Process and task and Consensus
From: Rob Sandelin (Exchange) (
Date: Mon, 22 Jul 1996 11:12:49 -0500
Imagine a goose which has one wing much larger than the other.  The poor
bird strugglges mightly to fly, but everytime it gets into the air, all
it does is go around in circles, and it take huge effort to go in a
straight line.  Process and task are equal wings of a successful group
process, both wings must be pretty equal for the group to fly with
maximum success in the straightest line towareds the goal.

If the task wing is out of balance, then you go in one in direction for
awhile but then people leave in disgust because you care more about
expedency than doing things right or fairly. If the process wing is out
of balance, you go around in circles because there is no one to do any
of the tasks.  When both wings are in balance, there is maximum energy
to task because people feel good about there role in the group and that
the group is worth working for. The group moves at maximum speed towards
its goal. 

Going back to the goose metaphor again, ever watch a flock of geese?
They fly in a  V formation, with one goose in the lead, with several
geese honking encouragement to the leader and to each other. The V
formation is the most energy efficient, with the lead goose breaking
wind and all the gesse behind getting lift from the first goose, with
the last goose in the line doing the least work. If you watch long
enough you will see that the lead goose, which is doing the most amount
of work in the flock, slips back and another goose takes its place.
Leadership is key to successful group process, and allowing everyone to
hold leadership at one time or another keeps everyone fresh.

Any group that finds consensus leads to the least objectionable result,
and not the most excellent result, is not using consensus very well.  In
my experience, consensus creates much BETTER solutions, is a very
exciting and creative process, and gives the best results possible,
often with solutions that are far better than any one person could have
ever come up with. But to make it work you have to have good to
excellent facilitation, and everyone has to have the same level of
training about what consensus is and how to use it. A well run consensus
process is NOT a bunch of people all trying to get their way and
lobbying others that their opinion is the right one.  In my experience a
well run consensus process maximizes the idea base, considers all ideas
equally, filters and prioritizes the ideas until the very best one is
acheived.  WHen you get to the very best solution, everyone knows it,
there is a huge group, AHA! the heads all nod, smiles go up, and you
move to the next one.

There are four elements for successful consensus, and the most important
one, is that everyone has to be commited that the best intersests of the
group outweighs their own self interest.  I rarely see this in cohousing
groups. And self interest is what drags groups down into mediocarity.

In observing 15 cohousing groups working their process I found most
cohousing groups use consensus extremely poorly, and this handicaps them
a great deal.  In many cases it would be better for these groups just to
go with a 2/3rds majority vote and accept the fallout which will occur

Cohousing is egalitarian group endeavor, and unfortunately few people
have the experience or training in successful group endeavors in our
society.  Everybody has an equal say. So you get a room full of people
together with little or no experience in being part of an egalitarian
group, and then you try and take on huge group tasks and decision

What happens is that some people who are completely clueless demand
silly things and then lots of time gets spent educating them that what
they want in their ignornace is not possible, meanwhile the rest of the
group is stuck waiting for the least knowagable to catch up with the
rest of them.  Add to that mix typical male egos (Who me? Wrong?  You
must be mistaken), poorly developed communication skills, lack of
facilitation to keep things on track, poor understanding of group
dynamcis, and No wonder people are frustrated, and no wonder so many
forming groups give up. This is especially true of the
contractor/developer types.  They are used to giving orders and taking
responsibility, not used to asking people for their opinions. 

Egalitarian group process is a learned skill you need in order to
function as a group.  You can learn the basics in a weekend workshop and
this will save you lots of time and frustrations and maybe even save
your project.  

Rob Sandelin
a place where after 6 years of intensive work, we have finally figured
out some of the basics.
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