Sunday, January 3, 2016

Nimble Membership

Every organisation, from a small business to a large nation, relies on its members collaborating to secure what is sought by those members. It is vital that it is capable of handling the membership issue adroitly and effectively. An organisation that does not have enough members to meet its objectives, has too many that it cannot meet their needs, or worst of all, loses track of who is or is not a member, is heading towards a crisis.

A nimble membership system is essential because even with a small group, circumstances can change and the group may need to adapt to continue its core mission or meet new demands. And the addition or loss of just a few members in a small group can have a proportionately large impact compared with the same numbers being altered in a large organisation.

But while a small, local group can maintain relatively close relations with all its members, and people have a good understanding of what each other does, potential remoteness is a problem that can grow exponentially for organisations the size of a large institution or a national government.

To ensure an organisation has a good grasp of who is and is not a member, and why that status should change or not under different conditions, a membership system should be responsive enough to address four key issues.

First, is there to be a core membership? Different nations still debate who residing in them should be granted membership (citizenship). Some accept that those born in it will qualify, while others maintain that it may not be enough. Similar questions can be raised about businesses that share their proceeds with the families of some of their members but not others. And are there categories of founding or life membership that carry with them particular entitlements? How are these reciprocally agreed with other members?

Secondly, there is the question of new members to be brought in. Under what conditions should additional members be considered, and what criteria will they need to meet? What offers and requirements will form the terms to be presented to new members? Not addressing these matters thoroughly and transparently can destabilise any organisation. A business may fail to recruit the talent it needs or it may bring in unsuitable people as a result of the bias of the ones taking recruitment decisions. A country may be short of workers for certain roles because the government of the day refuses to allow them in, or it may be damaged by an influx of exploiters who buy up valuable assets and leave existing members vulnerable.

Thirdly, the criteria for exit should be carefully considered and settled. This applies to voluntary requests to leave (can members just leave? do they have to give notice? what can they take with them?), and to involuntary exclusion (sacking from a firm, redundancy arrangements, sent to prison, exile from a country, deportation of those with temporary membership, etc).

Lastly, group-wide alterations to membership are often overlooked until they arise. When may a group dissolve itself, join through a merger or a federated arrangement with one or more other groups, or disengage from a larger group to form a new smaller group? These changes affect all who work in the affected businesses, and have vast implications for those living in countries that may undergo restructuring of sovereign powers (e.g., Scotland leaving the UK, the UK leaving the European Union, or Scotland joining the EU after becoming independent from the UK).

In the context of synetopia, a membership system can only deal with all the above issues if it takes on board the need to establish a shared mission, embed mutuality, and the other key elements involving collaborative learning and democratic decision-making, etc. In practice, all too often attention is deflected to rushed debates about these fundamental issues, when the focus should be on using the criteria drawn up with due deliberations to act swiftly to respond to demands for membership changes.

Checklist of Appraisal Questions:
Is there a sustainable and non-discriminatory process to recruiting, inducting, rejecting & expelling members?
Do members know what is expected of them individually?
Is there a clear decision path for assessing membership issues such as merger/federation with other groups?
Are there too few or too many members to function effectively?
How confident are current members about the reliability of the process of accepting/excluding people as members?

[For a complete list of essays covering the 9 ‘SYNETOPIA’ elements, look up ‘Guide to Synetopia’]