Meetings at Steward Wood
We hold a business meeting every Thursday morning; this covers issues such as woodland management, finances, planning, and our diary. It’s useful to ensure everyone is aware of events, changes and so on, although attending is not compulsory and it is understood that not everyone will come every week. The meeting tends not to run over past lunch time (phew!).
An agenda is made available in advance so that everyone is able to add to contribute to it and be aware what issues will be raised. At the start of the meeting somebody volunteers to read last weeks’ minutes and write them for this week. Someone else offers to be facilitator; s/he is responsible for ensuring the discussed topics are related to the agenda topic – important to keep the meeting quick and relevant. Nevertheless someone normally manages to make a joke at some point during the meeting – it’s definitely good to feel all comfortable enough to do this within a group.
Each person’s opinions are considered equally valid and important. This sounds great, but a stable non-hierarchical group dynamic can be hard to achieve and retain. We are very lucky to be a long-established community, in which everyone has worked and socialised with everyone else. This helps most of our meetings to be straightforward: everyone knows they will be listened to and respected.
We use consensus decision making, a system that ensures decisions have (in theory) the consent of the whole group. Consensus is reached when everyone is happy to accept a decision because they agree it is the best possible for the group.
We do sometimes have to tackle subjects that are controversial and emotive. A useful tool for these discussions is the 'go round' during which each person in turn around the circle gets to speak briefly about the subject at hand. This is a useful way of getting a general sense of the group feeling before going on to discuss an issue in more detail.
We are still learning to live with each other, and the learning will go on as long as we do. Group dynamics make or break projects like this one. Few people are equipped these days to communicate openly and honestly with other people and all have years of emotional baggage, preconceptions and conditioning to deal with.
The community also holds non-compulsory talking circles at which we try to defuse conflict and resentful feelings. Ideally people would feel able to speak out about their feelings as they occur, but most people repress their emotions. Little resentments (for instance) can be magnified when this happens over long periods of time. The talking circles provide a formal venue to speak honestly, and are healthy to have within the community for those people who feel they are necessary. They aren’t a useful tool for everyone – some community members prefer to speak about emotions in a different way.
Author: Chris 2009 with apologies to original author of ‘Meetings Meetings Meetings’ 2001