RE: Pool table consensus
From: Rob Sandelin (
Date: Sun, 28 Jun 1998 10:20:50 -0500
Thanks for describing your process, it sounds like you function really well. I 
apologize for the tone of my comments, I had just returned from working with a 
very dysfunctional group and that left me with some energy left over that 
ended up in that post. I particularily did not mean to insinuate that your 
group was anything other than wonderful, but the example was a good one where 
in my opinion, large group time was not needed. (it was also exactly the kind 
of problem the group I had been working with had so it really rang my bell)

As you pointed out, there were other reasons to use large group time for this 
decision (bring in new people into the process) and so it made good sense to 
do so. This shows you have some savvy facilitators. 

Many groups discover that its more effective to let the "what do we plant in 
the garden" type of decisions get made by the gardeners. When the whole group 
gets involved, most peoples time is wasted because they don't care a hoot 
about the garden, while the gardners really do. So in a group meeting of 20 
adults, 3 are involved, 17 are just sitting bored wishing they were elsewhere.

If this happens a lot, eventually people just stop coming to meetings. Much 
easier to break out decisions by letting those most interested decide to come. 
The decision board process works great for this kind of decentralization.

Rob Sandelin

From:   cohousing-l [at] on behalf of PattyMara [at]
Sent:   Sunday, June 28, 1998 1:51 AM
Subject:        Re: Pool table consensus

In a message dated 98-06-26 20:08:38 EDT, Floriferous [at] 
In my opinion, the decision you mentioned about whether or not to have a pool 
 table in the game room is a classic example of misuse of large group meeting 
 time. This  should never have been on the agenda in the first place. This is
 small group decision. 

Rob, and list,
When the pool table discussion came up last week at the Tierra Nueva business
meeting it was a 10 minute agenda item.  The discussion was lively and
involved most of the members in attendance.  Because one member unexpectedly
disagreed it was taken to the common house furnishings committee for further
research.  We met, discussed it for 15 minutes, created a process to present
to the next business meeting one week later.  At the meeting we set up a felt
board scale model of the game room (which my daughter helped make), with the
pool table/ping pong table shown so that everyone could see clearly how much
of the room was "taken".  After a very short presentation, agreement was
reached that we would indeed welcome the table to the game room, for a 6 month
trial period.  This agenda item took less than 10 minutes total.  The interim
week between meetings held many opportunities for brainstorming, personal
interaction among many members with the new member who raised his objections,
and in the end the crafting of a very workable solution.

I do not believe it was wasted time to bring this issue to the whole group,
because now we have the support of everyone.  All who felt strongly, feel like
they have been heard.  Yes, there are more pressing issues, particularly at
this time in the construction process, but I believe that this gave us an
opportunity to practice the consensus skills that we cherish.  We learned
much, especially about the necessity of integrating new members into this kind
of decision-making.   We have now set up a task force to create a written
document about our decision making process.  It won't do the job entirely, but
it will be a good beginning. 

Rob continues:  >>Most  cohousing groups I visit use ineffective consensus 
 and meeting methods and have poor facilitation, which ends up at various
 tying the group up in knots over totally stupid issues which really should
 even be on the large group agenda. This is why groups have 4-6 hour meetings,
 where a few people are intense about a small issue while everybody else sits 
 on the sidelines. >>

I hope you have the opportunity to see one of our meetings, Rob.  The business
agenda items add up to 90 minutes or less.  The rest of the time  (45 minutes
or less) is personal check-ins/clearings, announcements and often a
celebration or two.   What might appear to you as a "totally studid issue" was
an opportunity for us to bring everyone (25 families now) into the discussion
to offer ideas and create a consensed solution.  We also learned (again) that
disagreement is healthy, bringing new energy, focussed attention and in the
end, a win/win solution.  In my opinion, it was time well spent.

Patty Mara Gourley
Tierra Nueva Cohousing on the Central CA Coast
Where our home's kitchen cabinets are installed, the tile crew is coming on
Monday and there are only 2 homes left to sell.
Visit our website:


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