ACF’s annual Group Health survey and report provides a useful snapshot of how ACF community groups around Australia are feeling and functioning. Are they working together effectively? Do they feel well supported? Where (if anywhere) can ACF support with training, tools or additional resources? Have a read of the 2021 Group Health Report.
‘Group health’ can mean different things to different people, and it is important to define what group health means and how we have come to measure it. We define group health as “the conditions that enable groups to effectively function and achieve impact” and we have a framework that is based on extensive research and consultation with social change experts.
We measure Group Health because we believe that Group Health is the single biggest indicator of whether a group will be impactful and achieve their and ACF’s people power objectives.
In what follows, we describe the key indicators of group health in ACF’s Group Health Framework, and how it helps us track our people-powered movement. Google’s research and resulting re:Work principles form a strong basis of ACF’s Group Health framework. We have also learned a great deal from Holly Hammond, who has supported us in translating this research on effective teams to include constructs relevant to social movements. We have also learned from Hahrie Han’s research around what makes social movements powerful.
Read on for information about the ten key indicators of group health and how you can strengthen these!
1. Psychological safety
3. Structure & clarity
4. Meaning of work
5. Impact of work
6. Growth & retention
8. Leadership development
9. Sustainability of the work
Can people take risks in your group without feeling insecure or embarrassed? Do people feel safe to be vulnerable with one another? Is it okay if things don’t go to plan? Is it okay to ask questions, seek clarification or raise issues? Google found that psychological safety was the number one influence on team health and effectiveness. In fact, it underpinned all other indicators of team health. “Turns out, we’re all reluctant to engage in behaviors that could negatively influence how others perceive our competence, awareness, and positivity. Although this kind of self-protection is a natural strategy in the workplace, it is detrimental to effective teamwork”(source). The safer we feel with one another, the more likely we are to participate, admit mistakes, learn from experience and take on new challenges.
A few great ways that you can improve your group’s psychological safety include having discussions around your Group Agreements, honing your facilitation skills and attending the Introduction to Equity training.
Can you rely on people in your group to get things done well and on time? When we can’t depend on one another, resentments can build, work doesn’t get shared equitably and we end up not achieving our goals. However, when we can depend on each other, trust builds, work gets done and people feel more fulfilled in their contributions.
A few great ways that you can improve your group’s dependability is to develop shared group norms, recording tasks in rolling meeting minutes, and using Slack as a way to communicate and hold each other accountable.
Effective teams also need clarity about what your shared vision is, what your goals are and how you plan to get there. They also need clarity about what is expected of them in contributing to those goals. When people in your group are unclear about what the group’s for, or what they’re meant to be doing, you can find group members pulling in different directions. A lack of clarity around roles and responsibilities can result in frustration and assumptions being made that they’re not valued or needed. You might notice symptoms of command-and-control, disinterest, resentments or inequitable distribution of work.
A few great ways to improve your group’s structure and clarity is to have a conversation about what roles and responsibilities people are interested in and can commit to, have a visioning conversation where you get on the same page about your goals and test this in an elevator pitch to a new person. Do different group members have different ideas about what you’re trying to achieve and how? You can also check out our National Campaign Priorities for clarity on our shared priorities across ACF Community groups.
We all want to spend this one precious life doing work that is personally meaningful to us. That is why many people volunteer! And Google’s research also showed that effective teams are made up of people who personally care about the work. They draw meaning from it. When you’re working for a thriving planet, what could be better?! When your group is ambivalent or disillusioned about the work, they can stagnate.
A few great ways to improve your group’s connection and meaning to the work includes getting the group out in nature to remind them of why we do this work, having a relational conversation with other members and connecting people to their own motivations through writing their story at Introduction to Storytelling training.
For groups to be effective, they need to feel like their work matters and will create the change that they’re hoping for. Does your group have an impact in the world? When groups don’t feel like they’re achieving much or that the work they’re doing won’t achieve change, then people can get disillusioned and become less motivated. This is particularly challenging when working in social change. Progress can be slow, and it is often difficult to draw a direct line between our efforts and the decisions that get made. People also have different ideas about the best way to achieve change, and ACF’s approach to change may not work for them- that’s okay! But having a motivated group of people who believe that they can and are making a difference in the best way possible is critical to having an ongoing impact.
A few great ideas to improve your group members’ belief about the impact of their work is to set realistic small, medium and long-term goals, celebrate the successes along the way and find ways to continually remind one another about historical campaign wins and how long change can take.
How many meetings or events do new members come to? Is there a steady trickle in of new members in the group, and are they sticking around and being supported to get actively involved? For groups to be effective, it is just as important to have a steady stream of new members joining the group, as well as cultivating strategies to support new members to feel connected and valued as they gradually take on responsibilities within the group. At the core of ACF’s organisational goals is growing the movement. To nurture a diverse and robust people-power movement, we need local groups to be welcoming, safe and inclusive spaces that bring in and retain new folk.
Maybe it’s time to run a stall at your community’s local market, or draw on our wonderful database and recruit new folk via phonebanking? Another option to grow your group is to run a welcome night so as to bring new members into your group. For those struggling to retain or attract members, it might be helpful for your group to regularly schedule time to sit down together with the Group Health Checklist. We have just launched an Intro to Equity training, which might help you look deeper at your group’s dynamics and culture to learn what might be influencing the growth of your group - RSVP here!
Also, joining and posting in the People Power Slack channel - feel free to let the Community Helpdesk know you want to be added to these channels! Slack is a great platform to ask questions and seek advice from other groups. At our monthly ACF Community Webinars, we have dedicated time in the network breakout rooms for coaching, training and ongoing support from peers and coaches.
Is your group made up of people from a range of ages, backgrounds and cultures? Does your local group reflect the demographic make-up of your local area or electorate ? Are people in positions of leadership within your group also reflective of this diversity? These are important questions for local groups to sit with. It is the task of individual group members (and the group as a whole) to integrate the strengths and capacities of people from all walks of life, and to ensure everyone is supported equally. This is not easy or quick work. This takes patience, lots of listening and a willingness to learn (about oneself and others). Nature teaches us that diverse ecosystems are stronger, more robust and more able to thrive. For that reason, your group plays an important role in shaping a more inclusive and welcoming movement that advocates for protecting Country, people and creatures big and small. Diversifying our movement is everyone’s responsibility, and we all stand to gain from this!
To support you in learning how to shape a more welcoming and inclusive group and group culture, we are launching Equity training - get in quick and RSVP here! This training has been designed based on extensive consultation within the ACF community to address a priority area for ACF. Bespoke resources will be available in the coming months. Stay tuned!
When was the last time a group member stepped up to take more responsibility? How did it go - are they still active in the new role? Do you have ways to support new or existing members to take on new responsibilities and challenges? For groups to function effectively it is important that there are opportunities for group members to learn new skills and cultivate leadership qualities. Healthy people-power movements are developing leaders all the time to support the growth of the community. If you’ve noticed that there is little shared responsibility for tasks, this may be related to having few opportunities to grow emerging leaders within the group. Developing leaders is not easy, and requires planning and commitment from all members, especially those who may be in leadership roles.
Identifying and developing the leadership in others can be supported through having a relational conversation with a group member to step them up, through inviting them to attend training and through coaching them to do a task. If you want to learn more skills to step people up, attend our Introduction to Group Leadership training or apply to attend our Advanced Campaigning and Organising training or one of our Train-the-Trainer programs.
Would your group be able to sustain its current level of activity indefinitely? Are you or another group member feeling burnt out or stretched too thinly? Does your group have fun together? Are there enough opportunities to socialise and build friendships, as well as be productive and achieve your objectives? The work of solving the climate and extinction crisis is a marathon, not a sprint. It is work that involves setbacks, frustrations, and plenty of challenges. But it is also incredibly rewarding work and it has the power to connect us more deeply to one another and to our planet. For these reasons, taking care of ourselves and each other to ensure our work is sustainable and meaningful is of utmost importance.
A great way to support your own reflections, as well as group conversations, about the sustainability of your work is through this blog and resource on Taking Care. It is also worth connecting with the wider ACF community via the monthly Community Webinars. Each month you can see how your work connects to the bigger picture, receive hot-off-the-press updates from Campaigners and leaders in the movement and have opportunities to connect with local people like you who are on the ground doing the work of social change!
How connected are your group members to each other, to other community groups and to ACF staff? Research shows that a movement consisting of varied and far-reaching connections is a stronger movement. If group members are not well connected to each other, or only connected to the leaders of the group or ACF staff, this can lead to a reliance on these people rather than building a sustaining web of relationships for the long haul. A network that expands not just in size but in density of relationships is shown to be more impactful.
A great way to connect with other ACF community groups is through the peer-to-peer coaching program. Slack is also a great tool to reaching out to the wider ACF community. Finding ways to mix up your group roles on a regular basis can also help foster different relationships.
These ten constructs constitute the foundation of how we measure and track Group Health at ACF. Our Group Health Coordinator Fellow (Kate Hardy) is responsible for analysing and writing up all Group Health data, ultimately serving as an objective and neutral voice to both ACF groups and Organisers. In their volunteer capacity, they become someone you can speak honestly and openly with through the annual Group Health Survey. If you have any questions, feel free to contact Kate Hardy.
Header image: Annette Ruzicka