportunities and the benefits of community life. It's just been a recurring pattern that the people who have the most joy, the best experiences in communities are the ones who have a great connection in a crew. So now I make it a really explicit focus that when you're new and you're arriving and you're getting oriented in a community, one of your first objectives should be to find your crew.

If you find a crew, then you're likely to find a space of trust. When we go into communities, we support crews to form because it has this benefit for the whole network of increasing trust and increasing coherence. It becomes a really strong foundation of trust and social fabric, a baseline foundation for any upcoming challenges that the community might face. If there's lots of crews, then there are lots of trusting relationships and good communication flows. So it's a way of increasing the resilience as well as the coherence of the community.

Let me give you some more detail about Enspiral. It's my primary community of belonging. It's been around for a little over 10 years. I've been involved for most of that time. The group size fluctuates between about one and two hundred, it comes and goes. The main thing that we do is we support each other to do more meaningful work, and that support comes in many different forms, but mostly it happens in crews. I'm just going to run through and give you some examples of the different types of crews that tend to form within Enspiral. These are the big ones.

So first we have the pod. A pod is a group that is mostly interested in connection, trust, learning, support. The objective of the pod is really to cultivate great relationships and support the people within the pod to grow in some way. It's not really about delivering work externally. It's more about an internal trust-building and connection space.

Then we have, what's called the Working Groups. They're like a committee, I'd say it's like a small group who's focused on doing some kind of constructive contribution to the community. So for example, we have the Brand Working Group and they're in charge of deciding who gets to use the Enspiral Brand and in what conditions; or the Communications Working Group, who looks after the newsletters and keeps people informed about what's happening in the community. So all of the responsibilities for running this network are distributed amongst these different working groups. And anyone in the community can take initiative and say, "I'm going to start a working group on this topic" and recruit a few people to help them. And in this way, the management, the ownership, the leadership in the network is distributed into these many different small groups.

Finally, we have Ventures, sometimes called livelihood pods. These are basically small companies or cooperatives that are doing paid work in the marketplace. So this is a space, for example, you might get some freelancers who are able to make a living on their own as an independent contractor in the marketplace, but they've come together into a pod where they've decided to share some of their income or maybe all of their income. To make it a more resilient, more collaborative style of working rather than being completely independent.

Not everyone is in a venture or a livelihood pod. But the peer support pods, the learning pods are a great place to start practicing the skills of collaboration. They're a great place to start building the connections and developing the trust, so that in the subsequent years, there might be an opportunity for you to form into a livelihood pod and then you'll have the skills and the connections to do so and to do it well.

I've mentioned our gatherings: twice a year in the different regions now, Enspiral is so global we're having gatherings in different parts of the world. Every six months or so, there's a gathering where people can come together for three or four days of in-person connection time. This is where a lot of the new collaborations get initiated by our mutual enthusiasm encountering.

In addition to that, we have online spaces. Some of those spaces are like Zoom, we have online meetings where people can connect and work together. And we also have online discussion forums and spaces to chat and to make decisions online. So there's this interplay between the digital space and the face-to-face encounter.

Let me explain the specific process that we use in Enspiral to support pods to form. First up, there's the Pods Working Group, a few volunteers who have put their hands up, who have taken responsibility for running the pods formation process.

Every six months or so, they'll put out a call for new pods to form, and we try and synchronize this call with the gatherings so that when we've got this peak of enthusiasm and this moment where everyone is paying attention to each other, because they've just been to a gathering, that's the time we'll call for new pods.

The working group will do this by starting an online discussion. It's really straightforward just saying, "Hey, if you're interested in starting a new pod, Leave a comment here, let us know. What's your intention? What time zone are you in?" Which makes coordination a bit easier. And then if you're interested in joining one of these pods, anyone can leave a comment. And from that point, once there's a caller who wants to start a pod and there are some potential people who want to join the pod, then from that point, they just self organise.

Every three months or so, the working group will encourage and remind people to run a retrospective within their pod. That's an opportunity to pick up any lessons, what have we learned about working together in a crew? They will collect those lessons together and share them with the rest of the network. So over time, we're building up a collection of resources and experiences, so that subsequent pods have an easier time because they've learned from the previous ones.

In general, the approach within this working group is to encourage maximum self-organization, minimum hand-holding. The working group will encourage people, it'll send reminders, it'll provide resources and run these retrospectives. But it's up to the individual members of the community to actually bring that initiation to say, "I'm willing to call a pod" or "I'd like to join one". It's not up to the working group to start the pods.

If you're interested in more of the detail, like really looking at the specifics of the processes that we use, everything is documented pretty well in the Enspiral handbook.

I want to share some examples of other communities besides Enspiral to show you how the patterns of microsolidarity are being reproduced in different contexts.

So let me start with the Cultural Catalyst Network. It's a community of practice for people who are working at the intersection of personal interpersonal and systemic change. That's a particular approach to activism where it's not just about changing the world, it's also changing myself and changing my relations. The way that they bring new people into this community of practice is with a cohort-based training. Much like the microsolidarity practice program, where there's some lessons, there's some activities, there's a group of people coming together at once. The catalyst network will bring people in, in a cohort together.

This is I think quite a compelling way to bring new members into a community because it means, once you've gone through that cohort training, you've met a lot of people, you've got a lot of information, you have got a lot of shared things to talk about because of that first introduction. So that seems like a really strong way to bring new people in.

They, like Enspiral, have self-organizing peer support crews. They might meet weekly, some of them maybe on a slightly slower frequency. But again, that's where most of the activity is happening. Once you've gone through that onboarding cohort, then it's up to you to self organize and find your own peers and get your own crews running.

There's also some online meeting spaces. I think they have a meeting every three months or so. They might get together to talk about an important issue for their community, or it might be just an opportunity to meet some new people and exchange lessons. And then they also occasionally have in-person gatherings like you can see.

They are occasionally open for new members to join. So you can leave a note on their website if you're interested in that. I think they're really cool.

Pico island is a small island off the coast of Portugal and the Atlantic ocean and the congregation there is meeting in person. So unlike the previous examples where there's digital connection, this is completely face-to-face. People living within a few miles of each other within an extended neighborhood. They have a congregation where they meet regularly for sharing circles. Every few weeks they'll get together and that's a space for people to meet, to connect, to share stories, to do activities, to start to build a sense of connection and neighborliness with each other.

Out of that connection, projects have started to form. So there's various crews forming out of this congregation. I think the first one was an animal sanctuary and now there are lots of creative projects, art projects, music projects, there's all sorts of different activities starting to blossom out of this soil of connectivity.

They also have biannual gatherings. That seems to be a very strong recurring pattern, all of the congregations that I know have the culture of gathering; that commitment to spending a few days together. I think the last one was four days, maybe five days together, where everyone can be on the same land and have plenty of time without any distraction, just focusing on the community. That seems to be a crucial component of the community life. And if you want to know more detail about how these gatherings work, I've got a couple more videos to share on that as well.

One of the reasons I love the Pico Island congregation is because their documentation is so strong. They're really committed to publishing everything they learn as they go. So even if you're on the opposite side of the planet, you can read everything that they're learning and integrate it into your own experiments.

This last example may be a little unexpected, but even at the UN, they are experimenting with Microsolidarity. Obviously it's a big old fashioned bureaucracy, it's a huge organization, but within that hierarchy, there are multiple voluntary networks. People are getting organized into microsolidarity crews to create more connection, more trust within the organization. These are spaces for peer coaching, so people can get advice and support from each other. They're spaces where people can learn, take courses together and get some accountability and support from their colleagues. And they're spaces for culture-change: they're spaces to practice different ways of organizing than what they're used to in their everyday work.

I wanted to share this example just to show you some of the potential of how the patterns of microsolidarity can be applied in many different contexts. What I'm trying to demonstrate is that the framework is simply to capture some practices, some protocols of encounter, some ways of relating to each other. It's really up to you to decide who do you want to use these practices with and for what purpose? It could be anything from the more hippie community of Pico Island to the quiet stuffy organization of the United Nations or something completely different that I would never think of. So I'm really excited every time I hear about a new community that's using these microsolidarity patterns because it's surprising me every time.


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