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Wait, Who’s Driving this Bus?

By Caitlin Doumashkin with Terri Hall

Roles in a Worker Self-Directed Nonprofit

Over the next few weeks, we will be posting specifically about roles in a Worker Self-Directed Nonprofit. This is a tricky area and we have learned a lot over the past few months. Sometimes roles are specific: we define organizational stewards and place very clear responsibilities on those roles; we define all members of the team as either Workers or Worker Trustees; and members of our board play very important roles in the organization as “Owls,” providing clear directional support to specific areas of our work. Sometimes roles are ad hoc and determined in the moment: In meetings, we usually rotate facilitators and note takes, but often we forget and someone steps into those roles in the moment. At other times, they are a function of our collective need: program circles can set their own roles, either electing to identify one Worker as a steward or keeping the inter-circle role structure flat. 

We recognize that the hierarchical model, which has been the norm for most of us, creates a certain latent clarity and expectation around who does what in an organization. By taking away this structure, we find ourselves in some discomfort. Our actions in the workplace are like trails through a forest, the more we travel them the clearer they become. We have traveled the trails set by hierarchical systems for a long time and we know them well, but now we are out in the rough and we don’t always know what turns to take or how to clear an obstacle. As part of this transition, our commitment to policy is an effort to provide clarity where we lack experience. The way forward isn’t always a straight line, but by following the natural terrain of our shared and individual talents, and by walking the path together, we know we will get where we need to go.

Creating policies and practices around roles has been one of the bigger challenges of this process. Sometimes the issue is clear, and sometimes it takes a bit of practice to even understand the challenge we are facing. In the next slate of articles, we will explore roles in a number of contexts. In some of these articles, we will share a clear policy framework that we have already put in place, and in other articles we will not have a complete answer and will instead share our understanding so far. As always, please reach out to tell us what you think or ask any questions. This is exciting work, and we are thrilled to share it, even in its imperfect state.

We launched this series of articles and reflections in September 2019 to share our journey of moving from a traditional hierarchical nonprofit to a worker self-directed nonprofit. We hope by opening up this transition it might help others take the first steps towards sharing power in their workplaces.

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