MEMBERSHIP: A Network of Relationships
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.
We’re talking about membership. I talked about the importance of recognising that membership is partly a structure, a relationship and a construct of values and ethics. We talked about the structure, now I want to talk about membership as a relationship.
You can imagine that once you become a member of the structure, you are also in a network of relationships. Partly people become members because they want this relationship. Membership brings belonging and becoming part of a whole. We’re born in a team, a family, a system. So we learn membership in that system very early. What kind of relationships are there? Do I accept the hierarchy in this family or not? This early experience reflects on how you later become a member of society.
In your family of origin, you learn how to relate, not only upwards but also outwards and inwards. You learn to relate to your superiors (your parents), but you also learn how to relate across, with your peers, your sisters and brothers. Later you learn how to relate outwards, with society and nature. And maybe later in life through your life experiences you learn more about relating inwards, with yourself. That’s how you form your identity and relationship formats.
Now, within that relationship we distinguish two things that are of importance for membership:
- What is your persona? How much can you be yourself in a relationship or in an organization or society? Being a member means that you’re constrained. To belong to any group or society there are areas where you compromise your own proclivities. In organisations and societies where there’s a lot of room for personas there’s a lot of freedom to show character differences within a role.
This is important to remember for the responses to COVID.
- Being in a relationship also means that you accept your position in the constellation of relationships. What is your place in the social ranking? Do you have an informal role?
The fallacy of being part of a network of relationships
Being part of a network of relationships within society or within an organisation does not mean you can be yourself. This is a fallacy in most people’s thinking, “A great group or a great society is a place where I can be myself completely.” But the truth of the matter is, anytime you join a network of relationships, there’s part of you that you give up, part of you that you adapt to belong within society.
Of course, the measure to which you do that, how much negotiation room there is, determines the freedom in a society or in an organisation. Nevertheless, no matter how free the society or the organisation, there’s always a place where you cannot be yourself.
There’s a very subtle process that goes on when you become a member of a network of relationships, where there’s a moment where not only are you accepted in the structure, but depending on your degree of adaptation to the relationships, you’re also accepted in the relationship. That’s the moment where you truly become a member.
I’m following what’s happening on Lesbos, Moria refugee camp. I’m a frequent visitor to the island, so I know for a fact that it contained more than 17,000 migrants. Refugees in a camp meant for 3000. Everyone in that camp got one litre of water per person per day. Imagine the summer with 35 degrees, and just one litre of water per person. Sixteen toilet blocks for 17,000 people.
If you enter as a migrant, or as a tourist on a Greek island, you’re a guest in that network of relationships. What does that mean? Do you adapt? How much? It depends on the freedom of character. When are you allowed to revolt and protest against it? And what does it mean for the belonging in the network of relationships?
Obviously, by burning down the camp the migrants are seen as outsiders in the network of relationships. I know for a fact that before the migrants were partly seen as an element in the network. A lot of the people of the islands actually helped them to survive in that camp. It’s a tragic example of a systemic failure.
I’ve often experienced it and I’m sure all of you have to: how much do you adapt? How much do you want to be yourself in that network of relationships that also encompasses membership?
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