Thursday, April 30, 2009

Finer points of meeting etiquette

In reviewing my notes from the meeting facilitation workshop last weekend, I stumbled on the section about intervening when a meeting participant was talking for too long. These were ideas that trainees floated out:

  • Stand up.

  • Ring a bell.

  • Take a step or two towards them.

  • Say, "Thank you."

  • Say, "Time's up."

  • Hold up a red card. (This is in the context of communities that use coloured cards to send signals during meetings.)

  • Implement an agreed upon procedure.

  • Make a hand signal.

  • Address the person by name.

  • Throw balls of paper at them.

  • Shoot at them with a water pistol.

  • Ask them to wrap up.

  • Ask them to be succinct.

  • Act like a court jester.

  • Set a timer.

  • Say, "We're going to a commercial break."

  • I rather fancy the water pistol idea. As you may be able to tell, I'm in a kind of goofy mood this evening. :-)

    Wednesday, April 29, 2009

    The Zen of Meetings

    After participating in Tree Bressen's workshop on meeting facilitation last weekend, my view of meetings has been transformed.

    I used to think of meetings as a necessary evil.

    But, when I look back on the way in which the workshop unfolded, I see meetings as an art form. If it is well planned and well executed, a meeting is a thing of beauty.

    At its best, a meeting draws out people's feelings, bonds them to each other, identifies their common purpose, and moves them towards the realization of their vision.

    I have a meeting to attend this afternoon. Rather than thinking, "Sigh," I am thinking, "Oh goody."

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009

    Feelings and values

    Something that I learned in my conflict resolution workshop and that I witnessed again during the meeting facilitation training in Courtenay, British Columbia was the importance of a dialogue in which feelings and values are expressed and heard.

    When people encounter challenges, they often respond with what they believe are solutions. Hasty solutions, however, sometimes have unintended consequences that, in themselves, become problems.

    One of the issues that we trainee meeting facilitators observed the members of Creekside Commons discussing was whether or not to surround their community with a deer-resistant fence. Prior to our arrival, members of the community had been divided on the question.

    Attempted solutions that had created new problems were the fences and walls that about forty percent of the households had erected around their individual back yards and the temporary fences around the community vegetable garden and community orchard that many residents considered ugly.

    When people who disagreed with each other about a perimeter fence sat down and had a dialogue, they were very surprised to discover the values they shared.

    A theme that emerged was that members of both camps cared deeply about the meadow on which they had built their community. Most of them also were committed to sustainability. But what did sustainability mean? Did it mean ensuring food security for humans? Did it mean living in harmony with deer and other wild animals?

    Creeksiders also found out that many of them regarded themselves as prudent. But again, how was that defined? For some community members prudence meant fiscal responsibility. For those people, the cost of a perimeter fence and Texas Gates (cattle grids) were a concern. For other people, prudence was tied to stewardship of the land for future generations.

    Other issues that emerged were aesthetic considerations (what balance to create between edible and ornamental landscapes), privacy in individual owners' back yards, and maintenance of an open and accessible community while providing safety for children.

    Allowing for minor modifications because of our community's different layout, I can see us at Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community having to address the same issues in due course. I also see the same range of values and interpretations of those values represented amongst our community members.

    The meeting that we external trainees facilitated for Creekside Commons did not result in a consensus decision. But it cleared the air and elicited mutual compassion amongst Creeksiders who previously had disagreed with each other. Towards the end of the meeting they figured out some next steps that we all were confident would result in a resolution in the near future.

    This exercise demonstrated to me very powerfully that a discussion of feelings and values was not a waste of time. Indeed, while it involves an upfront investment of time, it is more efficient in the long run. It also leads to win-win outcomes.

    Monday, April 27, 2009

    An engaging workshop

    The first workshop in the Community Facilitator Intensive Series was a heart warming and meaningful experience for me.

    It was the first time that I'd participated in an event with members of other intentional communities. In this case there were representatives from six cohousing communities and two ecovillages in Coastal British Columbia. It was wonderful to hear about life in other intentional communities and to witness it first hand in the case of our hospitable host community, Creekside Commons in Courtenay, BC.

    The purpose of these workshops is to teach meeting facilitation skills. That, in turn, is intended to build the capacity for consensus decision making within each participating community.

    During the three and a half days that we spent with them, our host community had two meetings. In advance of those meetings, members of the host community briefed us trainees. They explained to us what the issues were, how long they'd been wrestling with them, and what they'd done so far in an attempt to resolve them.

    We trainees, in turn, chose meeting formats that we thought would be most constructive for each issue, and we created agendas for each meeting. The facilitator, time keeper, vibe watcher, scribe and minute taker for each meeting was one of us external trainees.

    In case you don't know what a vibe watcher is, it is someone who monitors the moods of meeting participants and alerts the facilitator to an emerging issue if it escapes the facilitator's attention. A scribe is someone who jots down key points on a flip chart that is visible to meeting participants.

    The two community meetings resulted in a rich cross fertilization of ideas. The host community had a chance to try meeting formats that were new to them. There was one in particular that they liked a lot and said they would use again. They also had the benefit of external facilitators and other meeting aids who felt compassionate towards them but who were not personally invested in their issues.

    For the trainees, it was a high privilege to witness members of the host community discussing their challenges at an authentic level. It was comforting to hear from the members of established communities that they had grappled with the same issues around the two year mark (which was the age of our host community). Those of us who belonged to forming communities or communities under construction gained insights into what it would be like to live in community. From the point of view of our training, it felt much more relevant to work with real issues being debated by real people in real time than it would have felt if Tree had created hypothetical scenarios.

    The drive back to Nanaimo with Roz, my fellow Pacific Gardener who had participated in the workshop, was delightful. She wisely chose to take the slower but more scenic route that hugged the coast, rather than the quicker but more mundane inland highway. On the way home, we unpacked the meaning that the workshop had held for each of us.

    I am deeply grateful for this experience.

    Saturday, April 25, 2009

    The adventure expands

    This is a short break during a three and a half day workshop in consensus decision making that I'm doing at Creekside Commons in Courtenay, BC.

    For me the rewards of this experience are off the charts. I'm learning so much from observing the dynamics of our host community, and from accessing the combined wisdom of eight intentional communities in coastal British Columbia. Besides that, it's just plain fun.

    I rather suspect I could get used to this cohousing gig. :-)

    Wednesday, April 22, 2009

    Happy Earth Day

    Last week, one of my fellow cohos and I attended a campaign planning meeting at the home of our future next door neighbour, Ian Gartshore, who is running for the Green Party in British Columbia's provincial election. As we stepped outside after the meeting, we heard the beautiful symphony of frogs croaking in the pond on our property.

    I keep on catching glimpses of what it will be like to live at Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community. It gives me goose bumps to think that I will be able to open my window at night and hear the Earth sing.

    When I see the kids at the school across the street playing during recess, I hope that this song will endure for them and their children and their children's children.

    Monday, April 20, 2009

    Pedestrians are anything but pedestrian

    This morning I responded to Bruce Elkin's Happy Earth Week greeting on Facebook. As Bruce is wont to do, he challenged folk to view environmentalism from a creative rather than problem solving point of view.

    That got me thinking about the boldest eco-friendly move I had made in quite a while, which was to sell my vehicle back in February. Taking up Bruce's challenge to look at it as a creative act, I reflected on the surprisingly pleasant side benefits I have experienced.

    I love walking, and I get to exercise without going to a gym. When I walk, I feel much more engaged with my neighbourhood than used to be the case when I drove. I interact with people, and I notice small details.

    Because of the way in which Bruce frames things, I felt motivated to describe my new lifestyle in creative rather than problem solving terms. So that got me thinking. Would I describe this as a car-free lifestyle? Perhaps a pedestrian lifestyle?

    Pedestrian lifestyle! That stopped me dead in my tracks. Pedestrian, when it's used as an adjective, usually means ordinary, nondescript, dull.

    That makes it sound as if the act of walking is boring, while other ways of getting around, by implication, are more exciting.

    Ummm ....... Hello ....... Walking improves my health, it strengthens the social fabric of my neighbourhood, it's economical, and it reduces my carbon footprint.

    But it's far from pedestrian because, more than anything else, I find it fun.

    Wednesday, April 15, 2009

    Fakes Anonymous

    Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken.

    It's a no-brainer, isn't it? I mean it's one of those statements that's so obvious that you might be tempted to say, "Duh!" Yet, when I saw the title of the Mike Robbins book on Bruce Elkin's blog, it struck me as profound.

    Although I have taken enormous strides towards being authentic, once in a while I still am tempted to focus on the ways in which other people may be judging me rather than concentrating on what I want.

    I bet you there are enough of us that we could hold meetings. Hello. My name is Judy .......

    Tuesday, April 14, 2009

    Voluntary Complexity

    Yup, I did it. Although I nominally believe in voluntary simplicity, I'd gotten caught up in complexity again. I'd become over-committed. My involvements all were worthwhile, mind you. It's just that there were too many of them.

    At three o'clock this morning, I woke up feeling anxious about my To Do list, which I knew had spun out of control. I resolved then and there to cancel something I'd planned this coming weekend. It had promised to be so much fun. But the enjoyment dissipates pretty quickly when I feel overwhelmed. So I felt relieved as soon as I'd made the decision to drop an arrangement that felt unsustainable to me.

    In considering what happened in the wee hours of this morning, I recall an occasion on which I had struck up a conversation with a Jewish family in my neighbourhood, back when I lived in Calgary.

    It was pretty obvious that they were Jewish. There was a Conservative synagogue not far from my home, and it was fairly common to see people walking towards it in business attire on a Saturday morning, when most other people were in jeans and runners. Another give-away was that the father of the family was wearing a yarmulke (skullcap).

    As we found ourselves walking in the same direction, we first commented on what lovely weather we were having. But, after a couple of minutes of superficial chit chat, I asked them about the rule that forbade them from driving on the Sabbath. They explained that there was a prohibition against initiating anything on the Sabbath. At least that's my recollection of what they said.

    They went on to share with me some of the implications, over and above the fact that they didn't drive on the Sabbath. They said they also unplugged their phones and computers. The parents said that, with two teenagers in the house, it was bliss to have the phone unplugged for twenty four hours out of every week.

    I have just stopped to consider how close my lifestyle is to the Conservative Jewish one. I don't have a car so, when I'm home on my Sabbath, which is Sunday, I don't drive. So far so good.

    But I go away on weekends quite often. When that happens, I invariably catch buses or trains or carpool.

    Even if I'm home without a car, I use my computer a lot. That's it. My computer. It's my biggest tie to complexity.

    I wondered if I could be "Jewish" (in the sense being discussed here) for one day a week. No way. Not with the kinds of commitments I've made.

    But how about being "Jewish" for one day a month? Yes, I believe that's feasible. Actually, I think it would be rather fun. I'm going to give it a try this coming Sunday.

    Friday, April 10, 2009

    Glue or Shrapnel

    I like this entry -- entitled In Community, Are We 'Glue' or 'Shrapnel'? -- which was posted on the blog of The Cohousing Association of the United States.

    Monday, April 6, 2009

    Tofino, there I was

    My first visit to Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island was awesome. I went with a friend who knew the area. That helped me to make good use of time.

    The bus ride there and back in itself was lovely. The bus travelled through glacier-covered mountains, lakes and forests, including Cathederal Grove. At the high altitudes there still was snow on the forest floor.

    Another first for me was staying in a hostel. I was spoiled by the award-winning Whalers on the Point Guesthouse. It has a view worthy of a multi-million dollar hotel. It's very clean and comfortable, and I enjoyed chatting with fellow guests from Canada, Australia and Germany.

    Still another first was kayaking. Although I was a bit clumsy while I learned the technique, I enjoyed it. Led by a guide, we kayaked to Meares Island, and hiked in the old growth rainforest there. I loved the huge trees, the ferns, and the moss.

    On another day we caught the bus to Ucluelet and did the circular walk, through the magical forest, overlooking the cliffs, to the lighthouse.

    We then caught the bus back to Long Beach, where we walked, ran, explored rock pools, and played on a teeter totter [see saw] made of driftwood. I loved the roar of the waves on Long Beach. Fond as I am of Nanaimo, that is one thing we lack. We're protected by several islands just offshore, and we don't get that pounding surf.

    Returning to Tofino from Long Beach involved yet another first for me -- hitch hiking. Luckily, a friendly couple who were visiting from San Francisco stopped within minutes and gave us a ride. (They said they'd seen us using the teeter totter they'd made.)

    Tofino and Ucluelet are 40 kilometres (25 miles) from each other, and Long Beach is about a third of the way from Tofino to Ucluelet. It would have been a challenge to visit Ucluelet and Long Beach by bus in a single day. Hence the need to augment the bus with hitch hiking.

    Had we gone to Tofino a few days later -- from April 9th, 2009 onwards -- it would have been easier. Each day there would have been two southbound buses to Ucluelet and two northbound buses back to Tofino instead of just one bus in each direction.

    With that said, I feel we visited Tofino at an ideal time. The town was relatively empty and quiet, compared with the summer months, when the population reportedly swells by 20,000.

    Everyone warned me that rain was very common on the west cost of Vancouver Island. They all said that the area's outdoor activities still were wonderful in wet weather, as long as you dressed appropriately.

    I packed a Goretex jacket and rain trousers, but didn't use them. As it turned out, we had glorious weather. Local residents were astonished at how warm and sunny it was.

    Walking around the quaint little town centre was fun. The art gallery that housed the paintings of Roy Henry Vickers was particularly inspiring. This was recommended by both my real life friend and my cyber friend, Rob. The Common Loaf Bakery was a cute place to stop for hot chocolate.

    Stupendous as the west coast of Vancouver Island is, it is not immune to imprudent exploitation. Clearcut logging already has taken place. The only stands of old growth temperate rainforest left are those in Pacific Rim National Park and on Meares Island. (By comparison, the First Nations people of Canada harvested bark and planks in such a way that trees continued to grow.) Local residents are concerned about plans for a copper mine on Catface, a mountain just across the bay from Tofino.

    There are complex relationships amongst old growth forests, wild salmon, the ocean, streams, and bears. Human activity, unless it is conducted with care, upsets the natural balance that sustains us. The guide who led us on the expedition to Meares Island gave us a great explanation of this.

    I was attracted to Vancouver Island because it felt to me like Paradise. But, even during my mini-vacation, when I would have been more than happy to escape from the real world, I received many reminders that our unparalleled quality of life depended on dedicated stewards.

    British Columbia is gearing up for a provincial election on May 12th, 2009. I am more conscious than ever that I want a government that values different kinds of capital -- ecological, social and financial. Our environment is the proverbial goose that lays the golden eggs. God forbid that we should kill it. Then we may as well kiss our financial capital goodbye, and I dare say our social capital as well.

    Friday, April 3, 2009

    Tofino, here I come

    Shortly I'll be leaving for my first visit to Tofino, a small town on the west coast of Vancouver Island. People tell me it's a magical place. Pacific Rim National Park. Old growth temperate rainforests. Clayoquot Sound. Long Beach. At this time of year, wild waves. Whales. Good chance of rain. This is, after all, the Wet Coast. It's all about Goretex. And moss. And ferns. Well, enough of this. I'm off to catch the Tofino Bus.

    Thursday, April 2, 2009

    Creative Tension

    Yesterday I did a tour of Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community with a representative of our construction management company. She was upset because there was a problem with the kitchen cabinets. The way in which the subcontractor had installed them failed to meet her company's usual standards.

    While she was pointing out problem after problem, one part of my mind was appreciating her commitment to quality and her attention to detail. Another part of my mind was looking out the kitchen window towards the glass-covered pedestrian street that runs down the middle of our building. I was visualizing myself standing in my kitchen, preparing a meal or making a cup of ginger tea.

    I imagined times when I would enjoy privacy, and when I would keep my blinds closed. I do like to curl up with a book in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. But I imagined that there would be other times when I would open my blinds, when I would take my cup of tea out into the glass-covered atrium and see who else was out and about, and when I would participate in shared meals in our Common House.

    In the last few days I have been bombarded by so called problem after so called problem. Although I don't always do it, this week I have done a good job of returning again and again to the vision of what I love.

    It helps that I recently read Bruce Elkin's free ebook, Staying Up in Down Times. I enjoyed the entire book, but especially Chapters 6, 7 and 8, in which Bruce discusses creative tension. I find it takes discipline to be fully aware of where I am now and simultaneously focus on what I want to create. As Bruce indicates, creating is qualitatively different from problem-solving. I find it tempting to default to problem-solving, but this week I have spent the majority of my time in creative mode.

    The so called problems with the kitchen cabinets are being addressed.

    I am co-creating a phenomenal community.