Book: The Empowerment Manual: A Guide for Collaborative Groups by Starhawk
Publisher: New Society Publishers
Publication date: 2011
Source: purchased the e-book
Summary: The Empowerment Manual draws from Starhawk’s decades of involvement in progressive groups, spiritual communities, and cooperative living arrangements. She’s also read widely on the topic of how people organize themselves for a purpose. The Empowerment Manual combines the theory with the lived experience to create a practical and powerful guide for getting work done in collaborative groups.
Collaboration is often the way we organize ourselves when we want to change the world because it embodies the change that we want to see — “our most cherished values: equality, freedom, and the value of each individual.” (p. 20) Collaborative groups are empowering, but they aren’t always easy:
For there is one overriding problem with collaborative groups — they are groups of people, and people are damn difficult to get along with. Were it not for that fact, we would have already saved the world many times over. Instead, we’re left down here in the muck, struggling with the irritating, irresponsible, pig-headed, stubborn, annoying, judgmental, egotistical and petty people who are supposed to be our allies. (p. 22)
Thoughts: I asked my Facebook friends for book recommendations in a post I wrote last fall about patriarchy and organizations. Thanks, San, for telling me about The Empowerment Manual — it was exactly the book that I hoped I’d found.
Several of the people in the West County Community Action Network (WE CAN) expressed interested in the issue and this book, too. At least one other person is reading it and I can’t wait to talk with her about it!
WE CAN is only a bit over a year old as an organization and we’re starting to find all the traps that collaborative groups fall into. Here’s a biggie:
A collaborative group is far more complex [compared to a hierarchy]. It’s a net, not a tree. We’re often not clear who has the authority to make a decision, who needs to be consulted on an issue, who is informed of a problem and who has been left out of the loop. Probably the most common source of conflict around communication stems from people being left out — sometimes deliberately, often inadvertently. In a collaborative structure, it’s much harder to keep track of who knows what. (p. 98)
Since that’s a common problem, Starhawk provides lots of advice to deal with it, including a great list of questions to ask before a meeting to make sure that people are at the table who need and want to be and that results are shared in useful ways to the people who want to know.
For no reason that I’ll confess, this was my favorite quote:
Well, here’s one of Starhawk’s Rules of Life: People who make good organizers tend to have bossy personalities. (p. 160)
And, my younger brother can just stop laughing, right now!
Appeal: The Empowerment Manual was so helpful that I’m going to buy it in print, too. E-books work for me to read something straight through, but when I want to refer to it again and again, the print feels more accessible.
Have you read this book? What did you think?