Clima de Eleição: Strengthening activism with friends and creating a team

Working with friends on an issue you care about can be an exciting prospect – you get to work with people you trust and care about, and on an issue that is important to you. As activists we don’t learn how to communicate, when friendship, work, and family overlap, that becomes a challenge and brings conflicts. But how do you ensure your working relationship is healthy, and propels your activism?

Clima de Eleição (CdE) is a climate advocacy organisation created in the midst of the 2020 municipal election in Brazil to tackle a leadership and governance gap to face the climate emergency. Starting off as friends passionate about fighting against the climate emergency – CdE quickly became a powerful vehicle for change. Beatriz Pagy and João Cerqueira share their top tips for how to strengthen activism with friends. These small but important tips on working with friends are part of what makes CdE so successful today. After working hard to create a healthy work environment, they were able to organise the first regional meeting between legislators in Latin America at COP27 last year, which was the first time in almost 30 years.

“So that made us really proud because we were not only lobbying with Brazilian parliamentarians, but parliamentarians from the entire region for the first time.”

Tip one: aligning expectations and roles. Working with friends is something that can be a double-edged sword, because you have way more expectations of the person and way more sensitivities.

“Probably, if we would have written down our expectations and understanding of our roles since the beginning, we wouldn’t have had so many issues with each other. And once we started aligning expectations and roles, everything started working way better. I would also say yes, do the agreement and put it on paper. Just verbal is not sufficient.”

Tip two: don’t let conflict wait – consider the ‘48-24-rule’ “People bring baggage, people bring their own past experiences, and they get triggered with things that you’re doing something that is completely different from the relationship you had with people before. So when your friends are just hanging out, and you’re doing fun things, you might get upset with someone that you’re friends with, but it’s different from having common obligations and responsibilities.”

Conflict between team members can be difficult and uncomfortable. CdE has a ‘48-24’ rule: if something is bothering you after 48 hours, then you should speak up about it in the next 24 hours. “Even if it’s just signalling that it is bothering you, and then you schedule a culture talk to just discuss that. Because then you don’t let things build up.”

Tip three: make time to check in. Creating time for each other as team members and friends when the activism you work on feels so pressing can be hard. “We have specific calls for check-ins, so they don’t feel like they are something to tick off an agenda on a more work oriented call. That way you always have proper time for checking in with one another.” Such calls can be started and guided by a simple question like “how are you here today” to allow everybody to share some insights in the personal well-being, just as friends do. This allows you to not forget personal care for each other when work pressure is high.

Tip four: separate work from friendship including communication channels. “We had more challenges when our team was growing and new team members joined that were not part of the initial cohort, like other colleagues that we selected to work with us or that we invited to work with us. Of course, they did not fully understand what is the limit between our personal intimacy and our work. So that was something that we had conversations about and needed to articulate communication agreements. It all comes back to having open conversations. Also not accepting certain things that could be going over your limits of intimacy when you’re in a work environment, like you shouldn’t be treated in certain ways that you would in a bar or at a party. And also understanding that maybe you don’t like certain jokes, you don’t like to be treated in certain ways.”

On top, sometimes activism means checking our emails, our phones, our social media at all hours of the day. For CdE, separating the communication channels was a key element in improving their working relationships, “we use WhatsApp just for personal chats, and Slack for work. If you really cannot separate the channels you use, create a group chat for work with those people and set specific work times.”

Tip five: when your team is growing – keep your focus! “When we started with a team of friends, we are always really connected to our purpose. Since we started, we are always looking for the impact. Obviously, impact is the most important aspect for us. So every time the organisation gets bigger, more people are talking about us and inviting us for a lot of different things, we only do what makes sense with our purpose. And every time someone new gets into our team, they bring their own agenda. We really take the time to make this person understand what we are doing, and how we do it, we will keep introducing the organisation to this new person for months, until the person really understands and gets more autonomy and independence. We really take care of this space to make sure we keep our focus when growing as a team.”

Summary: Clima’s list of key learnings
1. Creating safe spaces and open communication channels is fundamental
2. Respect and understand everyone’s communication style
3. Learn about non-violent communication and feedback methodologies
4. Just purpose is not enough, it’s important to meet people’s necessities
5. You might put the right person in the wrong position, be ready to restructure
6. Build rituals to cultivate connections
7. Personal connections influence work relations and vice versa
8. It is important to always create moments all together, even if virtually!
9. Have appreciation circles to share honestly positive things you are grateful for
10. Remember to celebrate your victories – both personal and professional!