Wednesday, December 01, 2010

136. "The Tyranny of Structure-lessness"

Since I am on a roll with the whole structure and organization piece, are several excerpts from a  chapter in controversial book, but insightful nonetheless about group dynamics and structure. The book Radical Feminism was written to bolster and guide the feminist movement. This particular social movement had some pretty strong reactions to hierarchy, authority and power. There are some pretty obvious parallels with some of the folks who gravitate towards a more organic, simple church environment. Jo Freeman, in her chapter "The Tyranny of Structurelessness" (download PDF copy here), while speaking specifically to the feminist movement, has some insightful things to say to those who are over reacting to organization and structure and go to an extreme of saying they do not want any organization or structure at all.

"If the movement is to move beyond these elementary stages [of structurelessness] it will have to disabuse itself of some of its prejudices about organization and structure." p. 286

"...the idea of structurelessness does not prevent the formation of informal structures, only formal ones...Thus 'structurelessness' becomes a way of masking power...As long as the structure of the group is informal, the rules of how decisions are made are known only to a few and awareness of power is curtailed to those who know the rules. Those who do not know the rules and are not chosen for initiation must remain in confusion." p. 286-287

"If the movement continues to deliberately not select who shall exercise power, it does not thereby abolish power. All it does is abdicate the right to demand that those who do exercise power and influence be responsible for it. If the movement continues to keep power as diffuse as possible because it knows it can not demand responsibility from those who have it, it does prevent any group or person from totally dominating. But it simultaneously insures that the movement is as ineffective as possible." p. 297

Those who have seen or experienced overly bureaucratized, authoritarian, or legalistic forms of organization and leadership need a time to detox and heal, but structure is neutral, not demonic.It is interesting that a refusal to put some level of structure in groups actually conceals the existing power relations in the group. Alliances form and people who are not included in the phone calls, the house visits and conversations that eventually contribute to the direction of the group are oblivious to the process of how the group is being shaped by people in the group. A formal process for making decisions, identifying people who make decisions helps hold those people accountable and also helps people know what the process is so they can either contribute to the process or opt out. Either way, putting the structure out there for people to see opens up the leadership t the group, but also allows people in the group to lead in healthy, accountable ways. The question is not whether or not you will have organization. The question is, will you operate off of purely informal structure or a blending of formal and informal. There are liabilities with each approach, but we have to know the liabilities if we are going to be able to negotiate them and avoid them when possible. We are all familiar with the liabilities of too much structure. But "structurelessness" is a myth. There will be structure. The question is, will it be formal or purely informal. To ensure everyone has the opportunity to exercise power, ironically, you need a formal structure, even though that very kind of structure can evolve in ways that disallow people to exercise power in the group. It is what Berg and Smith call a paradox.

It is interesting that Freeman notes that the thing that can pull a group out of this conundrum is adopting a task, or as we would say, a mission. Mission is the organizing principle of the church, which means you organize not for organization sake, but to accomplish the mission. If the structure impedes you from accomplishing the mission, you use another structure, or scale down on the existing one. Once again, mission comes to the fore as a healthy check on features that by themselves can become oppressive and paralyzing.

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