Re: Improving group dynamics
From: Louise Conner (lcempiredi.com)
Date: Fri, 21 Nov 2003 11:42:07 -0700 (MST)
Regarding team building and community skills, following is information from
Laird Schaub. Our community (celebrating one year of our first residents
moving in) will be engaged in a community development workshop with Laird
next February.

--Louise Conner, Casa Verde Commons (With five homes still available for
purchase)
in sunny Colorado Springs, CO.

BACKGROUND
My work in group process is rooted in 29 years of intentional
community living--all with a group that makes decisions by consensus.
In addition, I have been actively involved with consensus-based
network organizations for 24 years. Out of that experience, I've been
offering my skills as an outside facilitator and consensus trainer
for the past 16 years.

It is my view that there is no more intensive way to learn and
practice group skills than to live in intentional community, where a
person is called upon to grow in the work every day (not just after
work on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or for an afternoon every other
Saturday).

PERSPECTIVE
Perhaps the most powerful aspect of my approach to group dynamics is
that I encourage people to welcome the full range of human responses.
This expressly includes non-rational input--such as emotional,
intuitive, and spiritual--in recognition that people know, process,
and transmit information in a wide variety of ways. I take the view
that dispassionate, linear thinking is only one way this is
accomplished, and it's crippling to a group to insist that everything
be considered in that format.

In particular, people in our culture tend to mistrust or be fearful
of strong emotional response, and I believe there is valuable energy
in emotions that can be directed toward solving the problems instead
of being used to bludgeon or manipulate. My idea is that people
cannot do their best thinking and move to another position until they
first feel heard and are allowed to make a full expression of their
input.

Wherever possible, my preference is to apply the theory directly to
actual issues and dynamics currently present in a group--whatever
they are. For purposes of teaching the concepts, the nastier the
issues the better (after all, if what I have to offer doesn't help
with the tough problems, why bother?). It typically works well for me
to start out by observing the group in action, where it is discussing
something challenging. That way I can get a first-hand sense of what
is going on and what some of the underlying issues and tendencies
are. Also, it makes possible my tying the theory to direct
observations of the group, which tends to give the information more
life.

Another possibility is to spend time looking at the nature of
conflict and the advantages of moving away from the traditional view
of conflict as an indicator of ill health in the group. Instead, I
can show you how to work with conflict as an opportunity for gaining
leverage on knotty problems.

Another angle I can bring to the work is deep experience in community
structure and agreements. At this point I know which issues groups
must wrestle with (sooner or later) and the variety of ways that
others have already worked out solutions.

Finally, I am a experienced facilitator who specializes in up-tempo,
inclusive meetings. I can offer training, demonstration, and coaching
in that skill.

SPECIAL CHALLENGES OF COHOUSING
While there are many ways to experience community, and examples of
healthy groups with major differences in style and depth of
engagement, it is my sense that many people come to cohousing as
their first experience in intentional community, and there is often
confusion about how much engagement is achievable or desirable. In
addition, because cohousing communities tend to include a large
financial investment with serious debt load, there is often pressure
to complete the project and get it fully occupied as soon as
possible. There can be a tendency to set aside some of the community
aspects during development, both because the financial and technical
considerations are so pressing, and because there is often confusion
about what are the right questions (never mind the right answers).

Community is essentially a social challenge, not a technical one, and
the people who will be living in the community must be the ones to
own the issues and address them. I can help bring into focus what's
really wanted by the desire for "community" and present options and
tools for getting there.

RESOURCES
In addition to doing work in person, I have a collection of 90-min
audio tapes on selected topics (introduction to consensus,
introduction to facilitation, conflict utilization, & issues in
consensus facilitation) and a variety of books which I bring along
for examination and possible purchase.

COMPENSATION
I rate my skills as a process consultant at $1000/day plus expenses
(travel, room, and board). While reimbursement for expenses is firm,
the fee for my labor is negotiable, depending on what the client can
afford and the value received from the work--I do not want money to
stand in the way of my helping a group in need, and it has served me
well to trust that I'll be treated fairly.

If you have any questions or would desire references from other
groups I've worked with, please contact me at your convenience.


                            Laird Schaub-CANBRIDGE
Consensus And Network Building for Resolving Impasse
                      & Developing Group Effectiveness
                      Rt 1, Box 155 * Rutledge MO 63563
                             660-883-5545

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