I look in the mirror and nervously adjust my hair, trying not to look too rigid. Opening my laptop, I take a deep breath before clicking the Zoom link to my first General Circle Meeting at Sustainable Economies Law Center. I’m just a few weeks into my new job. I’m nervous and excited to join the first gathering where I’ll be “meeting” all my new colleagues in one place.
It’s July 2020. The very beginning of the pandemic. Confusion and disbelief balance the fear of what a global pandemic means for the world. I’m sad I’m not meeting my colleagues in person and uneasy that it’s unclear when that may happen in the future.
I’ve never worked 100% remotely. And I certainly have never worked in a Worker Self Directed Non-profit (WSDN). Big personal changes during a time of massive global change and upheaval.
Back to the Zoom mosaic of mostly unfamiliar faces. After a quick round of check-in’s, our meeting facilitator, Greg, walks us through the agenda. The way he holds space for the meeting is entirely new to me. He’s facilitating the meeting, but mostly listening to the needs of those who have brought discussion items or proposals.
After someone introduces a proposal, Greg walks us through several rounds of intense questions, asked by anyone who has them. In this meeting, there is no chit chat and nearly everyone has a question. Once questions are thoroughly exhausted, we have a feedback round, followed by an objection round. My goodness, the rigor! But what really surprises me, is right before we do our final vote on the proposal, Greg asks the person bringing the proposal:
“Did you get everything you need before we move forward?”
That one simple question exposed assumptions I had about the purpose of these meetings and the power of the meeting facilitator.
I thought that the meeting was a space for those with the most power to come and express their ideas and assign work. I thought since the facilitator was directing the meeting, they had all the power.
I learned in that one question, the facilitator has the difficult job of making sure everyone who comes with a request has enough space to get feedback, support, and information from the group. In our worker self-directed non-profit, a good facilitator holds the group's expectations and is there to make sure everyone is comfortable with the process. Just because you run the meeting, doesn’t mean you own the meeting!
The Law Center’s Circle meeting process brought up unconscious ideas I hold about power and authority.
After this eureka moment, I started having meta understandings of work and power in every interaction, in every meeting, and in every discussion.
For example, the first time I really felt like I needed help, my thoughts still went straight to: “Ask your boss which colleague can help you.” *Sweaty Smile Emoji* Why does my brain automatically defer to an authority figure to connect me with help? Once I figured out who on the team could help me, I had to take a few deep breaths before writing them a message. I even had a few moments of doubt and fear before I hit send. While I went through this process, my meta brain yelled, “Jeez, why are you wrapping up so much of your self worth in this small ask? Yes you’re new here, but you need to advocate for yourself.”
After working in traditional hierarchical organizations for over 12 years of my professional life, how do I let go of unhelpful thoughts and habits? Even my meta brain sounds like an uncompassionate boss! I feel the edges of internalized workplace hierarchy with every new adjustment I make as a self-directed worker. Learning to work with my new colleagues within this structure is itself Work. And hard work at that.
Who am I as a worker without a boss telling me what to be?
As I continue to grow into my role at the Law Center, I find myself ruminating on this question more and more. It’s a helpful prompt for me to unearth personal insights and a-ha moments. I’ll continue to confront my unconscious assumptions and habits around how I work, and share what I find here on this blog.
For those interested in how to begin a worker self directed non-profit, we have a toolkit chock full of information on how to establish and run a self governing organization, and a forthcoming video series.