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LLLI: Planning for the Future

From: LEAVEN, Vol. 37 No. 1, February-March 2001, pp. 15-17

Dear LLLI,

I have read the Report From the Board called "The Questions Within" (LEAVEN, Aug/Sept 2000), and I still don't get it! In fact, I read the article twice because I could not figure out what it was talking about. If we are about to reconceive LLLI, I sure want to know what is going on! Please clarify.

Carroll Beckham
Fayetteville, North Carolina, USA

  • "If anything imaginable were possible, if there were no constraints whatever, what would be the nature of an ideal institution to accomplish our purpose?" The Chaordic Alliance
  • If You Don't Know Where You're Going, You'll Probably End Up Somewhere Else by David Campbell (Thomas More Press, rpt. 1990.)

Dear Carroll,

Thank you for writing to us. I hope this letter will help explain more about "the questions within" and what is happening in LLLI.

As LLL Leaders, we are familiar with encouraging and supporting mothers in understanding the needs of their children. We try to model flexibility as needs change and children grow. We adjust routines, assess how things are going, and try new ways of doing things when necessary - in our own families, in our LLL groups, and in other aspects of our lives.

It is healthy for an organization to ask questions about itself and to dream about the future, too. How are we doing? What are we doing well? How can we learn about successes from each other? What challenges do we see? Where would we like to be five years from now? Twenty years from now? How can we work together most effectively to meet our goal of helping mothers to breastfeed their babies?

It isn't simple to make assessments or changes in a large organization, especially one as culturally diverse and as geographically spread out as LLLI. The questions raised in the LEAVEN Board column you refer to express some of the important tensions that exist within LLL. For example: Where should decisions be made - locally or centrally? Who should participate in decision-making? How should information be shared throughout LLL? Is it enough to reach the number of mothers we are currently helping or should we expand so that we can reach many more? What kinds of growth and change are most desirable and most beneficial to our mission?

In 45 years, La Leche League has grown from an organization run from a kitchen table in Franklin Park, Illinois, to kitchen tables in 60 countries, a number of regional offices around the world, and a fully staffed and LLLI-owned office building in Schaumburg, Illinois. Amazing communication technology and increased movement of people from place to place are bringing many parts of the world closer together and affording more and more opportunities for us to learn from each other.

These exciting changes in global technology and in the growth of La Leche League around the world have created some challenges the first generation of Leaders never dreamed of, especially in the areas of communication and support. We, all of LLL, are enriched and strengthened by the diversity of our members and Leaders and also challenged by how to organize globally to work together most effectively. We want to allow support services and communication to flow smoothly throughout LLL so that we can all work toward fulfilling our deep commitment to helping mothers breastfeed their babies.

All of us - Leaders, members, administrators, staff, Board of Directors - can make important contributions to evaluating how we are doing and in planning for the future. Past studies, such as the work done by the Organizational Structures Committee, have laid important groundwork in evaluating how we work together and looking at possibilities for the future. Currently, Leaders around the world are participating in Leader Roles Conversations and sharing stories of how they do their LLL work through Sharing Circles (see "Sharing Circles" in LEAVEN Dec 2000/Jan 2001).

While we know the current structure doesn't always work well, past attention focused on studying specific models that might be applied to our organization. Then, about a year ago, LLLI Board of Directors members, Cindy Smith and Ginger Sall, and LLLI Deputy Director, Shirley Phillips were guests at a two-day seminar entitled "Private Volunteer Organizations in the New Century: Command and Control - or 'Chaordic' Organization?" The three LLLI representatives imagined they might pick up one or two ideas that would be helpful for LLLI.

Ginger writes, "We [found] ourselves in a room with people who were committed, through their work in various PVOs (Private Volunteer Organizations), to making the world a better place. What a great experience to connect with so many caring people ... to explore our common ground and our differences. We were surprised to find ideas that spoke to our hearts, yet made sense from a more traditional 'business' perspective. [And,] we were taking away more than a few ideas, [we brought home] a whole new perspective about issues of organizational structure."

Dee Hock, founder and former chairman of VISA, the internationally recognized credit card corporation, was the speaker for the event. Dee used his experience creating the VISA corporation to develop a new approach to thinking and talking about organizations in general, from large profit-making groups to small nonprofit organizations. He coined a new term, "chaord," which defines the balance where chaos and order overlap. He talked about the chaordic process (see "The Chaordic Process," page 15) and about The Chaordic Alliance (TCA), a nonprofit organization created to help institutions interested in using this process within their organizations. He shared how a group of like-minded and dedicated people can develop a sincere and common understanding of how they want to work together and, in that process, discover possible models that will "fit" their organization. Investing time in putting common purpose and principles into words creates the foundation for a dynamic and future-oriented organization (See "Selected Principles"). Rather than starting with a search for an external model, he was suggesting starting with a study of the "questions within": developing a deeper understanding of both purpose and needs within the organization. Then the appropriate models would emerge.

The Chaordic Process

Developing a self-organizing, self-governing organization worthy of the trust of all participants usually requires intensive effort. To maximize their chances of success, most groups have taken a year or more on the process. During that time, a representative group of individuals from all parts of the organization or community meet regularly and work through the chaordic design process.

The steps involved in conceiving and creating a more chaordic organization are:

  • Develop a Statement of Purpose: Define with absolute clarity and deep conviction the purpose of the community in a clear, commonly understood statement. What identifies and binds the community together? (This does not mean a change in focus for LLL, but rather an exploration of our deepest reasons for being La Leche League.)
  • Define a Set of Principles: Define with the same clarity, conviction, and common understanding the principles by which those involved will be guided in the pursuit of the purpose. Note: these are organizational operating principles, which need to be in harmony with LLL philosophical principles (the ten concepts). "Selected Principles" (page 17) lists some examples of operating principles.
  • Identify All Participants: Identify all relevant and affected parties - the participants whose needs, interests and perspectives must be considered in conceiving (or reconceiving) the organization.
  • Create a New Organizational Concept in light of the purpose and principles.
  • Write a Constitution which expresses the details of organizational structure and functioning.
  • Foster Innovative Practices which will naturally evolve as a result of the above steps.

Each step sheds light on all of the preceding steps and highlights where modifications or refinements need to be made. No step is truly finished until all are finished.

Courtesy of The Chaordic Alliance(R), (c)1999

Cindy and Ginger shared their excitement and information about the chaordic process with the LLLI Board of Directors - and with the Division Directors, Directors of Leader Accreditation, and Directors of Departments working at the Schaumburg office. We all began learning more about these ideas through books, web searches, and many discussions with Leaders and representatives of The Chaordic Alliance (see "How You Can Learn More about Chaordic Ideas and Self-Organization," page 17).

Ginger and Cindy invited Tom Hurley, Managing Director of The Chaordic Alliance, to attend part of our March 2000 LLLI Board meeting. Tom spent parts of two days with the Board - listening to us, making a presentation about TCA's work in organizational development, and answering our questions. His visit and our subsequent discussion led to a May 2000 feasibility meeting, an opportunity for gaining feedback from the LLL community. Funding was obtained and over thirty Leaders from around the world attended that two-day workshop. Since then, word has continued to spread. Around the world, Leaders have been talking about the chaordic process and how it might be used to restructure LLL. As one feasibility participant said, "This seems to me to have come at exactly the right time - a sense of 'meant to be' touches me." These discussions culminated in the Board passing two motions at our October 2000 Board meeting:

  • Motion 1: The LLLI Board of Directors initiates and supports LLL participation in a chaordic process. La Leche League will pursue this process with the Chaordic Alliance in harmony with the philosophy and purpose of LLLI.
  • Motion 2: The LLLI Board of Directors convenes a funding group to develop resources for worldwide La Leche League participation in the chaordic process.

What makes this approach so exciting to LLL? Here are some of the reasons:

  • It involves participation throughout the organization. There are so many great ideas out there! Every Leader has something to contribute to LLL and the mothers and babies we serve.
  • It allows us to focus on LLLI's purpose, as stated in the LLLI Bylaws, Article 11, Section 1. One important belief that LLL and TCA hold in common is that purpose and principles are at the heart of an organization. We believe that Leaders and other interested parties can use the chaordic process to develop more effective ways we in LLL can work together to achieve our purpose. As one Leader said after the May feasibility meeting, "This could open and expand our opportunities without changing or sacrificing our philosophy and concepts. I do feel excited about the possibilities, perhaps in awe of the work ahead."
  • It brings together La Leche League's experience in mother-to-mother support of breastfeeding and TCA's experience in organizational development. The concepts of self- organization, autonomy, and member-participation are central to TCA's approach for creating and renewing institutions, and they resonate with LLL values! Leaders often self-organize, for example, when we form Chapters and Leader circles, in person and online. These groups vary in size and the type of support they offer, depending on the communities and the needs of the Leaders involved. This is a homegrown model of member-participation!

The LLLI Board of Directors is enthusiastic about a future where each Leader has the freedom to pursue LLL's purpose in ways suited to her interests and talents and the needs of her community. This does not mean "anything goes." It means freedom within a discipline that we develop and share as a community.

We have work ahead - hard work at times. "I expect to be touched by [this process] more deeply and more personally than I imagined. No doubt this will be the case for many others, too," wrote one Leader in her evaluation after the feasibility meeting. But there is also the potential of great rewards. From another participant: "Although it will be hard work, I feel confident that we are up to this challenge.. I hope [it] will lead to tremendous personal growth, which will in turn benefit our organization as we all truly embrace a philosophy of mutual respect and trust. I believe it will also create an energy and atmosphere that could lead LLLI to impact society in additional ways we've only dreamed of in the past. "

Selected Principles for "Chaordic" Organizations

Examples used for discussion at The LLLI Feasibility Meeting, May 4-6, 2000

The organization is open to owner/participant membership by any Individual or Institution subscribing to the Purpose and Principles in conducting the organization's activities.

In pursuit of Purpose, all participants shall:

  1. Have the right to self-organize at any time, on any scale, or around any activity consistent with the Purpose and Principles.
  2. Make deliberations and decisions by bodies and methods that reasonably represent all relevant and affected parties and are dominated by none.
  3. Vest authority in, perform functions at, and use resources at the smallest or most local part that includes all relevant and affected parties.
  4. Freely and fully exchange information related to achieving the Purpose in accord with the Principles unless doing so violates confidentiality ormaterially diminishes competitive position.
  5. Resolve conflict creatively and cooperatively without social, ecological, or physical violence.
  6. Educe not compel behavior to the maximum degree possible.
  7. Respect, protect, and encourage individual, cultural, and societal diversity.

What are the next steps? At the time this letter is being written, the plan is for a small initial planning group of 4-6 people to meet with representatives of The Chaordic Alliance to work out the best methods of proceeding. This planning group, in collaboration with TCA, will create and initiate a process to fit LLLI. The group will work on the logistics to get started and how people will be selected for the various tasks. The money left from the feasibility meeting will fund this one-time meeting.

Here is an example of how some organizations have proceeded. A draft team or design circle (or whatever name suits LLL best) of 8-12 people drafts documents that reflect the work of all the interested and relevant participants during the chaordic process. A large part of this group's role is listening and looking for consensus points throughout the organization. This group meets in person, and with TCA, as often as once every month or two. Often other groups assist the draft team in listening and building consensus through interaction with others in the organization.

One such group, often called the review team (again, a name would be chosen which suits LLL best), is responsible for communication and feedback to the draft team. Even more important, this group seeks input from as many people as possible about the various ideas and written drafts. This 25-30 member team meets with the draft team occasionally, perhaps every third time.

Additional teams are sometimes used to offer more avenues for feedback and to write articles, provide translations, staff a speaker's bureau, organize events to spread the word, and seek input.

People will be selected for the various tasks and groups by matching capabilities and interests with the various positions, looking for diversity throughout LLL. Determining how these selections will be made is part of the work for the initial planning group, which will endeavor to initiate the process in accord with principles common to many chaordic organizations. The process is inherently collaborative, and we hope every interested Leader will be involved in some way. There will be many opportunities for Leaders to ask questions and share ideas, take part in workshops, read materials and share their dreams of the future for our organization. New roles and ways of participating will evolve as the process unfolds. It is exciting to think of all we can learn from each other.

We are also recruiting Leaders throughout the world who are interested in grant proposal writing to form a funding group. Support will be available for these Leaders to receive training in grant proposal writing in their communities. We hope the funding group will be able to secure grant funds to pay the LLL expenses for proceeding with the chaordic process. These expenses are primarily travel costs for LLL participation at the various group meetings, along with costs for sharing information and translations. The Chaordic Alliance has already received funding for their costs.

We applaud the skills and creativity of each Leader and the diverse talents and dreams that connect us to one another. We look forward to a bright future as we begin to look at the "questions within" and explore together where our dreams and talents can take us. We trust that our work here will be a gift to each of us, and to future Leaders and the families we will serve.

Susan Deo
LLLI Board of Directors
Rancho Palos Verdes, California

How You Can Learn More about Chaordic Ideas and Self-Organization

2001 LLLI Conference Special Events for Leaders

(See Conference registration booklet or LLLI Web site for details.)

  • World Assembly 2001. The 4th Biennial World Assembly

    Leaders from all over the world are invited to join in this gathering to explore how we work together to accomplish the purpose of La Leche League. Be a part of the chaordic process! The day will include assemblies of the entire group and smaller breakout sessions.

  • Leader Breakfast Roundtables: Mon, July 9 and Tues, July 10

    Interested Leaders are invited to engage in a lively, one-hour, roundtable activity to discover and extend possibilities for LLLI - and for ourselves as members of the community. Light continental breakfast included.

Web Sites and Email Discussion Groups:

  • talkchaordic

    An email discussion group of LLL Leaders which is open to any interested Leader. To subscribe, go to and click the "JOIN" button. All past messages are available online to members.

  • The Chaordic Alliance (TCA)

    The Chaordic Alliance Web Site includes a variety of articles and other information about TCA and the chaordic process.

Books and Pamphlets/Articles

  • Cooperrider, D. and Whitney, D. Collaborative Change: Appreciative Inquiry. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 1999. (booklet)
  • Hock, D. The Birth of the Chaordic Age. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1999.
  • Hock, D. The Chaordic Organization. Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 1999. (booklet)

All materials available through your local bookstore or from Berrett-Koehler Communications or 800-929-2929.

Please share your questions or concerns on issues of common interest to Leaders by writing to "Letters to LLLI" Diane Beckman, 319 S. Dixon Avenue, Cary NC 27511-3259 USA or DiBeckman at (email). We cannot publish anonymous letters.

Due to limited space, LEAVEN does not publish every letter received, and those which are published may be edited for clarity and length. However, each letter will receive a response from a member of the BOD or LLLI staff.

[this article has been edited for clarity and differs slightly from the original publication.]

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