Reflections on Distributed Care in Organizations

I recently attended a online class put on by The Hum around care support in organizations. Care labor is an often unseen and unaccounted form of labor within teams. As Rich said “the snacks don’t just appear out of thin air at a meeting” someone takes the time to care to put them there. How can organizations take better care of those who care?

Care Labor

We all take part in giving or receiving care labor. Often it is informal work done by people taking on a little extra (or a lot extra). In any group, there is care labor. From someone asking how you are to making sure there is food or snacks available to watering the plants and taking care of a shared space.

Care labor is emotional work, practicing hospitality, gestures of consideration, and supporting people’s development.

The unequal distribution of care labor is a very common source of burn out and conflict. If you’ve ever shared space with anyone you’ll probably be aware of the conflict that can arise if one person feels like they are alone in doing the dishes.

Our goal as leaders and organizations is to make care labor visible and to share it fairly.

Fair Care

Nati and Rich (the facilitators) shared three examples of how organizations share the care labor more fairly.

Loomio uses a steward model where each member of the team is connected to two individuals. One cares for them the other is cared for by them. It is a one way chain of caring. You are responsible for supporting one other person. This can be emotional work or just helping them get situated in the team. More details can be found here in the Loomio Handbook.

Gini, a self-managed tech company, is focused on being a Deliberately Developmental Organization. They have a paid working group that coaches employees and trains people to become coaches. Read more about the Gini Handbook here.

Enspiral, a network of about 250 change makers, is experimenting with support pods. They convene self selecting pods around topics for 6 month stretches. One aspect I found really interested was that each pod is asked every 3 months to perform a retrospective and share the feedback with the group who supports the creation of pods. Having opt-in time bound pods with built-in reflection is an awesome pattern. Read more about support pods in their handbook.

Small Changes

In the webinar we did a lot of interactive practices. One of which was a 1 on 1 sharing where each person told a story of a time when they were cared for while the other actively listened and then reflected. This little game illustrated a wonderful tool for better understanding how to learn to care for people.

Often it can be hard to know when someone needs care or what kind of care they need. It can also be hard to know how to bring more care into your organization. By sharing stories about times one felt cared for increases the group intelligence and actually supports better future care.

I’m always interested in how organizations can make small slow solutions towards their goals. Introducing check-ins at the start of meetings, inviting acknowledgments at the end of a work day, or inviting people to pair up and share stories about care are all great little patterns that can lead to bigger changes.

Other Resources

I highly recommend learning from The Hum. You can learn more about decentralized organisations with their self-paced online course, or join the next Microsolidarity Practice Program in Sept/Oct.

The Non-Violent Communication Community has some great resources on for feelings and needs inventory.

If you are looking to start a pod and want some framing these are cool frames to work from:

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