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Building and Evolving Larger Group Awareness and Identity
[01/13/2010] [Sindari]

Building an Amtgard larger group consciousness and identity, as is found in principalities, grand duchies, confederacies, et cetera, starts with many people in the individual provinces wanting and believing that being a part of a greater whole (and eventually a kingdom) is possible and most importantly, that it allows for the best administrative and governance interests of the collective group in the long term. Further, there should be a belief that the provinces themselves are strong enough individually to withstand the process of change which includes pulling numbers and leadership out of the smaller pool for the larger pool and ensuring those leaders believe in the end goal. It is not realistic that everyone will buy in wholesale to every concept or plan as people come together, but at least a small majority must, along with several talented individuals willing to run the entire gauntlet knowing the plan and sticking to the plan with flexibility for understanding group dynamics and problem solving. The term “principality” is used in this article for convenience sake. It is meant to include, by definition, different provinces in relative geographic proximity joining together to form a larger whole but that have designated one principle province as becoming the administrative center consistent with the requirements set forth by the Burning Lands. The term “you” is used in context to address both individuals and the larger group collective.

A primer in mass and inertia…?!

Large group formation from individual provinces must start with enough mass and inertia to “get the ball rolling”. Here the “mass” is defined as both the strength in numbers and diversity of the members who make up the individual provinces. The “inertia” comes from increasing degrees of discontent, desire, want or need for something that the individual province cannot provide. Since individual provinces in close geographical proximity can certainly go visit one another, it usually takes more than a desire for simple intermittent camaraderie. It may start with a desire to incorporate positive aspects of one province into another that requires some type of administrative angle to achieve; such as a special award. There may be certain laws or regional rules more applicable to them that provide common ground and sense of a shared need. It may be that the individual groups have grown up together, more or less, and are far from their sponsored kingdom’s core groups and therefore already maintain a separate but amorphous group identity. The shared need may be they have outgrown their abilities to recognize worthy individuals within their provinces and there are very limited means to recognize them from without.

All of these desires, needs and wants collectively help to provide the inertia and is the very necessary glue that keeps the ball of the individual provinces together as a whole. You may be thinking that the above concepts are self evident. If the desires, needs and wants lack sufficient force, obviously the ball stops rolling or is dropped. If there isn’t enough numbers or diversity of players in the individual provinces to maintain enough mass, then desire itself are wishes that beggars can’t ride. But, this concept must not be undervalued because inertia is the collective group conscious WILL to see the change through and no one person or few people’s desires can bind the whole together all the time, nor is it healthy for them or the groups to do so. So the very FIRST thing to reflect upon before undertaking the journey towards a larger group identity and eventual kingdomhood is whether there is enough mass and inertia to get up to the top of the hill. Notice, I do not say enough mass and inertia to see it through until the end. The downhill is a different set of forces and comes into play once it is felt (Perhaps with a big leap of faith thrown in for good measure!) that there is enough initial mass and inertia, the mission is in progress and a foundation has been established.

What is the Mission?...and the foundation relies on what kind of house you intend to build

The mission is building larger group consensus through the respectful recognition of the disparate needs and wants of the individual provinces, the requirements necessary to administer and maintain a large group in a specific cultural environment, and the necessity to keep an eye and pulse on how that can fit and perhaps more importantly, contribute, to the grand scope of the national Amtgard canvas. Make a list! Really. Make a few. It’ll help. I promise.

Now that you know the mission, and you have your lists, ask yourself what kind of foundation you desire; a strong, enduring foundation to build a fun, welcoming house or a glass house, a house of cards? Ask yourself sincerely, since there is no room for provincial grandstanding, individual ego stroking or chest beating in this process. It is hard enough to get many respected, well meaning individuals to agree on what one person may think is clear and unambiguous. Don’t make it harder by going in with a major hidden agenda. In the end, there will be enough personal and collective satisfaction to spread around if you keep an eye on the big picture and what is best for all.

So now you lay the foundation by pulling the mission pieces together through earnest negotiation and compromise under the fully understood and agreed upon premise that no individual province (or its needs/wants) is more important or greater than the sum of all the parts (needs and wants) going into the whole. Yet, a practical understanding should be acknowledged that certain requirements must be met to achieve the end goal. If this means that a certain group (the largest group, the group most near X, the group with the most “contract time” in the game, etc.) is the “default” seat for purposes of administrative issue “Y” than that necessity is recognized for what must be, not for setting a larger value on it in the larger group cultural identity.

The give and take of successful negotiation and compromise is best achieved through a master plan and trustworthy, respected representation on both a provincial and principality level. Going back to the house analogy, you’ll need a general contractor (monarch of the principality) who is dogged in determination, adept in diplomacy, expert at understanding timelines, what needs doing and who best to do it, and overall systems managing as well as sub-contractors (monarchs of the provinces) that understand the payoff of getting the house done correctly, have the trust of the people they represent and advocate on their behalf while maintaining the mass and inertia of the original strong and healthy province. Fortunately, Amtgard has tried and true (but not perfect) administrative frameworks (corporas) to help your new principality on its way.

Follow the leader…

Most provinces are already sponsored within a kingdom and follow their corpora. If all or some of your provinces are currently freeholds (under the Burning Lands Corpora), I recommend rectifying that by either having them all be freeholds, and therefore under the Burning Lands corpora, or have all the provinces request sponsorship within the kingdom that holds the sponsorship to most of the lands or the largest provincial land in the proposed principality as applicable.

This may take careful consideration and negotiation on the provinces and kingdom’s part or it may be an easy fit for all with very little effort. Consideration should include which kingdom has the most “dibs” geographically under the Amtgard Rules of Play: Park Boundaries and Rules, which kingdom is most likely to match up with the culture of all the provinces seeking principality status and if the kingdom has a general desire and ability to mentor with enthusiasm and confidence in the new principality’s ability to succeed.

Once you have established the kingdom your group will work with, the next step is to seek guidance in forming the initial administrative framework for the principality. Your first step will be to hold an election for your principality. Your kingdom monarchy, the corpora or interested mentors in the kingdom can be of great benefit in guiding your group through the first election process. They may request that the largest province in the proposed group hold the first election among all eligible provincial members or they may wish to administer the first election from the kingdom seat. Perhaps you will be fortunate in having this information well outlined in their corpora including what powers and responsibilities the new monarchy will have.

Whatever form that first election takes, keep in mind the attributes you want your monarchy to possess, some of which are enumerated above. You, your province’s monarchy, the other province’s members and monarchies that will form the principality, will be looking to the principality monarchy to lay the foundation of your new house not only for the first six months, but for years to come.

The first six months will be a period of initial excitement and drive in forming the new principality. There will likely be a lot of enthusiasm, great ideas and a general interest in being a part of making “it” happen. The greatest thing that the principality monarchy can do is acknowledge that enthusiasm and channel the energy into the crucial development of the foundation according to what the individual is best at doing without circumventing the very real need to follow chain of command. Any leadership decisions affecting a province or the people a provincial monarch was elected to represent should be cleared or discussed with that monarch.

If general member Sir Blackheart Doomslayer of the Shire of Purple Haze wants to get to work on developing a future corpora right away, the principality monarch may encourage him to run for Guildmaster of Reeves, or talk with his monarch about being the corpora representative for their province, or tell him he will be put on the list of interested folks when it comes time to start hashing those things out. Then mention this to his provincial monarch or have the provincial monarch mention it to you, as principality monarch, if it is brought first to them and has to do with principality decisions.

It is very important to follow the leader and present a united front to the general populace. Communication between local and principality monarchy is imperative as these are new roles that people must adapt to and may feel threatened by even if power is not intentionally abused in either direction. The principality monarch must recognize, respect and work through the authority of the local monarchs and the local monarchs should use the chain of command and not go to or “consult” the kingdom monarchy anytime they don’t like the way things are being done. There is no basis for a principality where people do not trust each other to do their job and honestly communicate in the spirit of compromise.

Unless it has been demonstrated that the monarch has committed an egregious mistake, the principality monarch should do their best to have any complaints or issues specifically dealing with the local province handled through that monarch and each monarch should support one another in their respective roles. If there is a need to discuss an issue with one or all monarchs, it should be discussed privately until a solution or compromise is reached and can be presented in a unified manner. If all else fails, remember, support and allegiance is given to the crown, not necessarily the person seated under it at any given time. Every six months there are elections anyway.

Simply put, and said again because it is so important; it is not in anyone’s best interest to undermine the authority of the leadership. This is especially true on electronic group forums. Do not ignorantly assume that what you put in writing (anywhere) doesn’t have a double edge. Hopefully you are in regular “closed” communication with who you represent, who represents you and there are avenues for discourse when disagreements or miscommunication arise. Try really, really hard not to feel like you are the only one who knows the RIGHT way to do something and that it is the ONLY way to do it. Elect good leaders and respect their decisions. Ask if you are unsure why they picked a certain path. You may be looking at trees and they may be looking at the forest.

Brick by brick…

The first year of a principality will largely be spent adjusting to new and different roles and relationships, building the principality’s group identity while maintaining provincial pride and communicating course and direction from reign to reign.

The principality will bring new positions that need to be filled that take away some of the talented resources that were previously invested only at the provincial level. While this may create a void at the local level, it will fulfill a necessary function at another. It creates an important and unique opportunity for other provincial members who may not have ever otherwise considered a position or elected office, to become more invested, willing to contribute something more tangible than showing up every week and those folks must be supported, honored and thanked for their willingness to stretch their wings.

Group identity will continue to gradually coalesce but may be concentrated sooner rather than later by a good facilitator. If you are the principality monarch, it behooves you to recognize the strengths, weaknesses and diversity in each province and of the principality at any given time and to address it, celebrate it and shore it up. Create opportunities for provinces to get together and have fun; perhaps by making a themed reign that incorporates all the provinces, having a vote and althing on the best group name, having a contest for the best heraldry for the principality, holding classes in a collegium addressing areas that help the principality and the provinces. Perhaps developing a mentor or apprentice program or forum for increasing the leadership pool, work on fighting arts, judging arts and sciences, crafting, developing and playing personas, community service projects, etc. If there are no major events that the entire group already sponsors, consider making one or converting a provincial event to a principality event.

When setting your goals, dates and plans for the reign, first include a strategic planning session and the buy-in of the local monarchs. Ensure planning takes into account their goals, important dates and agendas. Once the provincial leadership is more or less on-board, communicate your reign plans, dates and goals to the entire principality. Then communicate progress regularly through e-mails and visits. Plan and communicate important dates WELL in advance and then regularly thereafter with a central place members can remember to reference. Even so there will always be people who didn’t know. Keep in communication with your sponsored kingdom and let them know how things are going. Try to co-ordinate for them to come out and celebrate important “group identity” dates with encouragement and pats on the back.

The grind and the downhill….or…rubber ducky “you’re the one”…

The dust has settled, positions filled, relationships established or adjusted and group identity strengthens with each successful reign. A feeling of permanence, a routine, and a sense of “can-do” togetherness is trickling down to each province and member. There is a general plan and direction and the foundation stands. Now what?

Now comes the push, the grind, the concerted drive and focus of all those talented, passionate people in the group to continue helping get all the necessary ducks in a row to realize the next step in the collective dream. This is the hard part of the climb as initial inertia and excitement have waned, a status quo is established and all who are left “voluntarily” volunteering for true drudge work are those with significant masochistic tendencies or questionable sanity.

Juggling multiple balls requires trust that everyone can and will do their part. It also means inspiring, pushing, leading or dragging folks through each successive finish line to the goal. Pick them up, again and again if you have to, reorient them and send them on their way. Make sure there is consistent communication or feedback about timelines and promises. Fully utilize electronic resources to meet, discuss, review, conference and communicate. Check out Yugma, Skype and other real-time communication resources.

It is inevitable that various individuals of each province with specific talents will be selected repeatedly for committees as the principality develops awareness of and works to ensure compliance with the rules and requisites enumerated by the Burning Lands and Circle of Monarchs for petition of kingdom status, as well as any special regulations unique to your state or country. Corpora, B.O.D., By-laws, NPO, articles of incorporation, state and/or federal taxes, expired business licenses, monthly unique sign-ins and so on will all suddenly become important and oft’repeated words. At this point, repeat the mantra of don’t give up, don’t give in to entropy or apathy. Inspire and lead by example, renew the desire, remember the reasons you started this process and communicate that frequently. The leaders and the people will make a difference! Remain humble, committed and maintain a sense of humor…we’re doing this to play a game, right?! Failure is not defeat until you stop trying. Give others a chance to rest by stepping up to the plate.

Continually passing the buck of leadership to those who have already served time and again is ultimately not self-serving in anyone’s pursuit to have fun by maintaining or growing a strong province, principality or kingdom. Those veterans, when pressed into service again and again without an end in sight will eventually not just burn-out, but burn-up and either quit playing altogether or develop a planet sized ego where they feel that Amtgard will cease to spin on its rightful axis if they aren’t involved. It is very important that veterans have and take an opportunity to renew and that they allow new talent to lend their unique perspective to lead in new, different and exciting ways. By infusing new enthusiasm or perspectives, growth continues to occur and group identity to strengthen.

Remember too, that the ultimate icing on the group identity cake is the “oh-so-very.important.don’” group marketing and branding. Brand yourselves with principality heraldry or other principality identity symbols and pass it around to every member of the principality. Make sure everyone knows where you come from and that you are proud of it. Don’t let one or two people be your ambassadors. Online, in person, at events near and far, raise the flag, paste that url or banner, and make that shameless plug. Thank the folks in your sponsoring kingdom or in other kingdoms who are towing or promoting that tag line for you or members who are traveling to events to market. Take up a collection, do a fundraiser and get more members to more events. Talk to people at events, listen to their stories and feedback and ask for their support when you do it right. Nothing else at all will matter if very few people know who you group is and the folks who will ultimately vote for your petition have no familiarity with you or others in your group.

And in the end, when your group has the support and well wishes of your kingdom, has passed through the requirements of the Burning Lands and steps up for that second, ultimate Circle of Monarchs vote, relax and know that your principality has done its best. Know that you have tried to ensure that they know who your group is, that they respect the work and the people and that no answer other than YES is what you will likely hear. Congratulations and don’t forget to celebrate this major accomplishment!

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