Hello, alums of Granger Leadership Academy 2019! Thank you to those who were part of our discussion on March 23, “The Functional, Thriving Activist.” A few people have asked about the descriptions of ourselves, by House, that some fellow volunteers and I came up with when we were figuring out effective ways to work together. Here are the notes I was using.
Hogwarts Houses: Manage Your Volunteer Group Through the Magic of Sorting
I’m part of a volunteer group that has used our Hogwarts House affiliations to help us figure out good ways to work together while recognizing each other’s strengths and personalities. We got the idea to do this after an incident when our group was mocked publicly by people doing similar work. We had to discuss whether to respond and how. This is the kind of thing I recall us saying, greatly paraphrased. Can you guess the Hogwarts House of each speaker?
- “I know I shouldn’t do this, but I really want to start an anonymous account and point out all the stuff theydo wrong. I used to like them, but now I want to beat them. Our next project will be so good, it’ll be their worst nightmare. I don’t care how long it takes, I won’t rest until it’s perfect.”
- “This makes me so angry. I want to call them out on it. Who cares if it burns bridges? Anyone who’d side with them, I don’t want on my side anyway. They’re being such jerks.”
- “Honestly, I think we should take the high road. I hate confrontation. My stomach is in knots.”
- “I strongly recommend a P.R. tactic of making no acknowledgment. If we argue, people won’t care who was right or wrong; they’ll dislike us both. We’ll just go on letting our work speak for itself.”
After several discussions where we were amused to find how predictable all of our responses were, some of us began to use our House affiliations as shorthand. Others in our group had not Sorted themselves before and asked us to help them figure it out. There were two reasons they wanted to do this as a group discussion rather than, say, taking the Sorting quiz on Pottermore: It was a fun way for us to get to know each other, and online Sorting quizzes have a fundamental shortcoming. You can answer a bunch of questions and get a result that still doesn’t feel like you. But the Sorting Hat of the stories looks into your head, sees you, and then engages you in a dialogue about yourself and what you find important. You have both the experience of recognition and the element of choice, of self-identification, which is a combination that makes the Sorting powerful magic. Talking about ourselves with fellow volunteers, hearing what they thought our House should be, and why, and then identifying ourselves — that process comes closer to being Sorted by the hat.
In the climactic battle of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, there’s a moment when Harry thinks “help me,” and then Fawkes the phoenix appears with the Sorting Hat. Harry jams the hat on his head and the Sword of Gryffindor clunks out of it. Later, Dumbledore tells him that only a true Gryffindor could have pulled the sword out of the hat. I’ve suggested to people that when Harry thinks “help me,” the Sorting Hat is a way of saying, “Help is coming…but who are you? What kind of help would work for you?” Pulling the sword out of the hat doesn’t mean that Harry has proven himself worthy or that being a Gryffindor is better than anything else. It means that the Sorting Hat is something that can help you look inside yourself and know what it would take for you to get your brain un-jammed.
If you’re someone like Harry, and a surge of adrenaline can help you overcome your numbness and fear to do what you must, then the sword of Gryffindor might come from the hat. If you’re like me, a mess in crisis until there’s a chance to think, the hat might give you Ravenclaw’s diadem. If you’re a Slytherin, maybe the hat would give you Slytherin’s locket and you would remember, “I will survive this. I know I will eventually survive this,” and that would get you through. If you’re a Hufflepuff, maybe Hufflepuff’s cup would remind you that even if you’re in mortal danger, you’re fighting for what’s just and right, for humble things that belong to everyone, and that will keep you going.
It’s not a test or a judgment. It’s just a scan to see how you’re wired and give you the help that will reach you.
Here are some things that members of our group found about how we work together, according to House. It’s only based on the few of us, so other people from these Houses might be entirely different! But we found these things helpful to keep in mind.
Gryffindors: Tons of energy, willing to listen and change their minds, sometimes chafe at apologizing for the sake of diplomacy rather than right or wrong, tend to be angry and self-righteous but will withdraw to think about things when asked to.
Ravenclaws: We can change our minds when presented with evidence or persuasive cost/benefit analysis. Emphasize that emotional cost to the group and to the public image is a factor just as much as pure logic. Sometimes have to be talked down from overambitious, overly detailed projects. But if we say we’ll do a huge project on our own, let us. Always communicate with us; silence makes us panic.
Hufflepuffs: Exclusion or hierarchy seem to be missing the bigger picture to Hufflepuffs. Hufflepuffs remind me of the gold light connecting the phoenix feather wands: they tend to focus on ways that we are all the same at the core. There is a drawback to this perspective, though. The Hufflepuffs I know can’t always believe that others feel genuinely differently from how they do. This can be an issue in activism when dealing with true evil, so Hufflepuffs have to be careful about that.
Slytherins: Expect to be misunderstood. Expect to have the worst assumed about them and therefore sometimes give up before they should. Their hurt can look standoffish or superior. It’s not; that’s their defense. Often, they have good motives mistaken for bad. Most sensitive of the Houses.
Ways we help each other out, by type
Based on these findings, we adjusted our approach to each personality type to help ourselves function more smoothly as a group. Our goal was to see and accommodate everyone so spirits stayed high and so did creativity, output, and enjoyment of working with each other.
Slytherins: We took seriously that slights wounded them deeply, even if they were too proud to show it — open acknowledgment worked better for them than telling them to get over it or rise above it. They may not look it, but they need protectiveness most of all.
Gryffindors: To save themselves and the rest of us, they suggested instituting a 24-hour policy before acting on any heated matter. During that time, as many of us as possible would chime in, and the Gryffindors could reassess with cooler heads. They themselves proposed this.
Hufflepuffs: They warned us that they sometimes err too far on the side of people-pleasing, to their own regret. Through this group, I learned something about Hufflepuffs: they’re the most likely to keep quiet about their own discomfort. They’re the most likely to get physically ill from holding it in. They’re afraid they’re unimportant or being silly, or feel they ought to get over things privately, so they just keep their heads down and work even harder. So by the time they finally do speak out, they’ve been dwelling on their grievances for much longer and it’s harder to get through to them. We made a concerted effort to encourage the Hufflepuffs to state their misgivings early, early, early. We had to make a note of it to ask them directly. Sometimes, if it made things easier for them, we encouraged them to email one person privately first so they didn’t silence themselves for fear of whining.
Ravenclaws: We tend to think that more information is better and have to be told when more is just overwhelming. We go nuts when people aren’t communicating. Uncertainty or incomplete information feel intolerable to us; it’s better to spell things out for us, just so we’re clear, rather than assuming we will “get the hint” or “everyone’s on the same page.” Sometimes we change our minds and decide to contribute more work, even after we’ve said no, if we’re accidentally allowed to overhear how other people are doing things.
Strategies based on our strengths
Gryffindors are amazing at leading the charge, especially when things are going well. We call on them to be our visionaries. They are fairly low maintenance but do require pep talks and respond well to them.
Slytherins are amazing at strategy and energy when things are not going well. They like to come from behind. They are motivated by competitiveness and pure vengeance, both hot and cold. Calls to their competitiveness to be more productive are a win-win and improved their morale and feeling of affection for team members. Our Slytherins are the ones who are determined to top themselves every year, at risk to their own health, or who drop everything when there’s a hit to our community to produce a masterpiece of scholarship and refutation.
Hufflepuffs really do take on the thankless grunt work. They have an attitude of “Someone’s got to do it” — they can’t let things fail. The rest of us try to even things out by recognizing what they’re doing and identifying everything they don’t like to do so we can chip in and take care of the rest of it before they overwork themselves. The Hufflepuffs in our group produce breathtaking things — but they can’t relax to produce them if they worry that there’s something important going undone.
Ravenclaws are good at editing. We can do it precisely and without sentiment. We can pinpoint what’s important and what can go. This makes us good for PR. We have good memories for what has caused controversy in the past, we can reframe, and we can also judge when to change a good policy because it’s too emotionally costly to some members of our group.