Our program success requires an ongoing and thoughtful evaluation of our internal organizational culture. In 2017, iBme adopted a Collaborative Leadership model and began implementing several initiatives to expand our collaborative consciousness and capacity. These policies are one step towards achieving our vision of accountable, transparent, diverse leadership and governance.
Within our Collaborative Leadership system, decisions are distributed based on each person’s and committee’s roles and responsibilities, willingness, and resources. Designing and implementing internal frameworks rooted in inclusive and shared power paradigms will prepare us to serve more youth from vulnerable communities and to work with more diverse teachers and staff. The five core systems outlined in the Bay Nonviolent Communication Collaboration in the Workplace model include (1) distributed decision making, (2) feedback flow, (3) information flow, (4) resource flow, and (5) conflict engagement.
Since 2017, we have established effective distributed decision making and feedback systems within our office staff. In 2019, we focused on including our Board and field staff (teachers, mentors, and managers) explicitly in these efforts. In 2020, we established more equitable and effective information flow, resource allocation, and conflict resolution protocols. In 2021, we are fully implementing the committee, working group, and board structure outlined in the visual below.
As we continue this work we recognize that, while it might seem new and innovative within our current dominant culture of organizational management, collaborative leadership systems have existed and thrived in many human societies, particularly among Indigenous Peoples. This Medium article by Jessica Prentice provides an important perspective on one of our guiding resources, Reinventing Organizations.
Five Core Systems
The second core system of collaboration that we have focused on since 2017 is decision making. Our vision for this work is a deliberative and distributed decision making process. iBme’s Staff and Board Decision Making Matrix is our tool for clarifying as a team who owns which decisions, and how the rest of the team can be involved. Our decision making matrix creates transparency around authority and allows all staff to be involved in decisions where they have interest and skill. We’ve also seen that it allows the organization to function more effectively and efficiently by avoiding decision making bottlenecks that can be common in more top down systems.
The Decision Matrix has also allowed us to balance multiple project needs with Staff and Board capacity. When working with teens and other special populations, it is extremely valuable to take the necessary precautions to prevent burnout, as this work can be very intensive, particularly during peak retreat season. At iBme, many of our staff wear multiple hats – regularly taking initiative to act as retreat managers, teachers, mentors, and so forth. Implementing transparent and collaborative decision making systems that center universal human needs assists us in fostering healthy interpersonal relationships between Staff and Board members and to avoid burnout.
While we continue to be nourished and inspired by the feedback of our teens and families, we are eager to collectively pursue more effective modes of peer and self assessment. At iBme, we recognize that sharing feedback is often considered ‘counterculture.’ We are making an active choice to engage in feedback through our discomfort, and we welcome the challenge to embody the transformation we wish to see in our world so we can both learn from challenging situations and celebrate the many moments of joy that this work brings us.
Our vision for our feedback system is to create accountability to purpose, values, and specific criteria rather than to a person in power. Feedback in all directions defies ‘top-down’ values and fosters a more inclusive form of governance that leaves all staff accountable to one another. Within this system, every voice matters.
Here are some measures we have taken to ensure that we are engaging in regular, healthy feedback.
Between Field Staff and HQ Staff
- Within two weeks following retreat, there is a post retreat feedback call held with the retreat staff and HQ.
- Post Retreat evaluation forms are filled out by the Field Staff members and read by HQ.
- HQ Staff works closely with paid Field Staff (managers, teachers, health coordinators, outreach coordinators) to provide ongoing feedback directly to Field Staff. Program staff has instituted feedback loops between Field Staff and Program team, but not all departments have integrated this system. This is an opportunity for future policy development.
Between HQ Staff Members
- Our HQ staff members conduct regular feedback meetings in one-on-one sessions, following staff meetings, and during 90-day and annual reviews.
Between HQ Staff and Board Members
- Feedback is utilized for recurring meetings and group projects to make improvements to meeting and project team effectiveness.
- Our entire staff participates in Board meetings to support the flow of feedback in all directions.
- Policies have been established and documented in the Board Responsibilities contract to support feedback between Board & Staff. Board Members have asked for formal training on this so that it can be instituted on a regular basis as the policy outlines.
Between Board Members
- Policies have been established and documented in the Board Responsibilities contract to support feedback between Board Members. Board Members have asked for formal training on this so that it can be instituted on a regular basis as the policy outlines.
Between Field Staff Members
- We developed materials and trained our field staff team on the feedback policy. This is in its early stages and requires more support in the future to ensure it is utilized and the team has the support they need to exercise these new skills that can conflict with societal norms.
Between Field Staff and Board Members
- There is not currently a policy or system for feedback to be shared between these two parties. There is opportunity to develop this for the future which would increase transparency at all levels of the organization.
Between HQ Staff and Program Participants
- Our HQ staff is committed to requesting feedback from all teens and parents who interact with our retreat programs and online programs.
- Immediately following each retreat, a survey is sent to parents/guardians requesting feedback on their teens’ experience on retreat and the parent/guardian’s experience before/during/after retreat.
- While still on the retreat and before the closing circle, we ask teens to take 15-20 minutes to fill out a detailed evaluation.
- All feedback is compiled and shared on our website so that anyone interacting with iBme can witness the feedback we have received and how we are addressing it.
Establishing greater collaboration and transparency in our resource allocation is underway. In late 2018, we began a process of transparent budgeting and financial review that is shared among all iBme staff members. The full staff team regularly discusses organizational financial questions and has shifted into a role of much greater co-holding of financial decisions, sustainability, and risk.
In June 2020, we created full transparency and collaboration in determining compensation levels among staff. Despite the challenges of addressing this topic given how countercultural it is, we have supported each other in moving through the discomfort into deeper connection. With expert facilitation from BayNVC, we disclosed all salaries and personal needs, and developed criteria for determining salaries collaboratively. Our current salaries range from $55,000 to $90,000 and will be adjusted over time (both annually and responsively as needed) based on the following considerations. This process will also be used for hiring new staff.
- Total budget availability
- Level of responsibility
- Historical disadvantage/privilege
- Personal financial needs
- 150% maximum range from lowest to highest salaries (except for considerations in #3)
- Commitment over time
Our next step in resource allocation is to extend this transparency and collaboration out to contracted staff.
Next Steps in Collaborative Leadership
- Currently, how does information flow throughout the organization in multiple directions, particularly between the central office staff, regional retreat staff, and from those in leadership positions, and vice versa? Other info flow channels include Board – Staff, Staff – community, community – Staff, participants, and regional staff, and others left unnamed.
- What information is flowing through the channels identified above in #1? Is information flowing that doesn’t need to be (overflow)?; is information stuck in bottlenecks or not being communicated?
- Where are there current gaps in our information flows?
- How can we address those gaps in flow and open new channels so that information flows freely? The goal is ensuring that all members of the iBme community feel they are getting the information they need in order to fully participate in our collaborative processes and co-hold the organization.
Information flow is also deeply integrated with our decision making and feedback systems. An effective information flow system will strengthen and improve decisions by providing as much pertinent information as possible to those making decisions and inspire individuals at all levels to feel empowered to make decisions. Additionally, our feedback system supports the overall health of our information flow. When information travels effectively in all directions, we can (1) make more informed administrative decisions, (2) address ethical and professional concerns before conflict occurs, and (3) build trust within accountable and transparent leadership models.
- What methods will we use to resolve conflict?
- Who can someone go to for support when there is conflict?
- How can we use conflict as an opportunity to fine-tune systems and relationships? Oftentimes, when we address conflict we can identify flaws or shortcomings in other organizational systems such as feedback, decision making, and information flow.
Visual Model of Collaborative Leadership
As we continue to expand our Collaborative Leadership outward to our entire community of staff, teachers, volunteers, participants, parents, and supporters, a visual of the adaptive living system we are creating is coming into focus. Below is a current draft of that visual.
The intention of this system is to represent a more functional and collaborative governance structure that reflects our own best practices and values. While there are parts of the system that we will live into over time, the core of this distributed power and decision making model is true of our organization right now, in the present. This system is highly responsive and supportive to future organizational shifts in the operating model (i.e. transition to autonomous regional centers). Simply put, it’s essential for the health of the system that it changes over time. Thus, collective awareness and assessment are critical ongoing practices.
WATCH: Our staff recently offered a workshop to an international collaborative of retreat centers on our Equity and Interdependence and Collaborative Leadership work.
Flow of Power and Responsibility
Power and responsibility increase towards center. Circles are very permeable and the outer circles are inclusive of inner ones. The circle sizes for the Standing Committees and Working Groups are dependent on 1’s that are collectively held (see Distributed Decision Making above). This creates a distorted view of the matrix which is a reflection of the true balance of responsibility and power held by each committee or group.
Individual Roles and Membership
It is common for individuals to move in and out of circles over time and also be a part multiple circles at once. In fact, both of these would be signs of a healthy system.
Valuing Time and Energy
With exception of exempt staff, committee and group members can be compensated for their time via need-based stipends that are budgeted for collaboratively.
Standing Committees (‘Land’)
These are near permanent circles of collaborative leadership. Together, they make up the innermost matrix of responsibility and power. They are self-sustaining meaning that they are responsible for electing members and adapting general collaborative committee guidelines to serve themselves and the whole system best. A member from each committee fill the legally required list of Officers and Directors whose power is more minimized in this system.
Working Groups (‘Water’)
These are more temporary circles of collaborative leadership. Together, they make up a critical bridge between Standing Committees and Community Stakeholders. The duration of Working Groups can vary from short projects to multi-year initiatives. Each Working Group is connected to at least one Standing Committee (overlapping members will be common) and may have autonomous decision making power.
iBme allowed me to develop very valuable mindful leadership and collaboration skills. The vast amount of wisdom and compassion shared on retreat gave me a spiritual base that grounds my environmental work and activism for which I am incredibly grateful.
– Teen Retreat Alumni