MEMBERSHIP: The Structure of Membership: I and We


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 or 

Today I want to talk about membership. It’s something that’s preoccupying me in these COVID times. I don’t know about your countries, but here in Holland, I can see a definite split . On the one hand people who want to keep the COVID rules. And on the other hand, a group of people who are resisting COVID measures. The way I look at it, it’s really a very deep division between:

  • people who consider themselves individual members of a group focused on their own well being within society, and, 
  • people who feel they’re part of a tribe, where they’re actually adapting to whatever measures are good for the tribe. 

This division between people who think in terms of personal well being and people who think in terms of tribal well being is becoming greater. I call this the division between “personal” versus “society”. “I” versus “we”. 

What is membership? 

I see leadership as three different things: 

  1. Leadership is a position in a structure, you’ve got a role in a hierarchy. 
  2. It’s a relationship, you are guiding people. 
  3. It’s also a symbol because you stand for the ethics and values in a group. 

Membership is a mirror to this. Membership is a position. As part of the hierarchy, you are a subordinate to somebody else. Within that you have a role and responsibilities just like leaders have. The question is, if you’re a member do you accept being in that structure?

What I see as a COVID reaction, for instance, is many people are a member of a structure in society, but they don’t actually accept that they’re subordinate to that structure. In some countries it’s easier, as they are used to being subordinate to a hierarchical structure. But for instance, in the Netherlands where I live people don’t accept structure very much. They’re used to determining their own structure. The questions are: are you in that structure for your personal well being? Or are you there for the well being of society as well? It’s a difficult balance. 

I’ve lived in 10 different countries to date, most recently Hungary, Sweden and the Netherlands. My joke about membership structure is to watch how people keep to the traffic rules. 

  • In Hungary, traffic rules are a suggestion. If there’s a speed limit it’s at your discretion, and some people do whatever they want to. It’s not part of their DNA to submit to the rules (and given the historical context this might be termed a strength). 
  • In Holland, traffic rules are kept as long as there’s somebody else watching. If people don’t think there are speed cameras, they won’t keep to the speed rules. So, in Holland rules are kept when there’s supervision
  • I’ve also lived in Sweden. From one tip of the country to the other it’s a 24 hour drive. Even in the middle of the forest, people keep to the speed limits. No people, no cameras, just moose and deer, and drivers still keep to the speed limits because in Scandinavian countries, following the rules for the well being of society is part of their DNA. 

Being a member means accepting the structure, with all the roles, hierarchy, processes in place, until you decide to leave or the majority decides otherwise. 

Published On: October 1st, 2020By
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