May 9, 2006 > Editorial: Groupies
Most of us are "groupies" in one way or another. We join with others to promote a cause, help our community or just have fun together. Often it goes no further than that, but as groups grow in size and complexity, some form of management may be necessary. This layer of officialdom might be benign or can present a challenge to the original focus.
We can all relate to Adam and Eve, happy in their ignorance of sin. Before the snake entered the Garden of Eden, they may have had little spats, but nothing of consequence. What a difference an apple can make! Just the hint of wrongness was enough to shake the very foundation of mankind. Suddenly there were rules and conflicting forces that could be "right" or "wrong" or even something without clarity.
So what does this have to do with a group of people trying to have fun or just do good deeds? As the group scampers about doing its thing, organizational issues, agendas and bureaucratic layers can become the apple in the garden. Joining groups which have an unambiguous mission statement and agenda lets members know the reason and justification of gathering together. Choices are clear and transparent to all, with room for comment and question. Each formal organization creates a set of rules - a skeleton - called "bylaws" that determine and govern structure and actions. Without adhering to this skeleton, larger groups needing structure will flounder without shape, just as you or I would without one.
Why bring this up? We are currently going through an election - a time to inspect the structure of our government and make changes, if necessary. It is also a good time to think about the composition or other organizations. If you are a groupie, have you ever thought about how the organization you belong to is structured and what the bylaws prescribe? Without understanding these rules, your trust is placed in others who either follow or disregard them without your knowledge or consent. This is not the best way to run a government or any organization.
Recently, I was part of a committee to review and revise bylaws of a local business organization. The rules and language were woefully outdated, yet the group seemed to move along just fine. However, problems arose when a decision was necessary between different viewpoints and, without injecting "right" or "wrong" into the situation, there was no guidance. As the bylaws were examined and discussed, basic rules became clear or could be debated until a consensus was reached. Although a painful process, the result was a clear set of guidelines for our group. As a groupie, I feel better.
In most public organizations, bylaws are essential information for all members. When joining a group, have you ever asked for a copy of the bylaws? Do you know what your liabilities are and who governs the group? Are there dues? Do you collect funds from others? Do you know how they are spent? Just as your personal budget has a direct effect on your wellbeing, so does the expenditure of monies that include your contributions and collections due to your influence. Knowing how and where these funds are spent and understanding the activities of an organization is a fundamental check and balance for members. If the bylaws are filled with legalistic and confusing verbiage, ask for clarification. Through vigilance and attention to the rules of the game, you may keep the apple out of your Garden of Eden.