Not another damn meeting …

As we build new non-hierarchical projects, houses and communities, clear and open group process can make our work a lot easier. Making decisions as a group doesn’t have to mean sitting in endless frustrating meetings or letting our groups be dominated by those with the loudest voices. Here are some tips on how to create effective, fun, cooperative structures for liberation.

Decision Making Process

• If possible, come to meetings having already thought about concrete things to say and discuss.

• Starting a meeting well sets the tone for what is to come. Make a clear agenda that everyone understands and agrees on. Select people to play roles at the meeting: a facilitator or co-facilitators, a time keeper, someone to take minutes, and maybe a stack-keeper and vibes watcher for bigger meetings. Go around the circle and have everyone introduce themselves and perhaps check-in with how they’re feeling to build a cohesive spirit for the meeting.

• Meetings are more fun when there’s food and drink served.

• It can be helpful to have a brainstorm to generate ideas on a particular agenda item. Everyone throws out ideas and no one comments on them or discusses them at the time. They’re written down and organized or discussed later.

• Sometimes people raise their hands to speak to a point. The facilitator or stack-keeper will call on people and keep their comments in order. Other times a “talking stick” gets passed around — only the person holding the stick can speak.

• Sometimes, it is nice to have a “go-round” so that everyone in the circle can speak to a point or at least say “pass.” That will give quieter people who might not raise their hand a chance to speak.

• During the meeting, after discussing a point on the agenda, one or several people can state specific proposals or counter-proposals for the group to act on. This avoids general discussion that doesn’t lead to a clear decision or action.

• When a meeting is having a hard time getting to a decision, it can be helpful to take a non-binding “straw poll” to get a sense of how people feel on an issue. It may be that most people already favor one course and a straw poll can move the meeting from discussion to reaching a decision.

• Many groups use consensus to reach a decision — the process of only making a decision when, after thorough discussion, everyone agrees to a proposal or agrees to stand aside and not block it. This can take longer because it takes time to hear everyone’s point of view and requires people to compromise but avoids a group splitting between winners and losers.

• At the end of the meeting, make sure the date is set for the next meeting. Doing a check-out to state how people thought the meeting went can help heal hard feelings that may have developed during the meeting. It also helps to have people repeat what they agreed to do at the meeting so everyone remembers who will do what later. Write up minutes and distribute them to the group.

Organizational Development

• Groups that grow slowly and organically — starting with small goals and letting the project expand with the group rather than biting off a huge task right from the start — tend to keep going rather than burning out. Avoid endless discussions of abstract structure and procedures before you’ve actually done anything.

• Collectives work best when they stay small — maybe the size of a band or at most a smaller chamber orchestra. If a project requires more people, several independent collectives can communicate and cooperate on it.

• Having an established welcoming ritual for new members will help the group seem open rather than a closed clique of friends.

• Some collectives are open to anyone who wants to join. Others are closed collectives — new members have to be invited to join by the existing group. Figure out which kind your group wants to be based on the goals and needs of the group. It is okay to decide who you want to work with — being closed can help deal with disruptive people. On the other hand, open groups can include new energy, people and diversity outside your personal friendship network.

• Finances should be open and not mixed with anyone’s personal money.

• Keep a binder with all the minutes of meetings to maintain history as membership changes.

• Avoid development of an “in-group” by rotating tasks, sharing information about how things work, and publicly posting meeting times if the group is an open collective.