Leading Groups in the Time of Covid-19
Chris Rolls, Senior Project Manager, 64 Million Artists explores how Covid-19 is making us redefine our experiences of belonging to groups and argues now is the time to radically explore new, accessible and inclusive ways of working.
If Covid-19 is teaching us anything, it’s how we cope with uncertainty. Furloughed, frustrated, home-working, home-schooled, we’re all at sea without coordinates with no idea when we’ll reach dry land or, indeed, if the land will be dry.
Lockdown is hitting some sectors more than others, and the cultural sector, with its silent army of freelance practitioners, precarious funding structures, and fragile links to often vulnerable, resource-poor communities, has been hit harder than most. The precious relationships we rely on to communicate our values - that we care and want to connect - have, in many instances, been severed.
Redefining our experiences of belonging to groups
At this time, perhaps more than in most of our lifetimes, we’re being forced to redefine our experiences of belonging to groups.
At the most intimate level, of course, this includes our family groups. The separation imposed on us from our elderly, shielding parents, or the enforced proximity of a home-working spouse and a bored, home-schooled daughter are all too acute. Then there’s the scattered team of colleagues fatigued by Zoom, or the many communities we’re now committed to online. The boundaries of our everyday belonging are being severely tested.
At the national level, the division and group storming has been going on for some time. Brexit split the UK down the middle, and for the last decade, many of us has have lamented a fragile, defensive leadership which, we sense, knows that it is out of touch with its poorest, most vulnerable citizens.
Anyone with passing familiarity of group dynamics knows that such armoured defensiveness will lead to distrust, division and ‘othering’ among members. The Black Lives Matter movement represents an urgent rising up of oppressed, overlooked groups. Meanwhile, in countries such as New Zealand and Germany, it increasingly looks like strong leadership is female.
The need for cultural leadership
Now more than other, then, we need cultural leadership. Our creative and cultural organisations help us find orientation and meaning in these fluctuating, hostile times.
This is a chance to explore radically new, accessible and inclusive ways of doing things; to include, not patronise; to tear down the structures of patriarchy, white privilege and exclusion; to face up to, and own, our privilege. To imagine better.
Democratic group processes
At 64 Million Artists, we’ve been exploring how groups form and operate at different scales for years: whether it’s our informal community of thousands who take part in The January Challenge each year, or a small team of library staff developing their creative leadership skills, we’re fascinated by creative and democratic group processes.
From entire towns and cities, to boroughs, schools, hospitals, care homes, we’ve been holding spaces for groups to safely, creatively and democratically share their tensions, explore their experiences, define their values, and vision how things might be. Creativity and connection are at the heart.
All groups need leaders if they are to flourish and perform, and now, more than ever, we need the right sort of strong, facilitating leaders who can provide us with structure. We need this whilst at the same time acknowledging that we are all leaders of own lives. Ones who are being called to tolerate uncertainty, contain anxiety, and weather the storm.
Chris Rolls, 10th June 2020
Chris Rolls is Senior Project Manager for 64 Million Artists (Mental Health and Social Justice) and a trainee psychotherapist in private practice in East London.
64 Million Artists are delivering training for groups facilitators during Covid-19 and beyond: