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You, and an Established Group that Is Committed to Operating Cooperatively

Laird's Blog -

Today I am completing my blog series on power in cooperative groups:

Part 1: Yourself

Part 2: You and a New Group   

Part 3: You, and an Established Group that is Not Committed to Cooperative Culture

Part 4: You, and an Established Group that Is Committed to Operating Cooperatively

While being "committed to operating cooperatively" will not, alas, necessarily mean that the group has discussed power and its distribution in the group, at least you should be able to count on a constructive response when that request bubbles up. I expect, for instance, cooperative groups to understand the distinction between "power over" and "power with," and to not be stuck on the naive hope that power can be evenly distributed in the group.

In the best groups (the ones furthest along in working well with power), you'll find four distinctive features. (I'm aiming pretty high here, so don't get discouraged if your group isn't doing any of these yet—much less all of them.)

1.  They'll be able to handle conversations about the misuse of power without going thermonuclear
This is not easy to do. In fact, most groups don't have these kind of conversations at all. They are just too scary. Yet the reverse is scary, too—where people only discuss it in the parking lot.

A claim that power has been misused is, essentially, an accusation that someone used their influence for the benefit of some, and at the expense of others. This type of criticism commonly gets translated into impugning one's integrity and it can be hard to create a container strong enough to hold all the energy and to preserve the relationships. Handled poorly this kind of conflict can split a group in two. Not pretty.

So being able to work power at this depth requires that the group be able to handle conflict deftly. It's a tall order, yet it's something the group needs to do well anyway.

2.  Power will be expressly be included in new member orientation
While it doesn't seem to be that difficult to articulate the concept of "power with" it's been my experience that groups rarely discuss power dynamics with new folks because it tends to be a work in progress and the group may not be that proud of what it's accomplished.

If someone asked me what to look for when visiting a group they were considering joining, I'd suggest they pay particular attention to how openly the group discuses how power is distributed. If they are not open with you up front, how can you count on it getting better?

3.  The group will have a plan for developing the leadership capacity of all members
This is a definite step beyond recognizing how power is distributed in the group, and being able to talk about imbalances openly. If you do not have the distribution you want, how can you remedy that? While you cannot simply give people power (influence), you can purposefully invest in them and in their leadership capacity. You can give them opportunities to lead that are appropriate to whatever development stage they're at. You can invest in your members so that they will be more influential in the future as they accumulate experience.

4. Managers and committees will be regularly evaluated 
For this to make sense, there need to be job descriptions and an enumeration of the qualities wanted in people filling positions in the group. This establishes objective standards against which to assess performance. Further, it should be some group's job (Personnel Committee?) to see that this happens on a regular rotation and with a consistent, caring process. (Heaven help you if you only dust off evaluations when someone has been coloring outside the lines or is shirking their duties and you want to slap their wrists—it'll be a bloodbath.)

Evaluations should be may things: time for tweaking and improving mandates, a time for mid-course corrections, and a time to celebrate what's working well.
• • •If a group is hitting on all four of these cylinders, there should be plenty of power for acceleration and braking as needed. But even if you aren't running on those four levels (yet), consider it a blueprint for the peppy group vehicle you always wanted.

Crece la tendencia del cohousing, la vivienda colaborativa en la adultez - Dia a Dia

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Dia a Dia

Crece la tendencia del cohousing, la vivienda colaborativa en la adultez
Dia a Dia
El cohousing, por caso, es un fenómeno consolidado en Dinamarca, Suecia y Estados Unidos que los adultos mayores eligen como una opción al geriátrico o la casa de los hijos. Aunque tiene más de 50 años, la tendencia se está haciendo más visible en ...

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Cohousing, aiuto reciproco, gare di cucina: idee per una "città gentile" - Redattore Sociale

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Cohousing, aiuto reciproco, gare di cucina: idee per una "città gentile"
Redattore Sociale
PADOVA - Dalla condivisione di spazi abitativi (cohousing), al progetto di aiuto reciproco fra coppie di anziani e giovani universitari “Nipoting per il Portello”, alle gare di cucina - etnica “Masterchef Stanga” per favorire l'integrazione e la ...

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Jean Bosch, long active in many facets of island life, dies at 68 - Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber (subscription)

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Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber (subscription)

Jean Bosch, long active in many facets of island life, dies at 68
Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber (subscription)
And for a couple of years, she was a farmer: She and her friend Margaret Hoeffel started Blue Moon Farm on a fertile patch of ground behind Vashon Cohousing, where she lived at the time. One of her most high-profile stints was as chair of the Vashon ...

Power in Cooperative Groups, Part 3: You, and an Established Group that is Not Committed to Cooperative Culture

Laird's Blog -

Today I am continuing my blog series on power in cooperative groups:
Part 1: Yourself
Part 2: You and a New Group  
Part 3: You, and an Established Group that is Not Committed to Cooperative Culture
Part 4: You and an Established Group that is Committed to Operating Cooperatively

The subject of today's focus is the situation where you are committed to cooperative culture but the group in question is not. To be clear, it's not that the group has expressly declined to be cooperative; it may never have discussed it (or only given it cursory consideration, such that the de facto culture of the group is not cooperative).

(As it happens, this phenomenon—creating an internal culture that is far less cooperative than you'd expect from looking at the group values—is endemic among intentional communities. In fact, it's one of the principle reasons I get steady work as a group dynamics consultant, because unleashing competitive dynamics in the thick of would-be cooperative culture is like letting a fox loose in the hen house—it gets bloody real quick—even when everyone is dressed up to look like poultry.)

Assessing How Cooperative a Group's Culture Is 
Consider this series of diagnostic questions:

1. When the stakes get high, are meetings more or less a battlefield over which the fate of issues is decided, with winners and losers? 
2. Is it risky to reveal inner doubts or moral anguish because it will be seen as weakness? 
3. Is it savvy to line up allies before an issue comes up for consideration, the better to steer things in a productive direction once the meeting starts?
4. Are members cautious about how information is shared because of concerns over how it might be misconstrued, or leaked in embarrassing ways?
5. Is the expression of distress seen as loss of self-control, or perhaps interpreted nefariously (as in crying or getting angry to manipulate outcomes or to control what gets discussed)?
6. Is there a significant emphasis placed on meetings being efficient (to dispose of issues quickly)?
7. If Member A finds Member B's group behaviors challenging, is Member A more likely to discuss that with Member B, than with Member C (who may or may not have the same issues with Member B)?
8. Do new members report that they feel welcome, and that they were well oriented to how things work in the group?
9. Do standing committees regularly offer new members an orientation about what they do and how to get involved in their area?
10.Is there clarity in the group about how it will work with emotional input?
11. Does the group ever discus how power is distributed in the group, and how it would like it to be distributed?
12. Is the performance of people who fill manager roles regularly evaluated?

The more you answered questions 1-7 in the affirmative (or questions 8-12 in the negative), the less likely you are to have developed cooperative culture. The point I am trying to make is that what you actually do counts for far more than what you say you'll do. You don't just claim cooperative culture; you have to build it and sustain it, one practice at a time.

So the scope of today's blog covers two kinds of groups: a) those that have cooperative values but not cooperative culture; and b) those with progressive values but with no aspirations of developing cooperative culture.

How Power Is Accrued in These Groups 
(Note that this list is similar to the way that power is accrued in cooperative culture, yet there are significant differences.)

—Through being unflappable (not being knocked off center by distress in others)
—Through being firm (though not ruthless—compassion helps, but you don't want to be perceived as a softie)
—Through brokering successful coalitions
—Through being discreet when in possession of delicate information
—Through being an effective advocate in plenary
—Through being a gracious winner (no rubbing it in) as well as a gracious loser (no whining)
—Through not discussing power (if you have it you needn't discuss it)
—Through completing assignments well, on time, and within budget
—Through demonstrating a knack for creative problem solving when encountering curve balls
—Through not letting personal issues get in the way of group performance
—Through doing above and beyond what was asked for (over-performing)
—Through being steadfast and steely in your resolve

The principle challenge in this dynamic is figuring out what's possible in the way of purposefully shifting the culture of the group toward being more cooperative without explicit permission do so.

What Can You Do a Guerrilla Social Change Agent?
As it turns out, quite a lot. Consider this set of potential action steps:
—Volunteer to facilitate when you're not a stakeholder on the agenda

—Volunteer to take minutes when you're not a stakeholder on the agenda (the summarizing done by a good facilitator is essentially the same skill that a notetaker relies on when summarizing comments—one does it orally, the other in writing).

—Agree to head ad hoc committees where the composition appears volatile. Someone good at bridging and working even-handedly through differences can make a measurable difference in productivity. If the mandate is unclear, you can get that corrected with alacrity.

—When in discussion and people are mishearing each other, wait for whoever is running the meeting to help out, but if they fail in the attempt (or worse, fail to see that an attempt is needed) it's an opportunity for you to offer a bridge that gets things untracked.

—If someone is having trouble feeling heard there is a chance for you to step in with a concise summary that captures both the essence of their meaning, and why it matters to the speaker. Trust me, you will not be vilified for this initiative (even when you don't get it right you'll earn partial credit for a good faith attempt).

—If someone goes into nontrivial reactivity and you reach out to make a connecting statement that acknowledges what they're feeling (without judgment) and captures what's at stake, you will be universally loved (for having successfully deescalated a minefield without ducking the issue).

—You can totally shift the energy in the room by offering a solid connecting or summarizing statement that sensitively represents the views of someone you disagree with (most don't believe that's even possible).

You'll undoubtedly notice that all of the above suggestions are ways in which you can make a positive contribution by focusing on the "how" rather than the "what." If you are not attached to outcomes it gives you considerable wiggle room with respect to how business is conducted, and people will pick up on things going more smoothly if you're effective in your efforts.

The beauty of this approach is that all the above suggestions can be attempted at low risk (when was the last time you recall someone getting called out for being covertly cooperative?). They are tactics aimed to grease the wheels of conversation and, in aggregate, to help nudge the group culture more in a cooperative direction. In addition to deescalating the tension that frequently infuses and stultifies plenary conversations in not-so-cooperative groups, it will subtly work to instill authenticity and civility in the culture. 

Who knew that subversion could be so pleasant?

Cohousing o vivir con amigos en la vejez, una tendencia mundial que suma adeptos en Argentina - El Sureño

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El Sureño

Cohousing o vivir con amigos en la vejez, una tendencia mundial que suma adeptos en Argentina
El Sureño
Un lote rural en las afueras de Posadas comprado entre amigos para vivir tras jubilarse, un edificio en el barrio porteño de Belgrano gestionado por una mutual y un complejo de viviendas sociales en la localidad bonaerense de Tapalqué, ambos exclusivos ...

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Cold enough to build an igloo in Calgary, so that's what they did - Calgary Herald

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Calgary Herald

Cold enough to build an igloo in Calgary, so that's what they did
Calgary Herald
The fetching folly that has people talking stands in the courtyard of Prairie Sky Cohousing on Edmonton Trail. The dreamer in our tale—she wishes to remain anonymous—spotted an online post she couldn't forget. In it, an igloo made of ice blocks, lit ...

Frankston co-housing supporters drawn to sense of community, sustainability and less isolation - Herald Sun

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Herald Sun

Frankston co-housing supporters drawn to sense of community, sustainability and less isolation
Herald Sun
No, it's not the getaway for a secondary school group, but rather a co-housing project slated for central Frankston. And supporters including Lyndel McGorlick are convinced the project, particularly its emphasis on community and greater sharing of ...

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