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Notes from the Field

The Transition Narrative |

by Caitlin Dourmashkin. Photo by Decora

A few months ago, our co-Worker Susan told us about Move Up, Move Up, a less ableist alternative to the Step Up, Step Back framework that encourages people who historically speak the most to step back and create space and for others to step up and share their voice. Susan offered Move Up, Move Up as a way for all participants to be proactive in decentering power, allowing for some people to move up into active speaking and others to move up into active listening. This has really stuck with me as a helpful resource in my own practice of our new, non-hierarchical structure.

We’ve been at this WSDNP thing for some time now, and while I’m definitely getting a handle on the practice, I am still working out what it means for me to step aside from the hierarchy. This September, I will have been with GWI for five years. I was the third hire, and the fourth person to work for the organization (Grace Lodge started volunteering with us a couple of weeks before I came on board), but I am currently the longest serving member of the team. I came from a system of hierarchy, and my roots at GWI are in a system of hierarchy. It is an odd place to be!

On the one hand, working with GWI for this long, the idea of shared leadership seems 100% natural to me. From day one, our values as an organization have been rooted in interdependence and collaboration. Similar to Just Transition seeming so perfect for our organization that it felt almost preordained, becoming a Worker Self-Directed Nonprofit felt not only like the right choice, but more like the only choice we could have ever made. 

On the other hand, I find myself in conflict with my own hierarchical inclinations all the time. Making independent decisions feels like second nature. I was the Director of Operations before the transition and I am the Operations Steward now, so I am still primarily working on the same things and I move through that work in similar ways. The practice of hierarchy is so ingrained in me, that I often only notice it after the fact. I find myself bringing my work back to my circles and asking for input and consent after I have already made a decision, which feels out of alignment.

For me, on a personal level, this transition takes a lot of thoughtfulness and discernment, and, to be perfectly honest, it can be exhausting. People love to talk about the value of efficiency in business, and it many ways the old system does feel more efficient. But so many people in hierarchical structures are also unhappy; they feel unseen and unfulfilled. I am not saying that hierarchy is always the problem, but now that I am on the other side of it, I feel like what we may have lost in straight efficiency, we gain back in integrity and value. Our work can and will be better when we share power, but that sharing doesn’t always come as easily as we might hope.

This is where Move Up, Move Up has really helped me. It has become my mantra for how to approach my co-Workers in a way that decenters our learned hierarchical behaviours. While I am very good at moving up into becoming an active leader of our shared work, I am also challenging myself to move up into an active listening role when my co-Workers are sharing their voice and their leadership. I held power in the old system, and now I am trying to consciously invite myself to make space for others to take ownership of that power in the new.

There are so many little ways to do this, and the trick for me is to practice it on a micro level. Ask for input, share decisions, get clear on mandate, offer to give back the mandate, stay silent, acknowledge the ideas and input of others, volunteer to take on a supportive role. These are all little ways to practice a new relationship with power in the moment and they all help. But most importantly, I trust the wisdom of my co-Workers and I value and tend to our relationships as co-people holding this work together. It can seem like a lot, but it is absolutely, 100%, forever and ever, totally worth it.