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Using Chaordic Concepts to Pursue a La Leche League Vision

From: LEAVEN, Vol. 37 No. 5, October-November 2001, p. 98
Anne Easterday LLLI Board of Directors

When participants at the World Assembly and Leader Breakfast Round Tables looked around the room during the 17th La Leche League International Conference, July 7-10, many were struck by two things. The first was how amazingly different we all were. The second was how much we all had in common! These two events provided opportunities to explore those two things: our similarities and our differences-and how they shape or should shape our work together toward our mission of helping mothers and babies to breastfeed.

Besides the obvious differences in cultures, countries, and backgrounds, several other differences among Leaders were observed during the World Assembly. One that was particularly fun to watch was our varied work styles. The World Assembly Planning Team arranged to have art materials, flip charts, markers, paper, and pens available for participants to use as they talked about different issues related to the Chaordic Initiative. Small groups around the room conducted their discussions on the same topics in very different ways-some just sitting in a circle talking, some summarizing points or brainstorming ideas on flip charts, and some very visual people designing three-dimensional representations of their ideas using pipe cleaners, playdough, and stickers! (Editors Note: See page 105 for one group's experience.) Despite the different look of the discussion groups, several common themes were noticed. As we discussed key words that relate to how La Leche League supports mothers, the same words appeared again and again - words such as trust, respect, and love. Then we were asked if that image differed from the way that we work with each other as Leaders. Some Leaders expressed the feeling that they were not trusted to know what was best for their Groups and their communities.

"What is this chaordic thing?" was a question that was heard. Some Leaders expressed frustration that they had read everything LLL has published about it and still don't understand. Others acknowledged that this is a difficult concept to understand in a short period of time. There are Leaders who are content with the response "we don't know" and are willing to discuss feelings, while others are disgusted with the vague examples and want something more definite! Definite answers are difficult to provide since no other organization has the same purpose and principles as La Leche League. We have a process for the renewal of LLL - even though we are still constructing a description of the renewed organization.

Clearly, there were also differences in Leaders' perception of a need for change. A question that was heard many times was, "What's broken that we're trying to fix?" Ginger Sall, Chairman of the Board, said, "[the adage] 'If it's not broke, don't fix it' reinforces the status quo. Maybe that's okay. Or maybe mothers, babies, and the future of the world need and deserve more, if that's possible. If it's not broken, this could be a good time to work on making it better." Some Leaders were able to share what was 'broken' for them in their part of LLL, increasing the understanding of others present. For example, some Leaders expressed the feeling that they were expected to be 'cookie cutter" Leaders - Leaders who looked, sounded, and acted just like all the others. Others felt that jobs in LLL were no longer mother-sized. Some Leaders felt that review processes were too rigid and stifling. Some were frustrated that information does not flow freely throughout the organization. Still others cited the decrease in members and Leaders in most of the LLL world. Each of us has sincerely been doing her best for La Leche League while caught up in the enforcement of rules. These rules were made for good reasons and we are grateful to those Leaders who made them and followed them, giving so much of their time and talent to La Leche League. Perhaps it is time to reevaluate some of our rules to see if they are still helpful or if they are now hindering our work in some parts of La Leche League. From the perspective of the Board of Directors, there have been parts of our organization which have been "broken" for a very long time! Historically, we as an organization have tried to solve those problems by fixing those parts. One Leader likened this to putting a finger in the hole of a leaking dike. It stops the leak, but doesn't really solve the underlying problem of a dike that is not able to serve its purpose. Eventually, after plugging numerous holes, one would run out of fingers, or the dike would crack and collapse altogether.

Many in La Leche League have been searching for at least the last 15 years for a new organizational structure that would better support our work. It was with great hope that we initiated the chaordic process as a way to look at our problems in a different way. Through this process we are looking together at how we work together toward our common purpose and how we could accomplish our work more effectively. We are not seeking to impose a structure onto La Leche League. We will likely grow into a new structure through this exploration. Because it will come about as a result of many discussions and deep thinking about what is most important to us, it will be a structure unique to La Leche League.

Another difference noted was the attitude toward the word "chaordic." Some were heard to say, "If I hear the word 'chaordic' again, I will just scream!" Others stated that when they heard people discussing these concepts without using the word "chaordic," they felt something was being hidden. An important reminder came from the World Assembly planning team, "We as an organization are not pursuing chaordic concepts, but rather using chaordic concepts to pursue an LLL vision." That vision differs in the details from one person to another, but on the whole is the same - a La Leche League where we are pursuing our mission of providing information and support in a myriad of ways, many that we can't even imagine yet, to help mothers and babies breastfeed all over the world. At the heart of this vision are Leaders who are happy with their work and are receiving the information and support they need to do their jobs.

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