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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.
As practised at Ängsbacka, Cloughjordan and Sieben Linden Ecovillage.
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:
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 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.
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.
As practised at Ananda Gaorii
Each ESC volunteer receives two Mentors upon arrival.
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.
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:
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.
What is Needed:
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.
Cloughjordan Community Farm has found that a positive way of developing good co-working practices is for Volunteers to:
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:
Addressing the above areas forges solidarity, and helps develop a culture of positively and promptly meeting difficult issues – before they become entrenched.
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.
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:
Ideally, the neutral observer(s) have counselling, human resources or grievance hearing experience.
It is vital that a fair and transparent grievance process allows:
Cloughjordan has designed a Grievance Procedure which contains the following elements:
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:
Before each interview, a spokesperson for the Grievance Panel states:
Step Two- Post Hearing
Examples of possible immediate actions/consequences (may be more than one):
Follow-up actions may also be recommended by the grievance panel, such as:
Step Three: Evaluation
Some time after the Hearing, perhaps about a month later, the Grievance Panel should reassess the situation to determine:
Any ethically-run organisation with strong social justice values at its core needs to invest resources in a good process for:
With this process in place, issues can be resolved before they escalate to legal action.
What is Needed: