Re: Some learnings about group decisions
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Sat, 2 Dec 2006 07:03:25 -0800 (PST)

On Dec 1, 2006, at 11:32 PM, Rob Sandelin wrote:

When large groups try to make small group decisions, many people get
frustrated and waste a lot of time. For example, its dumb to decide what to plant in the community garden in a general meeting, too many people do not
care about how many rows of carrots there are, and those that do, are
annoyed to have to explain their work to people who will never do it.

What I would add to Rob's wisdom is that it is important for the large group to decide what parameters the smaller group can work within -- to set boundaries and expectations. But the larger group should not say "don't make any decisions without bringing them back to us." The small group will be more effective if it is delegated responsibility and authority together.

From a sociocratic point of view, decisions should be made by those who do the work but these decisions need to be within the larger aims of the organization. If the garden is to serve the community, the community determines what it expects from the garden.

The large group might decide on a garden in such and such a plot, of this size, that the food from it will be used in community meals, and this is the budget. If on the other hand, the garden is only to serve those who plant it, then the larger community might be setting limits -- like you can use the land for this period of time then we want a playground, or it can only be this size and no larger because ....

The large group should also decide who will be responsible for leading this project and when the leader needs to report back on progress. Leadership is key.

Then the smaller group should be free, without returning for consent, to make the rest of the decisions -- what will be planted, who will plant it, who will weed, who will harvest, who will replant, who will coordinate with meal planners. Who oversees the budget. What decisions can the leader make without asking for consent of the smaller group. What decisions can individual members of the group make without asking for consent of the smaller group?

In addition to empowering small groups and building leadership, delegation prevents back-seat driving and at minimum, doubling the meeting time.

But the keys to large group delegation are to;

1. Select a leader to establish good steering and control, and accountability
2. Set the aims the garden is to meet in terms of the larger community
3. Establish a means of measuring results.

The purpose of setting a means for measurement is not so the group can castigate the small group if the aims are not met. No blaming. Measurement is necessary if the larger group is to determine if its expectations are realistic, how they need to be changed, and what other resources may be needed. A good result one year might not mean a good result the next year if circumstances change. The group needs to know how and why certain results were achieved this year in order to plan for next year.

The key to making good decisions is evaluating the results of previous decisions. By measuring and evaluating, the group can move forward more harmoniously -- as well as effectively and productively -- because it has clearer information.

(Sorry if this sound preachy but it's just the way I talk.)

Sharon Villines

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