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In the previous post, I listed “building learning communities” as one of the lines of development essential for success at Decurion.  In this post, I want to share our understanding of what the process of building such communities involves.

A characteristic of learning communities is their ability to recognize the “other” as legitimate, to embrace difference and diversity.  Too often, we regard diversity as a problem to be solved rather than an opportunity to be prized.  Unlike mobs or cults, healthy communities embrace differences as opportunities to falsify their assumptions of wholeness.  They convert their suspicion of the “other” to a recognition of their own incompleteness.

We create community in part by following the Learning Community Guidelines and by practicing the Principles of Community:

Learning Community Guidelines

• Use “I statements”—don’t generalize
• We are equally responsible
• Respect confidentiality
• Include yourself and others equally

Principles of Community

• Communicate with authenticity
• Deal with difficult issues
• Welcome and affirm diversity
• Relate with integrity and respect
• Balance holding on and letting go
• Tolerate ambiguity and learning anxiety

In the beginning, groups observe the ordinary rules of politeness and good manners and avoid a deeper exploration of themselves and the topics they care about.  They speak in generalities and pretend that individuals are all the same, that there are no fundamental differences among them.  This is the stage of pseudocommunity.  Groups that manage to mature themselves in order to face challenging tasks typically pass through four stages, which we can call pseudocommunity, chaos, emptiness, and learning community.

In the second stage, chaos, those differences emerge.  It can seem as if the gates of disagreement have opened to spill out all of the group’s unresolved issues.  Much is said, but little is heard.  And instead of trying to ignore individuals’ differences (as in the first stage), groups often attempt to obliterate them by looking to a hierarchical leader or by escaping into organization, that is, setting up committees or subcommittees.

Neither of these approaches will lead to learning community.  Instead, the group must move into the third stage, emptiness.  Group members must empty themselves of expectations and preconceptions, of prejudices, of ideology and solutions, of the need to know, and of the need to control.  Then a more active listening can occur.  Advice and easy answers are put aside.  Group members begin to acknowledge and remove their barriers to a more authentic encounter with others.

Only then can a group enter the fourth stage, learning community.  Here, differences are openly acknowledged and honored.  When there is space to be ourselves, that which is subject to us (our positions, ideas, expectations, beliefs, and hopes) can become object, something we can examine and perhaps revise.  We start to separate our identity, our sense of self, from the positions we hold.  We can argue effectively and powerfully for opposing positions without being disrespectful or negating others.  The group becomes conflict resolving rather than conflict avoidant.  And this environment generates learning and development.

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