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Ask EcoGirl

A syndicated eco-advice column
Written by Patricia Dines

"Encouraging the eco-hero in everyone!"

"Making it easy to be green!"

This Month's Column:
Building Effective Community Teams

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Building Effective Community Teams

By Patricia Dines
Published in the Sonoma County Gazette
October 2013
(c) Patricia Dines, 2013. All rights reserved.

As I consider how we can help our culture steer away from eco-disaster, I think community groups play a key role. At their best, they allow us to channel our shared people power into reclaiming our lives, health, communities, and planet from the destructive and unconscious (but organized and well-funded) elites.

I also very much appreciate folks who participate in community groups. I understand the challenges of being largely unpaid, taking on serious issues, engaging with varied personality types, and straying from our culture's focus on entertainment and individual gain.

However, I think common negative dynamics in such groups can discourage participation and harm results.

Thankfully, we can all contribute to healthier dynamics, so groups can better fulfill their potential. Plus, the skills we develop here can benefit us in all areas of our lives, and cumulatively improve our culture's overall dynamics.

What's vital is for everyone in a group to pitch in. It only takes one person playing by abusive covert Machiavellian rules to spoil the whole project.

Here are some key tips I've developed for creating positive dynamics, based on my various experiences, including with some amazing teams -- and ones that could've been great. I hope these ideas help our shared learning process.

Key Constructive Steps

1) Recognize the unique challenges of community groups. Everyone there likely feels pressure, for the reasons I mention above. So the group is a potential powder keg, and our actions can either inflame or soothe the dynamics.

2) Commit to developing skillful approaches to community groups. We can't just treat them like business meetings, where people are motivated by financial and career rewards. Nor can we use social group principles, where people tend to have similar styles, choose to "be nice," and defer to harmful hierarchies. Instead, getting results requires that we systematically encourage positive personal and professional dynamics.

3) Actively nurture safe space that welcomes different styles. Sharing ourselves and learning about each other is key to creating a foundation for healthy relationships. This is especially vital at a group's start, when the bonds are tentative, fragile, and fluid.

4) Seek to understand different viewpoints. Look past your own beliefs in order to see the value in each person's unique style, gifts, and needs. Don't make negative assumptions about others. Ask questions to understand what's important to them.

5) Look for ways to support your teammates. What can you appreciate? How can you encourage their best selves and bridge differences? Especially support those who make an effort to initiate. Don't look first to critique.

6) Expect conflict; help it be useful. Don't try to suppress, attack, or avoid it. The process of negotiating differences is how we create our team's approach to the work. But we can't get there if people respond to the smallest discomfort either by exiting or unfairly attacking others, without even trying to negotiate.

7) Offer, and be receptive to, constructive proposals and requests. Look to create win/win outcomes. Don't skip doing this, then attack people for failing to magically know and meet your needs!

8) Step up. If you see something that could be done better, offer to help. Develop quality ideas to serve the group. Contribute to the evolving process. Don't be an armchair quarterback, demeaning others without being on the field. Passivity corrodes momentum, burdens others, and encourages toxicity.

9) Learn to identify and constructively respond to what I call "warlike" behavior. That's when someone only cares about their views and needs, treats their opinions as facts, makes nonfactual identity-based personal attacks, doesn't care who they hurt, doesn't offer useful proposals, takes no responsibility for their choices, and/or refuses to negotiate for win/win outcomes. They might even seem charming, nice, or passive; this is about how they relate to differences.

This behavior will harm the group, so it's important to address. But don't respond in warlike ways. Instead, talk with the person (privately if possible) and invite them to have a mutually-respectful and collaborative conversation. If they refuse and continue this behavior, consider asking the group about its desired style, or reducing your role (in a non-blaming way).

Also, by uprooting warlike behavior in ourselves, we can improve our happiness, relationships, and results. For more on this topic, see www.patriciadines.info/EcoGirl7b.html. [That's this page!].

 • • •

Ask EcoGirl is written by Patricia Dines, Author of The Organic Guides, and Editor and Lead Writer for The Next STEP newsletter. Email your questions about going green to <EcoGirl [at] AskEcoGirl.info> for possible inclusion in future columns. View past columns at www.AskEcoGirl.info.

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"EcoGirl: Encouraging the eco-hero in everyone."

© Copyright Patricia Dines, 2013. All rights reserved.

"Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively
as those who love war."
-- Attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr.


Letter to the Editor:
Oct. 24, 2013
Hello Vesta,
I very much enjoyed the column "Building Effective Community Teams" this month written by Patricia Dines. I found Ms. Dines' observations of group interactions quite interesting and it gave me some reference from which to reflect upon why I myself generally rarely participate in groups. In the military we had a clear chain of command and standard operating procedures. Civilian volunteer groups do not at all function in a like manner and unfortunately can either fall short, or miss the primary objective in it's entirety due to dissolution of the team.
Ms. Dines' positive attitude and thought provoking suggestions in the column are ones that I hope will assist people in working harmoniously towards a common goal as a more cohesive and effective unit. And have a lot more fun doing what matters most to their hearts!
Thank you again for your paper and for having writers well worth reading.
Samuel, Windsor


Action Groups: The First Meeting (May 2013)
Protecting our individual well-being must include acting at the community level, because sometimes that's the best, or even only path, to solution. And community action groups can help us amplify our power there. However, people often start action groups without realizing that they require specific skills. Even folks experienced in other aspects of community work can make basic avoidable errors that harm their cause and rebuff interested people. To help community groups get started on a good foundation, EcoGirl offers her list of six key first meeting errors, and their remedies. May they help improve our overall results!
Creating Sane Group Dynamics (October 2011)
A key way that we can work on eco-issues is through community groups, which allow us to join together in creating a better world. However, these groups are often so fraught with unproductive conflict and covertly harmful personal dynamics that people can shy away from them. Does it have to be that way? Or can we create productive and enjoyable experiences? In this piece, EcoGirl shares her thoughts about how we can constructively take on these groups' inherent challenges in order to build effective teams, move community issues forward, and support our own personal growth!

* More articles are in my EcoGirl Theme Taking Effective Action (on Ecological & Community Issues)


I'm delighted to offer you my Ask EcoGirl booklets, "Healthier Housecleaning" and "Detoxing Your Life." These unique, handy, and cheerful resources bring together key information you need to create a healthier home for your family and the planet. They make a great gift, and quantity discounts and wholesale prices are available. Plus all sales support my eco-healing community work. Tell a friend! Find out more at www.askecogirl.info/booklets.html.

For more information on related eco-topics, see my other Ask EcoGirl columns.


Ask EcoGirl is written by Patricia Dines, Author of The Organic Guides, and Editor and Lead Writer for The Next STEP newsletter, which gently educates readers about toxics and alternatives. For more information about my work for the planet, see www.patriciadines.info

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I hope that you find this information useful. I welcome your throughts and feedback! (You can email me at info [at] askecogirl.info.)

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This entire website is (c) Patricia Dines, 1998-2013. All rights reserved.
Page last updated 11/21/13