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Workflow and Social Cohesion

Becoming a cohesive team and preventing conflict:

A whole year of volunteering, often far from home and within a different culture, language and setting, and living and working in close proximity to others of diverse backgrounds and languages, is an intense experience, regardless of age or life story.

Positive group dynamics fostered from the beginning of the group are crucial to individual and group success.  Although young people who volunteer for this type of adventure are generally highly adaptable and eager for new experiences, problems can arise within any group if attention is not paid to the fundamentals of living and working together.

Fostering positive group dynamics from the beginning is crucial to individual and group success. Establishing clear boundaries and guidelines from the beginning creates a container in which this once-in-a-lifetime experience generates meaningful learning and enjoyment.

Communication Tools

As practised at Ängsbacka, Cloughjordan and Sieben Linden Ecovillage.

  1.  Temperature check: when making a proposal for an action/decision to be adopted, ask the group – ideally during a group meeting – to show with their thumb how they feel about it (from thumb down = strong no, to thumb up = enthusiastic yes)

  2. Non Violent Communication (NVC): An elaborate communication method developed by Marshall Rosenberg, which focuses (among other concepts) on 4 main steps:
    1. the speaker describe with facts (not judgements, assumptions or interpretations) what the issue is for them
    2. they then describe the feelings that it causes (always with “I”, not “you”)
    3. proceed with what the unmet needs behind those feelings are
    4. conclude with a request (not a demand) to their interlocutor

      The goal is to maintain the connection between the 2 persons, above all, and to find “win-win” solutions – where the needs of both persons are met.

  3. Empathic listening: listening to a person while they are sharing what is going on for them
    • without interrupting, giving advice or judging
    • focusing on a posture of loving presence (as a safe container for the other person, allowing them to unfold).

  4. Reflective listening/Mirroring: listening to a person’s sharing and then repeating as precisely & faithfully as possible what you heard them saying (without responding or interpreting). 

  5. Emotional Backpack (in German)

These approaches need to be practised and implemented well, with adequate time devoted to reaching understanding, so these in depth processes should be guided by an experienced practitioner or they can fail to have the expected impact.

These communications tools help:

  • foster authentic, open-hearted and quality communication
  • develop caring relationships and
  • help to prevent conflict and find resolution
  • Ultimately make for a more harmonious community.

Teaching the Volunteers these tools enables them to navigate community living in the most collaborative way, and to develop skills that will be useful in any human interaction.


Some tools, such as NVC, can be quite complex in their nuances and require a trained teacher (otherwise the risk is to misapply them in a way that then doesn’t foster quality communication).

These tools are not learned in one workshop-  they require dedicated & repeated practice, which means some of the working hours of Volunteers might need to be allocated to that regular practice.

Implementation requires:

  • Trained teachers for applying some tools.
  • Dedicated space and time to practice regularly.


Implementation of a Mentorship system to support the Volunteers is essential to support their healthy long term engagement with the organisation and there are many different models out there. The most effective and straightforward model appropriate to the number of Volunteers, and taking into consideration the specific demands of their work, should be adopted.


Providing structured Mentorship to the young Volunteers is essential good practice in helping foster harmonious working relationships, providing internal and external help and advice to newly arrived Volunteers and in providing a safety net that will enhance their confidence in new working and living territory.

Volunteer Coordinators as Mentors:

As practised by Cloughjordan; also partially by Sieben Linden and Ängsbacka (current Volunteer Coordinators there are trained Counsellors).


The Volunteer Coordinators are the first port of call for the Volunteers. 
They resolve practical and daily living issues as well as ensuring smooth running of the programme, encouraging and facilitating extra learning, training and personal projects – but they can also act as Volunteer Mentors.

Our Volunteer Coordinators conduct additional one on one meetings that are less about work progress and more about additional social/personal issues or challenges.

They can also help sort out minor disagreements or disputes that are work or home based.



  • The Volunteer Coordinators are already handling a very heavy workload in managing the ESC Volunteer programme and in conducting all related workshops and feedback sessions, reporting back to the various organisations involved- the Community farm Board, the National Agency, the Sending organisation and to the ESC programme itself.
    Taking on a Mentorship role in addition to all the above can really increase the burden of work and there is enhanced risk of Coordinator burnout.


  • It may also be difficult to maintain clear boundaries between the managing of the Volunteer programme, which involves conducting Volunteer evaluations, and being Mentors to individual Volunteers.


  • Also they must be aware of and try to maintain the boundaries between being the ESC Volunteer Programme Coordinators and Evaluators, and acting as Personal Mentors:
    i.e. the Volunteer Coordinators have to be mindful about conflict of interest


  • If a problem is arising due to their handling of a Volunteer situation- or in fact if they somehow are seen as a cause or partial cause of a problem-  they must be ready to call on external/neutral help and assistance for the Volunteer.


  • They must also be mindful of their personal capacity in terms of energy and time, to be effective Mentors to the Volunteers as well as successfully running the ESC Programme as Coordinators.
Peer Mentoring

As practised at Ananda Gaorii


Each ESC volunteer receives two Mentors upon arrival. 

  • One is external i.e. from outside of the Organisation, which the Organisation chooses for them. 
  • The second is an ESC Volunteer from the previous generation of Volunteers. 


A ritual is held with ‘speed-dating’ sessions to enable the Volunteers to choose their ESC-Mentor from that previous group.


During their volunteering term, each new ESC Volunteer has Check-ins, Reflection and Reviewing sessions with their Mentor once every 1-2 months, depending upon need.


Be aware that the main purpose of this approach is the creation of more trusting relationships between the previous and new Volunteers, as well as between Volunteers and the community.



  • Helps Volunteers overcome any difficulties arising during the adaptation period directly after arrival. 
  • Helps the new group of Volunteers to get into the flow of the community faster and to better connect with their new community through previous Volunteers.
  • As an organisation, it meant that the previous ESC generations who were already directly experienced in many problems that could arise for new recruits started to do a big part of this welcoming and induction job – and so it has become more like peer sharing and learning, which is more effective than the organisation imparting abstract information.
  • This form of Mentorship practice helps Volunteers to receive support and suggestions from people who had similar experiences to them in the past and to understand the fact that many of the things that they are going through are not unusual- that other young people before them also went through similar things.
  • It is also easier to collect and act upon direct feedback, as this less formal peer led process allows for more honest sharing.



  • People who weren’t involved with the ESC programme, but who wanted to become a Mentor to the ESC Volunteers felt excluded.
    We overcame this issue via sharing sessions and providing info and explanations as to the importance of this practice remaining between ESC programme Volunteers.
Additional Mentoring Supports

Trained Counsellor: To support the Coordinators we also have at least one trained counsellor who meets with the Volunteers on a regular basis and who can increase these meetings to address any emerging issues with any particular individuals.

Professional Services: The above team also have access to nearby Professional Services for more serious issues including physical and mental health services.

Friends of Volunteers:
Cloughjordan have created a less formal network- a Whatsapp group called Friends of Volunteers
They are members of the wider Cloughjordan Community who can be called upon to help with practical issues i.e. offer lifts to town, provide clothing/equipment/food ingredients etc. Sometimes the Friends may even suggest outings and activities: cookery lessons, trips to the lake, etc.

In Sieben Linden this informal Support Group are known as Buddies or Godparents and they are assigned to individuals:

‘Buddy’ system:
Inspired by Sieben Linden; as practised at Sieben Linden, and practised in group form at Cloughjordan

What is it/ How do you do it?

The community is informed about the arrival of new Volunteers and it is explained how they can become a Buddy or ‘Godparent’ to one of them. 

At Sieben Linden the pairs mostly find each other organically after the Volunteer has his/her Life Storytelling evening with the community- which is how community members get to know the Volunteers better.

The community member then approaches the Volunteer and offers to be a Buddy.


Regular check-ins with the Volunteer are essential, both if they already have a Buddy/ Godparent and if they do not, how they feel about that, and how best to support them otherwise. 


  • As the Volunteer Coordinator is assigned as “one mentor for all”  i.e. not chosen by the Volunteers, not every Volunteer may be able to get along with that person and to share their emotions or problems with them, a deeper connection might develop with a Buddy/ Godparent – and that person is intended to be available for personal support and to answer questions about the community. 
  • The Buddy system is a support for the Volunteer Coordinator as s/he is able to check in with another person about a Volunteer if something occurs.
  • Being informal, if the match doesn’t work out, the Volunteer and the Godparent are able to let the relationship go.


  • If Community members aren’t naturally approaching the Volunteers, the matching process can take longer, leaving some Volunteers anxious.  
  • Some Volunteers are fine with just having the Volunteer Coordinator as “one mentor for all” and find the Buddy system unnecessary/intrusive.

What is Needed: 

  • Willing community members to step into the Buddy/Godparent role
  • A process for enabling the matching of Volunteer with the Buddy (e.g. Life Story evening as above, or other interactive info-sharing event.)

Work Coordinator for Volunteers:
As practised by Cloughjordan Community Farm
Cloughjordan Community Farm has a dedicated Farm Work Coordinator who helps the Volunteers manage the task rota and guides the Volunteers’ fieldwork, showing them how to perform the practical tasks.


  • This specific role is highly useful for supporting the Volunteers’ confidence and learning on the ground.The Work Coordinator can also be useful in encouraging team building and forging work solidarity.
  • S/he can also be instrumental in initiating farm team social outings and activity days, to add another layer of richness to the Volunteers’ experience.
  • It helps ensure that work problems and issues arising get dealt with promptly and efficiently and creates better Health and Safety standards for all those involved, including the organisation itself.


  • The Work Coordinator must maintain work boundaries and not try to take the place of personal mentors
  • S/he must also have the communication skills and experience to translate the Work Leader’s e.g. Farmer’s needs to the Volunteers

Conflict Prevention - Co-creation of a Volunteer Manifesto

Cloughjordan Community Farm has found that a positive way of developing good co-working practices is for Volunteers to:

  • Co-create their own Manifesto or Charter to self-govern expected behaviour, (rather than simply imposing an external set of rules created by the organisation).  
  • This co-creation is in itself a bonding exercise for the group and establishes from the group’s onset the best practices of active listening and incorporating the needs of others.


Ideally, this collaboratively produced Manifesto is a set of guidelines for individual behaviour, responsibility and accountability, and it encourages Volunteers towards working styles that reflect the core values of the organisation/community as well as their own.  The values in the Manifesto can also cover shared living spaces and interactions during personal time.  

During the co-creation, Volunteers necessarily consider what positive interactions look like to them and reflect on potential issues that might arise, which also means thinking about how to resolve minor conflicts within the group, before they become more significant and need outside mediation.


Areas that can be addressed in the Manifesto include:

  • Etiquette for meetings, including an individual check-in before starting
  • Clear communication and the importance of active listening
  • A clear and accessible process for resolution of issues
  • A safe space for discussing issues/problems
  • Accountability for agreed-on tasks and quality of work
  • Ways to support each other, including appreciation of skills and strengths
  • Guidelines for interactions between Volunteers and Supervisors/ Coordinators, including:
  • mutual respect 
  • fair distribution of tasks  
  • clarity about working roles and boundaries

Addressing the above areas forges solidarity, and helps develop a culture of positively and promptly meeting difficult issues – before they become entrenched.



  • This process is best guided by a Mentor with experience in group facilitation, counselling, and/or conflict resolution, who encourages authentic team-building and collaboration: An experienced mentor guiding the process creates a safe and confidential space in which all team members can expose their vulnerabilities or concerns.
  • The quality of the document—how much people feel heard within it, and trust in it—depends upon whole-hearted participation by everyone and the authenticity of the process.  
  • The approach to framing the Manifesto and creating its content should also reflect the foundational values of the organisation, such as: inclusion, equality and fairness. 
  • The focus on collaboration and accurately reflecting the group’s wishes and values is far more important than hitting pre-determined guidelines or having ideal content.

The Manifesto is far more effective when actively integrated into the Volunteers’ daily lives, and implemented as part of the rituals within their working week.  
For example, relevant Manifesto contents can be referred to at the start of meetings and work check-ins, and can be reinforced via regular meetings with the Volunteers’ Mentors, Work Leaders and Coordinators.  

Additional tools such as Life Stories, Sharing Circles, and Non-Violent Communication (partly to be found here) can also strengthen the group solidarity formed by co-creating this Manifesto.


Implementation requires:

  • an experienced Mentor 
  • a private space for the co-creation 
  • pens/paper/drawing materials
  • a digital space in which to share the final agreed-upon document

Serious Conflict Resolution - Grievance Procedure

This more formal process is initiated when there is a serious grievance to be addressed, when the next step could be legal action.  
The process must also be of a standard befitting the organisation’s legal obligations under its agreement with the ESC programme, so it must bear scrutiny and demonstrate fairness both to the Volunteer(s) involved and to the host organisation.

Points to note:
Grievance procedures involving employees inside an organisation differ from those involving Volunteers in an NGO or a Social Enterprise.  

The type we are looking at below is the latter, and is an informal Grievance Procedure without legal consequences. It is designed for conflict resolution within NGOs and in non-corporate settings in which Volunteers are involved.

There are many online training courses and guidelines for those wishing to implement a grievance procedure within their organisational setting.


It usually involves:

  • neutral representatives from the Board of the organisation
  • the parties involved in the conflict themselves
  • advocates or support people for both sides, and 
  • neutral observer(s) to ensure a fair process. 

Ideally, the neutral observer(s) have counselling, human resources or grievance hearing experience.


It is vital that a fair and transparent grievance process allows:

  • the facts of the case to be discovered and assessed by parties not involved directly in the dispute 
  • preserves confidentiality around sensitive issues 
  • assesses the facts 
  • decides and implements appropriate consequences and measures to avoid the issue in future.


Cloughjordan has designed a Grievance Procedure which contains the following elements:

  • Establishment of a Grievance Panel, made up of:
    • 2 members of the Board to represent the Organisation
    • A Volunteer Coordinator as an advocate for the Volunteers
    • A trained Counsellor as neutral observer
    • Mentors/advocates/supportive friends for each Volunteer 
    • Mentors/advocates/supportive friends for each party involved directly in the complaint
    • Language support for those participants not fluent in the language used for the process 


Step One
A Hearing: The Grievance Panel conducts individual interviews with all relevant parties to establish the facts of the case: the interview process should be designed more as a safe space for discovering relevant information than as an interrogation! The questions should be framed to be open-ended, to allow for open answers, and should not be directed, intrusive or aggressive.


Hearing Interview Questions and Procedure:

  • Standardise interview questions for all interviewees, to ensure fairness and to enable honest, constructive answers (the questions are best prepared with the aid of a trained HR person/counsellor/mediator)
  • Add a few more detailed and relevant questions, if necessary, for both parties directly linked to the complaint
  • Schedule interview times to suit each of the interviewees 
  • Arrange for a support person of each interviewee’s choice to be present
  • Ensure that a representative of the organisation and of each of the parties takes notes to ensure objectivity, balance and accuracy in recording the facts of the issue, plus the suggestions for improvement

Before each interview, a spokesperson for the Grievance Panel states:

  1. The hearing’s intent:
    • to find the facts and take positive action to help the situation
    • that all relevant parties will be heard
    • that this process is a fact-finding mission and not a legal tribunal

  2. The hearing’s objectivity and safety:
    • Each of the people in the room and is introduced and his or her role is explained
    • The interviewee is assured that the complaint is being taken seriously and acted upon for his or her welfare and for the good of the team
    • The spokesperson emphasises that this is a confidential, safe space in which to express anything

  3. Encouragement for all interviewees to:
    • honestly share any and all relevant experiences with regard to the complaint/issue 
    • take their own notes during the process
    • ask questions for information or clarification 
    • make suggestions for positive improvements which might prevent the situation from arising again


Step Two- Post Hearing 
Immediate Actions: 

  • The Grievance Panel reviews and agrees upon the facts and the necessary steps to resolve the situation
  • The panel then implements these steps as soon as possible, with urgency if necessary

Examples of possible immediate actions/consequences (may be more than one):

  • a written warning with a clear outline of consequences for failing to adapt behaviour accordingly
  • reparation of some sort to the aggrieved party
  • participation in further training
  • temporary suspension 
  • a report to the sending organisation
  • removal from the workplace
  • removal from the shared living space
  • sending Volunteer home/ending a Volunteer’s internship 

Follow-up actions may also be recommended by the grievance panel, such as:

  • Mediation with a trained counsellor and/or individual mentorship
  • Team building sessions
  • Increased work supervision 
  • Better supervision, support, communication, reporting and feedback structures
  • Better Human Resources management
  • Training for all Volunteers in interpersonal boundaries/consent (covering sexual harassment/bullying/racism, etc
  • Seeking legal advice
  • Taking legal action


Step Three: Evaluation
Some time after the Hearing, perhaps about a month later, the Grievance Panel should reassess the situation to determine:

  • how well this issue has been resolved, 
  • what specific actions have been taken to prevent a recurrence of the same issue.


Any ethically-run organisation with strong social justice values at its core needs to invest resources in a good process for:

  • resolving serious conflict
  • responding to issues promptly to prevent the same things from happening again.  

With this process in place, issues can be resolved before they escalate to legal action.



  • Any Grievance Process must be carefully designed and run to ensure objectivity and fairness.  If it is not, then the situation can escalate further and have long term consequences, not just for the parties involved, but for the organisation and its place in the ESC programme: in more serious cases the ESC/Erasmus commission may take steps to shut down a Volunteer programme and prevent an organisation from running any Volunteer programmes in the future.  
  • Failure of the Grievance Process may mean legal action taken by a Volunteer against the organisation. 


What is Needed: 

  • Organisational involvement at all levels: Board, Work Supervisors, Volunteer Coordinators , Mentors, Advocates, Language Support, Counsellors.
  • Private dedicated interview space for 3-5 days.
  • A confidentiality agreement.
  • A transparent and fair process – with balance and objectivity built into the process.