RE: Decision Making: who decides what?
From: Rob Sandelin (
Date: Fri, 28 Jun 2002 16:07:01 -0600 (MDT)
It has been my experience that larger communities do well to create smaller
group decision making opportunities. The key to making this work seem to
revolve around communication. When teams do make decisions, what they are
deciding should be advertised so anybody that cares can show up or give
input. Also once a decision is made, it also needs to be advertised, so
people know about it. I think there also has to be a standard set about
timely participation. The classic problem with passive  aggressiveness is
that people don't get involved because they are in a snit, then come  in at
the end and kibosh it. This is behavior which in my experience really should
result in intervention work.  Another intervention place is when a team does
a bunch of work, and then the same few  people nitpick it to death in large
group. If you don't intervene in this case, most teams will fail, people
will be pissed off and quit.

Some ideas for team guidelines: Small teams probably should not be making
decisions that have requirements that everyone DO something. For example, a
pet  policy, which effects everybody in an active way, might be  better done
in whole group work. A work requirement on everybody, an assessment change.
Teams should be given tasks which are narrow, but can be broad. For example,
the commonhouse team decides on the new chairs for the commonhouse patio.
They solicit input and ideas, but they make the choice, and spend the

In  general, teams do well to have budget authority over things in their
domain. The commonhouse team budget should be spent by the team, on the
things the team thinks it needs. At the budget cycle time, a review  can be
done of what each team spent their funds on, which will give oversight
enough for teams not to abuse the process.

One of the key problems many cohousing groups fall into is trying to please
everybody, all the time. This usually breaks down at some point, if only
from exhaustion. This is a good reason to use teams, and letting those who
care about it run those things. I don't care what color tablecloths to buy
and so I don't go to that team meeting. I do care about the dishwasher
decision so I show up for that one.

Teams should have decision authority over their domains as appropriate, with
exceptions for issues which  may have  financial effect outside their
budget, or projects which effect people not on the team. For example, the
landscape team does the landscape. They own it, are in charge, take advice
and input, but the decisions to build a new parking area affects  many
people not on the team so the teams outreaches and makes a larger group
proposal. Commonhouse, community meals, kids,  maintenance, etc can all
function this way. If you have a board, it can be helpful to give them
oversight responsibilities for the teams. This way, if a team goofs up, the
board can  give them feedback and suggest how to do it better in the future.
Goof ups are normal, and you should expect at least a few  each year. The
key thing is not to go off blaming and cursing, but acknowledge and correct.

The biggest mistake teams make is that they don't outreach enough. When
teams don't outreach enough what happens is that they suddenly find that
their plans are not supported.

When your  teams  function well, then general meeting  time can be spent in
processes that build community relationships, and announcements. Instead of
general meeting agendas  with 7-8 items, you drop down to meetings with 1-2,
and often only discussions.

Sharingwood has operated this way for some time. We have 1, two  hour a
month meeting, which typically has 1-2 agenda items, a community building
thing, announcements, and eat  lunch. But active teams might meet twice a
month, and do a bunch of stuff. We do expect  teams that are spending money
or making decisions to post their agendas three days in advance of the
meeting, and most teams working on bigger group issues, spend considerable
time holding input circles, discussions, email trains, etc to get  ideas,
input and buyin. Occasionally a team makes a decision, takes an action, and
a person ends up unhappy with the action. If they whine publicly about it,
they often get little sympathy or support, since they were expected to show
up with their stuff earlier. And sometimes  teams don't always do a good
enough job getting input and they usually get good feedback and learn to do
better in the future. After awhile this kind of self-correcting leads to a
very smooth process. And teams  can always  punt  stuff  to the larger group
if  they feel they need to. Control freaks often have a problem with teams
making decisions, especially when the decision made is, NOT HOW I WOULD DO
IT. This behavior, when  repeated, requires  intervention.

We use task forces for specific projects. For example, last meeting the
patio task force, after a couple of meetings and a couple email threads, put
up a choice for how to fund the commonhouse patio project. The large meeting
process took I think about 10 minutes, really just choosing between two
options using a 2/3rds majority vote. The small group process has taken
several hours of planning  time, design etc., but that is only 4 peoples
time. The majority of the community spent less than 30  minutes total on the
project, leaving the details to the few who were interested.

In our community, the facilitators and the board decide which decision
making process to use, and it usually runs pretty smoothly. But it is not
perfect, no system works all the time, and after you live here awhile you
internalize that thought and don't expect perfection.

Rob Sandelin
Sharingwood Community  where there is GASP!, a rental open! This  has not
occurred in awhile. A nice place for  a single person.

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