On size, structure, and conflict in community organizations

Discussed at board meeting earlier in May - Where are we as an organization? Do any of these descriptions sound familiar? What are the themes of our conflicts? Who are “key high-functioning members”? What applies to us/does not apply?

"Family size" - under 75 members
Governance: by key high-functioning members
Leaders - focus on personal relationships
Fights: Feuds between key members

"Midsize" - 75-140 members
Governance: key high-functioning members, but new groups forming, new leaders cultivated
Small group of Leaders/Board - center of programs and bringing in new members
Fights: Are over the attention and focus of the leaders

"Transitional size" - 140-225 members
Governance: key members still active, but many new groups and subgroups, some outside engagement, relationship-building with other communities
Small group of Leaders/Board - Stretched, needing additional staff, but resources may not be there
Fights: Over inclusion, information/communication, attention and focus of leaders

"Program size" - 225-800 members ATXHS’ size
Governance: Committees have power, key leaders/board moves to oversight/direction - more relational and less task-focused.
Small group of leaders /Board are Administrators, delegators. Danger of micromanaging.
Fights: Over resources and priorities

"Resource size" - 800+ members
Governance: staff, committees have less power
Small group of leaders are managers of operation,
Fights: Between program units and staff

Source: Episcopal Church Foundation, 2012

Personally, when I think about ATXHS, and i look at how organizations grow, I think that we’ve functioned as a “take what you need” type space for the last few years, but in terms of our sustainable growth, we sort of skipped the part where we cultivate leaders who were not founders/high-functioning members, and/or ate our young (potential leaders) by being disorganized and yelling. At some point, the lack of institutional organization became habituated as “the board never does anything, they are the ultimate authority and yet do nothing, if I am dissatisfied, I should yell at those bozos.”

Key questions I have:
–Who are our committees and what is their work? Workshop team, Laser team, Reopen team. Do they have power? Are they accessible to some or many? Are they holding responsibility?
–We wrote a member handbook last year in large part because ppl kept complaining about toxicity, and because helpful and interested volunteers left or stepped back because another member would act aggressively or inappropriately with them, and we had no structures to create the culture we actually wanted to have, intentionally. This has helped to support building our volunteer base and supportive culture. At what point do community organizations typically do that? Are we on-schedule or late with that? Loved “be excellent” but it was short on specifics to help us pinpoint what wasn’t working.
–This talks about who’s involved in governance, but I’m also interested in how Governance changes over time.
–Focus now in our phase seems to me to be working on building stronger small teams to support specific functions in the shop.
–Have we caught up enough in terms of institutional debt (papers, documents, systems in place) to put our focus back onto recruiting and supporting volunteers? Can we do that before board members burn out and we lose their work input/institutional knowledge?
–Committees/teams ideally help build and grow leadership structures. If we don’t strengthen our team structures, I’m concerned we’ll keep either having trouble filling board seats OR continue our (cringey) pattern of doing angry coups to change leadership. People who come in after an angry coup likely don’t have the benefit of on-boarding from previous leaders, any sense of which issues are pressing, it creates more org debt and high emotion as people spend weeks and months finding their own way with issues and processes that the organization’s already figured out (people-hours were spent, but if there’s no cooperation/transition plan, then those people-hours are wasted).