Relationships Are More Important Than Punchlines

When you think about building relationships as an organizer, you primarily think about those that you create and strengthen with your volunteer leaders and prospects. Often, you’ll also think about the one you have with your manager—when you work well together, you both succeed. But, some of the most important relationships in organizing often get overlooked: those that you have with your fellow organizers.

Your organizing team is one of the most important teams on your campaign. Here is advice for you as you work to strengthen your relationships with your fellow organizers.

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Don’t get cliquey.

Unfortunately, campaigns are clique breeding grounds. You will find people you connect with in a way you have never found before! You just get each other and want to spend all of your time together.

That’s very understandable, but be very careful when you get obsessed with your new best friends/organizers to not form an exclusive clique that makes others feel left out. It makes sense that you would want to spend more time with the people you click with, but your work relationships are not just about what you want.

You are part of a team and you need to act accordingly. Make an effort to reach out to and connect with those you don’t immediately feel close to. Just like you would never get cliquey with some volunteer leaders and not others, you need to do the same with your fellow organizers. It’s easy to fall into the trap of being cliquey, especially when you’re tired and looking to just be comfortable, so make a concerted effort to watch your behavior and modify it when necessary.

Prioritize team building and social time with your organizers.

Being an organizer is emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausting. A lot of organizers have this super-human energy to work all the time, to use their few hours of free time to go out and decompress with their coworkers, and to thrive on very little sleep. For some of you, that’s really hard.

The most important thing you can do for your campaign is to stay sane; so if that means using a lot of your free time recuperating with some much needed alone time, that’s completely understandable. But figure out when and where you can prioritize social time with your fellow organizers and hold yourself accountable to that time.

 “One of the things that clicked for me the first time I actually learned about the snowflake model is that there wasn’t a clear line between where staff ended and volunteers started. A team of organizers related to each other the way that a group of volunteer leaders related to each other and they needed each other in the same way.” – Betsy Hoover, partner, 270 Strategies

Treat every person on your campaign with the same respect. 

You treat every volunteer with so much appreciation and esteem—as you should! You respect your managers, your managers’ managers, your surrogates, and your candidate with your words and your actions. Make sure you treat your fellows, your interns, and even the security guard in your building exactly how you would treat your volunteers and your candidate.

 “In one way or another, every job I have gotten since my field organizing days I have gotten because of a contact from the ‘08 Obama campaign. Winning your current campaign is your primary focus, but also make sure you are maintaining and cultivating relationships that will last beyond the campaign. You’d be amazed at how small the world of progressive activism really is—the intern on your campaign could end up being a key professional contact for you in a few years. If you take that long view, you’ll see why it’s not just polite to treat everyone well, but it’s good for you! That might mean going out of your way to help someone else’s project, agreeing to an approach different from your own or being the first person to apologize after an argument. Little gifts or friendly hand-written notes can go a long way to fix a strained relationship, too. Humans tend to only remember the good parts and forget the bad, so be the person everyone remembers as being the total team player.” – Ryan Gallentine, deputy director of public affairs, Solar City

Don’t complain about any of your coworkers to any of your other coworkers.

This feels so obvious, but who among us can say they’ve never talked about someone behind their back? It’s just instinct to want to commiserate with those who are on your side, but it will create harmful divisions on your organizing team—harmful divisions that could hurt your productivity and success.

Take a step back to acknowledge the valid feelings of frustration you are having and then become an organizer again. You find solutions to problems, you don’t just complain about them.

Look for opportunities to help your organizers be more successful.

When you’re really crushing it at voter registration, don’t just appreciate the shout outs you get on team conference calls. Open your team’s reports and figure out who is struggling with voter registration. Reach out to them to hear their approach, to offer them your best practices, and to work together to find solutions to the challenges they’re facing.

When one of you succeeds, you all succeed. Helping others be more effective will help your team reach your goal. In addition, it will show your manager that you have the skills to lead, opening up new opportunities for you.

Remember: as much as you love these people, ultimately this is a job.

It can be hard to remember that part of your job is building and maintaining working relationships within your own organizing team. You love your coworkers! Hanging out with them feels like the only break from work you ever get. These people will be your family for years to come. But right now, they’re not just your friends—they’re not just your family. They are your campaign team members and the most fundamental part of your relationship is working together towards your shared goal.

“In any organizing team, there’s going to be weirdness, there’s going to be an awkwardness, sometimes there’s going to be aggressiveness, but always remember that these people are your family. Whether you like it or not, they are your family. Really leaning on each other and depending on each other and talking to each other and being open with each other is the most important thing you can do.” – Alex Goldman, deputy regional organizing director, Minnesota DFL

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