MEMBERSHIP: Values and Ethics – are they negotiable?
My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the director of Intact Academy. We have eight different programmes where we train coaches and consultants, from beginner coach to supervisor, team coach to organisational consultant. I am also the director of Team Agility, where for 35 years I’ve been implementing Agile Business Innovation all over the world. If you want to know more, please go to www.IntactAcademy.com or www.TeamAgility.com.
I’m talking about membership at the moment, because I’m really concerned about the split in society due to COVID, between people who are placing themselves outside of societal membership, and people who are committed to societal membership.
I’m interested in that tension. We talked about membership as being part of structure. We talked about membership as being part of a relational network. But we’re also talking about membership at a deeper level, the existential or psychodynamic level, which means that if you become a member of a group, you also have to think, “Am I willing to accept the values and ethics in this group? Am I willing to accept the imago, the image of the group that is fashioned by our unconscious processes?”
For example, I am in a group of professional coaches and consultants. Recently we did an exercise where we co-constructed values in the group. Then we were asked by the facilitator, to stand in front of each person in that group to say, “My name is ____. I will contribute ____. I want ____ from the group. I will adhere to the values and ethics we’ve just decided on.” And then to ask explicitly to each member of the group: “Do you accept me as a member?”
This is really powerful and not to be taken lightly, because at the existential level you’re doing something to create commitment, almost tribal commitment. It’s not to be recommended as an exercise in a group of loose individuals, or even a team. But if you want to create more of a tribal sphere, it could be a good exercise.
The problem with this exercise is we’re talking about the psycho-dynamic level, and we had not agreed beforehand what would happen if someone would not be accepted by the other people in the group. And we also didn’t agree what would happen if people didn’t want to participate in the exercise at all. We co-created the values, which was a fantastic exercise, but then this next step of commitment, we hadn’t thought through fully. Some people did it, some people didn’t. Something that could bind us, is actually something that is splitting us because we didn’t agree to the conditions beforehand.
Values and Ethics
Belonging fully in society means that you, at the deepest level, accept the values and ethics.
Membership at the structural level, means adapting to a structure or to the rules or its decision making processes. That’s negotiable. You can talk to the leaders of that system, and tell them if something isn’t working, and suggest changing the laws, or the processes of decision making. As a member, you have a lot of influence. Not everyone takes it, but you actually do have a lot of influence if you use structure well..
At the relational level, being a member of a group, you can negotiate the network of relationships. You can position yourself in proximity or at a distance from people. You can say I don’t want to work with you, I do want to work with you. This network of relationships in any society or organisation is constantly changing, depending on how close or far you feel from someone. And this level of regulation of intimacy is negotiable as well. That’s fine.
The question now really is in this group in particular, but also in general, when you commit as a member to the ethics and values of a group, is that really negotiable?
If you want to be a group or a team or a tribe, is it possible to say some people are allowed to not respect ethics and values? Or is that a really one / zero decision? So that means that at the existential level, at the really basic, unconscious psycho-dynamic levels of groups, when you say, “I accept the ethics and values will you accept me as a member?” it’s actually non-negotiable. You’re either in or out.
That’s why we have such clear laws and constitutions. Of course, this is a difficult thing. You could also say it’s an ethical dilemma. For instance, you agree to adhere to transparency, and someone wants to keep their secrets – what do you do? This is up to the leaders and the members together to decide. Is it even possible to have ambiguous members at that level? Who will not adapt? That’s the question I really have for you.
How negotiable do you think these levels are? And how consequential are you in your organisation or society, about allowing people at that psycho-dynamic level to differ, or not?