Re: RE: As others see us/ talkers vs nontalkers
From: Howard Landman (
Date: Mon, 3 Dec 2001 12:55:01 -0700 (MST)
> But in the long run this sort of artificial time-sharing will ruin the
> group's function and developmental process.  It never works.

Hmm.  That wasn't my experience.  Of course, we didn't continue it once
it had had an effect.  ("Never say never"?)

> Groups go through four distinct stages of development (called different
> things by different group researchers):
> 1.  A few authoritative leaders ...  
> 2.  Open conflict ...
> 3.  Pacification, conflict avoidance, "assumed consensus"...
> 4.  High performance groups, where decisions are made by true consensus
> after careful consideration of each members' views...
> ...
> Your "poker chip" example would interfere with the first two stages, would
> get people stuck in stage 3, and would be utterly useless in stage 4.

This is a bit different from the "forming, storming, norming, performing"
model that I sometimes use, especially in stage 3.  When norming a group
has to settle on what they're trying to do and how they're trying to do it.
Not everyone will agree with every aspect of that, but there has to be
some basis for knowing when decisions have been well-made, and for being
able to expect things of other group members.  Your 3 sounds like a
dead-end rathole rather than a step on the way to performing.

My experience was that the "gimmicks" jump-started us so that stages 1 and
2 were shortened and we got to (my) stage 3 fairly rapidly (within 2 or 3
meetings).  That particular group wasn't charged with making decisions,
it was more of a brainstorming and discussion group, so it may not be
entirely analogous to coho.  It was OK for us to end with disagreement.
It was not OK for us to never have aired important points of view.

I agree that the gimmicks would have been counter-productive after a
certain point.  We dropped them after 4 or 5 meetings.

If we break the decision-making process into 2 phases - gathering info
and making decisions - then the chips gimmick is really mainly addressed
to the first phase, to make sure everyone gets a chance to speak and
voice concerns.  There are other ways of accomplishing that.  But
the default in most groups is that most people do not speak.  Women
speak less than men (this begins around age 5), introverts speak less
than extroverts, etc.  If this isn't fixed then you get bad decisions
from lack of input *AND* people feel left out.

But even assuming you fix it - and I know many groups who have - very
few groups even begin to address the manner in which decisions are
made with an eye to making the best decisions.  There are known ways
of doing it - Delphi (do a web search for "Delphi process"), DesignShop
many others.  Some of them require "anonymizing" input, so that ideas can
be discussed without personalities coming to the fore.  Consensus goes
the opposite direction and forces personalization of everything; in the
extreme case of blocking consensus, the individual doing so risks getting
a lot of people frustrated and mad at them.

Every coho community of which I have reasonably good knowledge can tell at
least a few stories of how bad decisions were made *because* *of* consensus.
One example from River Rock was that there was an individual in the group
early who thought that under-counter refrigerators were the greatest thing
since sliced bread.  They *insisted* that such be included as options for
all units.  The group gave in.  The architect designed them in as standard
options.  That person later left.  No one who actually moved in selected
that option.  The effort was completely wasted.

I'm not saying that consensus is "wrong".  It helps "build community",
as we often say, and community is worth something.  It's really a
question of priorities, of what you define as good.  

But I don't agree that "high performance" equals "consensus".  (Some might
even argue that they're antonyms, but I won't go there. :-)  Decision
processes such as Delphi have been proven repeatedly to lead to better
decisions from a group than any individual of that group was capable of
alone, so group input is vital, but it isn't true that everyone will
always agree with the "best" course.  Consensus isn't about making the
best decisions.  Consensus is much more about trying to show respect for
every individual and to make everyone feel included; the commitment to
consensus is a commitment to often make decisions which are less-than-optimal
by other criteria in order to achieve those goals.

        Howard A. Landman
        River Rock Commons
        Fort Collins, CO
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