Re: Re: [C-L] improving group dynamics?
From: Tree Bressen (
Date: Mon, 24 Nov 2003 01:47:10 -0700 (MST)

Hi Elaine & others,

Are there workshops, speakers, led activities or anything that can help
nudge the members of a community more into group consciousness? The only
thing i can think of are the team-building ropes courses that were popular a
while back. If there is something wonderful, might community members feel
resistant to participating?

Or does it simply take living in community for a while to achieve a group
consciousness? These are some questions some of us at my community are
pondering and i'm not even sure where to begin, or even if there should be a
beginning. Thanks in advance for any input. I hope this made sense.

I do personally believe that simply living in community together will, over time, in general, move people in a direction of more group consciousness. Many of the people who live in community over the long haul tend to be generous, thoughtful, gracious, humble souls and excellent listeners, and i think that's partly because the form itself influences people in that direction just like putting autos on the perimeter and paths in the middle influences pedestrian interaction in a built cohousing project.

In particular, working through group issues that are important to people is likely to increase group consciousness. I think going through the development and building stage is a huge education for most people.

There are also all sorts of other processes that can result in a sense of group direction for the future, such as wisdom councils, future search conferences, and so on--i think there is info on a bunch of these at Tom Atlee's website. In an effort to discern how wise decisions can be made on a large scale (such as the whole US), Tom talks a lot on his email list about citizen deliberation methods, which are ways for large groups to reflect on what's happening, research the alternatives, and decide how to proceed. Some of those methods are also applicable to smaller scales.

Some groups have rituals, which can be basically secular rather than religious in approach, where they take time each year to reflect on where they've been together. I think building reflective capacity is key to building group consciousness--how do we see ourselves as a group? How is that demonstrated? What is it that this cohousing community does that is more than the sum of the individual households? And what do we envision here 100 years from now?

It's important to keep in mind that every attempt at group consciousness faces massive barriers from the existing fragmented, alienated, hyper-individualistic culture that surrounds and is inescapably embedded into every "community" existing in the US today. By striving to cultivate group consciousness and connection, you are not just swimming upstream, it's more like swimming up an avalanche. I say this to encourage you to be compassionate with yourself and your fellow group members on the journey.

Thanks sharon! I love the idea of finding out where everyone is coming from
and what they thought cohousing would be when the moved in. maybe we can do
something with that. we also don't get enough opportunities for exploring
through talking. Usually talking is business related. Do you have ideas for
doing more talking as a group (that wouldn't make the group roll its eyes)?

There seem to be quite a few coho groups that are using sharing circles (or "distilleries," or whatever other term is favored) on a regular basis, in order to have an opportunity to talk about things outside of the business meeting zone. They do this either because because the item is not associated with anything in a business category, or in order to have more space to explore their feelings about it than what they feel like they can take in something called a meeting.

> Comfort with acknowledging and accepting conflict, recognizing it and
> embracing it I would say is the number one thing that would help our
> group process.

Again, great idea! Ideas on how to explore/work on acknowledging and
accepting conflict in a group?

This is exactly the kind of thing i cover in my workshops, and i do have some related materials posted on my website at which you are free to look at and pass on to others.

I agree with Sharon's other comment, as Laird often says, "Any group without conflict is either dead, not paying attention, or not dealing with anything important." So part of it is groups learning that conflict happens and ignoring it only sometimes makes it go away--if you've tried ignoring it and that hasn't worked then you need to do something about it (or live with a lot of unpleasant tension that reduces trust and creativity).

I think the biggest tool for addressing conflict is reflective listening, which is common to a wide variety of conflict resolution systems. That is, saying back to someone what you heard them say. There are many tools out there; currently i'm excited to be learning more about Process-Oriented Psychology (see books by Arnold Mindell), which in its group applications works on understanding each position being taken and then helping people shift from those positions by following awareness.

On another topic, Kay wrote:
In any case, "groupthink" is organizational psychology jargon, not
cohousing.  There doesn't seem to be a lot of awareness of it in cohousing
circles -- or at least, IMO, not enough.  That it is a trap for
consensus-based groups is my own conclusion, from all those times we are
discussing how to actually get something accomplished (you know, paying the
taxes, repairing a broken window ...), and somebody defends the lack of
progress or participation by saying that relationships are the true work of
the community, or similar sentiments.  Or puts the cart before the horse by
insisting on relationship building before tackling taskwork, rather than
relationship building _through_ taskwork.

I note that "groupthink" can happen just as much with putting task ahead of relationship as relationship ahead of task. As a professional facilitator i've worked with about a dozen different cohousing groups, and i've observed people trying to rush through a decision without really understanding each other at least as much (and maybe even a bit more) than i've seen groups wallowing in emotions/relationship to the point of not getting things done. Both traps are out there, so in my work i am always aiming to find a balance between task and relationship.




Tree Bressen
1680 Walnut St.
Eugene, OR 97403
(541) 484-1156
tree [at]

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