MEMBERSHIP: We may see membership differently

 

My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the director of Intact Academy. We have eight different programmes where we train coaches and consultants, from beginner coach to supervisor, team coach to organisational consultant. I am also the director of Team Agility, where for 35 years I’ve been implementing Agile Business Innovation all over the world. If you want to know more, please go to www.IntactAcademy.com or www.TeamAgility.com. 

I’m talking about membership. We’ve talked about membership at the structural level, at the relational level, and at the psycho-dynamic level. I want to talk about the different types of membership because that could explain membership differences at different levels in different societies. 

Part of the reason I’m giving these webinars is because I’m really concerned about the split in society among people who are willing to adapt to the COVID measures, and those who are not. We all know wearing a mask is not fun, but if it prevents the spread of disease will you do it?  I am interested in membership. 

Part of the reason I think that people adapt or don’t adapt to measures, both in society and organisations, is because they see membership differently. On the whole, we distinguish three different types of membership and perhaps you can check with yourself, what type of member you are at the moment in your group. 

  1. People can join a group voluntarily. For instance, I’m a big dancing fanatic. Some people know I’ve been a salsa teacher for 15 years in my spare time. I had my own school. I joined that membership voluntarily. It was my passion. I wanted to bring part of my culture (I was born in the Caribbean) into my life. So I decided to join.

Of course, like attracts like. So it became more of a personal group where I attracted the people who were up for fun, who wanted to have diversity in the classes, who didn’t adhere to very strict rules about men being leaders and women being followers. We agreed there are leaders and followers, take whatever role you want. Men dance with men, women dance with women, it was all a very mixed bag. 

In my voluntary creation of that group I attracted people who were like minded, and values and ethics became really important. 

People join groups voluntarily if they feel very at ease with the values and ethics. 

  1. Sometimes you join a group by invitation. So it’s optional. For instance, there’s a society of world business coaches, who will remain nameless, where you actually have to be opted in. Where I live, students get opted into housing: you have to be invited. That means it becomes a constrained group. People join because there is a place for them in the structure, and they need the advantages that go with that place. Students opt into that group because they need a room. Sometimes in organizations people join a team because they need the money not because they adhere to the ethics and values. That creates a different class of membership. This has consequences for the leadership of that group as well.

If you look at the big picture, a move to a different country can come about because you love the ethics and values there. If I could, if it was closer I would probably move to New Zealand because I love the ethics and values there. I love the fact that it’s very diverse, that the Maori culture is integrated and supported by society. I am a Dutch national, and I’ve lived in 10 different countries, so I’ve opted into living in Holland. There are some things I love in Holland and some things I don’t love, but also my pension is here. So in part, it’s a constrained group, because I need the advantages that go with citizenship. 

  1. A third type of membership is obligatory. For instance, in some countries when you reach a certain age, it’s obligatory to be drafted into the army. And in an obligatory group, you can be forced to contribute to the group activity. But really, you can never be forced to contribute to the relational network – to its cohesion. In an obligatory group, you see that people are members, and they adapt to the structure and process it in a group. But inside they don’t actually have to adapt to the relationships and the values and ethics of the group.

I remember one of my clients was born and raised in a Jehovah’s Witness family. He broke out and it cost him all of his relationships, which was a sad story. But this is typical of an obligatory group. On the outside, you’re forced to do the activity and to seem to adapt to the ethics and values. There’s a place of freedom inside, which in an obligatory group means the chances there are invisible resistors is much bigger. 

Think of societies where people are forced to adapt. I was fascinated by what happened to China under Mao Tse Tung. Intellectuals were sent to work on the land and farmers were sent to the cities. People were forced to adapt on the outside, but some people never adapted on the inside, and that eventually caused disruption in society. 

When I came to Holland, part of the deal of becoming a member of a certain professional association, was that I was forced to also become a member of a certain insurance organisation. And I resented it. But because it was obligatory, I did it. This resentment will turn into something else as time goes on, I can almost guarantee you that. 

The question is, is your team a constrained group so that people really only want what goes with the organisational structure? Is it a personal group where people adapt to the values and ethics? Or is it obligatory, where you can force people to do the activity but there may be resistance? 

There is of course, a fourth class of membership. And it’s especially relevant today in Holland on Prince’s Day. The new social economic plans are announced by the King. Being a King or a Queen is an accidental membership. It wasn’t chosen. It wasn’t forced. Simply by an accident of birth you become a member of a group. What happens to you if you have accidental membership? You’re part of a structure by birth. You’re in a very exclusive relationship network. Do you adhere to the values and ethics? You’re there for God and country, but what does that do to you in the sense of membership? Is there room to create your own sense of ethics and values? 

The question I want to leave you with is, in your team, organisation or society, are you part of a voluntary group, an accidental group, an obligatory group or optional group? And what consequences do these four types of membership have on your daily life in the group?