In our Founding Year Survey, two of the most common barriers people felt to acting on climate change are that they feel overwhelmed by the size and scope of it, and unsure of how they could even begin to make a difference.
When we think of ourselves as individuals in the face of something as large and all-encompassing as climate change, many of us feel powerless, and that powerlessness can in turn result in despair and inaction.
At the same time, we know that to turn the ship around and start moving towards a climate safe future, we need to make our voices heard and use our individual talents. So, the challenge then becomes: how do we disrupt this sense of powerlessness so we can take meaningful action?
SMALL BUT MIGHTY
It turns out that one of the answers is happening each day in church basements, coffee shops, local libraries, zoom meetings, and living rooms. People are taking back their power and creating meaningful change around the world by connecting together in small groups of around 3-10 people, based on shared values and collective goals.
In this article we’ll examine how small groups are the secret ingredient powering many of the biggest and most successful organizations in the world, how a small group of workers took on Amazon and won, and highlight the top five ways in which small groups hold the key to transformative change.
THE TWO PIZZA RULE
The power of small groups is a key element of the success of many different types of organizations – from faith groups, to self help movements, and even some of the world’s biggest companies. One of the most often referenced examples is Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and the “two pizza rule” he established in the early days of building the e-commerce giant.
This rule held that each internal working group should be small enough that it could be fed by two pizzas. The idea behind this for Amazon was to maximize the efficiency of the group: fewer people means fewer scheduling hurdles in coming together, a higher chance of having each voice heard, and the decision-making process doesn’t get bogged down by too many competing ideas and goals at the table. People were able to come together, identify goals, and make a plan to act quickly and without many barriers.
While Amazon is by no means the best example to follow, it’s worth noting that this power of small groups to be able to take decisive action was central to their rapid growth and success.
THE SMALL GROUP THAT TOOK ON ONE OF THE WORLD’S BIGGEST COMPANIES — AND WON
Speaking of Amazon, it gives us an inspiring example of a small group coming together to create transformative change in the face of what seemed like impossible challenges to overcome.
In March 2020, an Amazon warehouse process assistant named Chris Smalls organized a small group walk-out in protest of the lack of proper COVID-19 safety protocols for his fellow workers.
After being terminated by the company shortly after the walk-out, he came together with his best friend and a small group of fellow workers to form The Congress of Essential Workers and, later, the Amazon Labour Union.
With little to no resources, and meeting in a two-bedroom apartment near the warehouse, they set their sights on taking on a company with a market value of more than $1 trillion. Within two years, this small group who had no connection to any larger labour organizations had won the first successful unionization effort at any Amazon warehouse in the United States.
Their historic victory also offered a model that other groups could easily follow. This has allowed their work to scale quickly, with other Amazon workers coming together in a network of small groups across the country, united in the same values and goals of protecting workers that inspired Chris Smalls to organize that first walk out.
THE TOP FIVE REASONS THAT SMALL GROUPS ARE SO EFFECTIVE
We’ve surveyed the landscape across areas of study including behavioural psychology, organizational leadership, and communications studies to find out the answer to the question: What makes small groups so effective at bringing about transformative change? Here are the top five themes that we’ve identified.
- Meaningful connection:
Small groups can create a strong sense of personal connection and empathy among members that is harder to achieve in larger groups. They create a space where we feel encouraged to share our individual concerns, work together to create a plan of action, and feel supported in taking steps to make change.
- The power of accountability:
Think of a local running group in your community and you’ll see how small groups can help keep people accountable to a shared goal. Both individual action and large-scale organizing can create a sense of anonymity for people that makes it easier to let overwhelm and uncertainty take hold. When we meet together and share our intentions to act within a small group of people we feel connected to, we are much more likely to follow through.
- Instant benefits:
Meeting together to share both a meal and also your vision for a better future has the instant benefit of being nourishing in more ways than one. In these moments where we connect together based on powerful shared values, we are already creating the future we are working for within that room. Seeing how change can be accomplished within a small group encourages us to see how it can be made on a larger scale, which is a strong incentive to keep going.
- Adaptability and responsiveness:
Small groups are much more able to adapt to issues facing their community as they arise. As new concerns are brought to the group, or challenges are encountered, smaller groups are able to quickly adapt and respond without the red tape and bureaucracy that larger groups would have to go through. And once the group structure is created, it can be quickly mobilized to take on a wide variety of issues.
- Accessible and repeatable:
Organizing a monthly get together with a group of 3-10 individuals in your community is much more doable than creating large-scale gatherings and events. As a small group leader or participant, you don’t need to have particular skill sets or large pools of resources. A few people with shared values and purpose, and a place to gather are all you need to get started.
And as you start to get successes under your belt as a group, other groups can easily use your example as a model to follow – allowing networks of smaller groups to quickly scale and amplify their impact.
MY CLIMATE PLAN GROUPS PILOT PROJECT
So how can we tap into the benefits of small groups to empower people to take action on climate change?
In addition to sharing their feelings of overwhelm and uncertainty in our Founding Year Survey, members have also given us feedback that group community building is one of the top things they would like to see as part of My Climate Plan’s beneficial membership offerings.
This feedback, in addition to the demonstrated power of small groups to bring about transformative change, is the reason we are announcing the launch of the My Climate Plan Groups initiative.
Our goal is to bring people together in a network of small groups, and support them on their lifelong journey to a climate safe future. As we pilot this new project, we are currently looking for five individuals who would be interested in being Group Hosts.
You don’t need anything other than a desire to connect with others and a place to gather to get started. The My Climate Plan team will be there to offer support every step of the way.
If this resonates with you, please fill out this short survey and we will reach out with more information.