Meeting collectively
By the Connexions Collective

Connexions Volume 8, Number 1 - Spring 1983

We at CONNEXIONS realize that as social activists we can easily become isolated, discouraged, and overwhelmed, or, to use the current catch phrase, “burnt out”. We are aware of our need for encouragement and affirmation. Each of us comes to the collective for a variety of personal reasons, but we all value the personal support that comes from working with a group in which members attend to one another's social and emotional needs.

As individuals - there are currently nine of us in the CONNEXIONS collective - each of us works elsewhere for peace, justice, and liberation, and our work is very important to us. As members of the collective, we are committed to the task of building networks between Canadians who struggle for the same ends. Our CONNEXIONS work too, is very important to us.

The ways we accomplish our work are also important. In working for social justice, we want to use means that are consistent with our ends. We want to eliminate oppressive structures in society and in our own lives. So we choose, for example, to work as a collective. We strive to develop and use strategies that are both effective and satisfying. We would like to share with you some of the ways and means we use to accomplish our work. And we would like to hear from you about how you work toward your goals.


One of the ways that we at CONNEXIONS work together is -- naturally -- through meetings. The mood, structures, and dynamics of meetings, we have learned, have a great deal to do with how well the work of the group proceeds.

One simple way in which we tune in to each other at the beginning of meetings is by each member of the collective "checking in". This practice was originally intended to be a brief statement of the mood, energy level, and general mind-set which we each were bringing to the meeting, and which might have a bearing on our participation. The changes in this practice through time have reflected the growing sense of trust and caring about one another that has built up within the collective. As members grew closer to one another, there was a corresponding lengthening of the "check-in" time, as we used it to catch up on the many aspects of our respective lives over the two-week periods between meetings. In the interest of getting our CONNEXIONS business done, we have now reluctantly decided to return to abbreviated check-ins and save our personal news for other times, such as our pot luck dinners.

Similar in concept to the "check-in" is "checkingout" at the end of meetings. The idea here is for people to quickly evaluate how the meeting went and identify what might have been done better. Checking out, however, is a practice that we have frequently neglected of late, although this has been identified as a shortcoming we intend to rectify.

What happens between “check-in” and “checkout” depends on our agenda, a matter we now handle differently than was once our custom.

Just over a year ago the CONNEXIONS collective decided that the existing structure for our bi-weekly meetings was not allowing us enough flexibility to meet our changing needs effectively. So with some trepidation, we decided to dispense with the use of a tightly-structured, pre-set agenda and rely instead on an “agenda-building” process for each meeting. With this process, each CONNEXIONS member assumes the responsibility for raising items which s/he considers relevant to the current meeting; when negotiated with the rest of the collective, these items are placed on the agenda. Items are then ordered and a time is allotted to deal with each. As before, one member acts as “facilitator” to guide the meeting (with generous amounts of newsprint) and another as notetaker. These tasks, as with the editorial and production tasks related to producing our publication, are rotated on a regular basis among all members, based on an eight-to-twelve-week cycle. This provides the opportunity for each member to gain experience and develop expertise in all areas of collective work.

The practice of building a new agenda at each meeting does not mean that we begin meetings with the disconcerting prospect of an absolutely clear slate. We operate within a production cycle which directs our attention to a particular set of tasks at each stage of that cycle (e.g., education, evaluation of the last issue.) As well, some items tend to be carried forward from the previous meeting. The staff report (CONNEXIONS has one paid staff person) near the beginning of each meeting usually translates into one or more agenda items.

The result of our shift from a pre-set agenda to an agenda-building practice has been to enhance individual responsibility for the collective process and to strengthen each person’s commitment to the decisions made.

Much of the success of the agenda-building procedure probably hinges on the amount of preparatory work which goes on in advance of each meeting. Members are strongly encouraged to come to meetings with concrete proposals for ways of dealing with any issues they have identified as requiring attention.

Designating a meeting “facilitator” rather than a more authoritative “chairperson” has the same intent, that of giving each member the responsibility of monitoring his/her own behaviour and that of others, to ensure that the meeting does not go off track. Shared responsibility for our process, we think, is one key to real collectivity.


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