Re: Getting the work done
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Tue, 13 Nov 2012 06:27:14 -0800 (PST)
On Nov 13, 2012, at 8:37 AM, Fred H Olson <fholson [at]> wrote:

> I believe that coming up with more concrete work expectations for each
> member, will improve the health of the community and all of us
> individually.  

Absolutely. We have  lot of underground and not so underground resentment of 
the slackers. Some people think if they don't participate, they don't have to 
work. Well, no. We are maintaining the grounds, even, for you to walk through 
and park your car on. We don't have many total slackers but some partners of 
people who do work do nothing.

> Now, it is up to each of us to decide "What is my fair share
> of the work here?", and this can be very stressful.

I have been stunned by how many people truly feel they have nothing to 
contribute. It is important to help them find jobs and encourage them when they 
do them. Some people need a lot of praise and validation. It's hard for 
self-starters and can-do people to understand this. And cohousing does have a 
lot of those. Some people are intimidated by them.

> We share 280 acres, a farm, forest land, green space and ball fields, a
> large common house...there are individual enterprises here too:  dairy,
> cheesemaking , sheep, frozen yogurt, chickens, bees, veggie CSA.  Lots of
> work opportunities for sure.

One issue, I think, is measuring work available before starting a project. 
Ecovillage of Loudon County does an annual labor budget when they do their 
financial budget. People commit to hours at the beginning of the year for 
planned projects. No work pledged, no project. Or others have to commit more 

If there aren't enough hours to meet necessary hours, the financial budget goes 

At the end of each month (?) they report hours in an form they please to 
someone who tracks them. People are automatically billed if they don't turn in 

This was their system a few years ago but it had been in place since they were 
founded so I suspect it hasn't changed.

> I'd love to hear from other communities around this issue of spelling out
> work expectations, accountability and tracking of these, organizing the
> work, paying for some work,

We have voluntary payments and one person did contribute but when he found out 
he was the only one, he quit.

We tried a system of people tracking but it was too much of a bother and people 
who didn't work before didn't work any more. What the Ecovillage did was 
require a minimum amount so only the minimum had to be reported. That would be 
less difficult than reporting everything for people who work a lot.

Another approach might be to have a set number of hours assigned to jobs. When 
someone assumes responsibility for those jobs, they don't have to report. And 
if they appear for so many workdays a month, they don't have to report.

We don't have anyone who is good at holding discussions on this. We set up 
teams to do it but nothing changes. They talk a lot and seriously consider the 
issues but nothing happens.

I think Eris Weaver once volunteered to run free workshops on this as long as 
the group committed to actually implementing a compulsory system afterwards. If 
anyone took her up on it, they didn't report back.

This is the kind of stuff that has to be done upfront so everyone goes in with 
realistic expectations. Otherwise it is too hard to overcome inertia. And get 
the consent of those who don't want to set requirements on the part of others. 
Cohousers don't like to hold others accountable. Except for money. And even 
then, things like interest on late condo fees are often not collected.

We have a new treasurer who read the policy and automatically charged the fees. 
He had no understanding of why someone would not charge the fee, particularly 
when it was the policy. He just did it. So now we do it. The expectations 
changed overnight. Old residents have a lot of baggage unrelated to the subject 
at hand that ensured nothing would change even though we had a policy. 
Consensus and self-management do have downsides.

So you might try to have a new resident go forward with a plan as if it were a 
given that your community has been really been doing all along and no one 
noticed. Just do it.

> framing the conversation with the community to
> minimize the usual aversion to discussion work... 

Any facilitator who could write a plan and get it adopted would never be out of 
work. But as Eris says, the community has to agree to do it. Otherwise, talk is 
cheap. This is one area where I think communities will have to use majority 
vote to get a plan passed and then automatic billing when people don't work. 
And be ready for some people to leave or be alienated. Will it be anymore than 
are now resentful?

AND another issue is how hard it is for the currently hardworking members to 
give up the power that comes with doing most of the work. If you do the work, 
you can do almost anything. If you give it up, will it be done the way you 
think it should be. Probably not but unless you take a chance, or have other 
management systems in place, the hard workers will no longer be in control.

These are the questions people have to answer before change will occur. Or 
rather face up to, perhaps not answer. I think we also try to have all the 
answers before we act and that sinks our ship. Since we don't have the answers, 
we don't even try.

Thank you for nicely framing the questions.

Sharon Villines, Historic Takoma Park, Washington DC

"Logic will get you from A to B.  Imagination will take you everywhere." Albert 

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