Small Group Method

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For background, see: Structural Archetypes for Group Organization

Ultra-brief summary of the Small Group Method


"That Consensus process is used for all intra-group decision making

  • and* to setup the basis for executive process decision making.

That Executive process is used for all extra-group decision making.

That Democratic process is used as a check on, and spontaneous transition from, executive process back to consensus process." (

Detailed Description of Small Group Method:

"Consensus process decision making is used for:.

     - 1; selecting/electing the individual who will act as the 
     facilitator and/or chair of the consensus process itself. 
     - 2; defining or redefining the membership, internal structure, 
     named intent, values, objectives, dreams and aspirations, etc, 
     of the group. 
     - 3; selecting/electing the individual who will act as a focus of 
     responsibility and authority for a specific group external range 
     of action. 

Consensus methods are always used to define all decisions in relation to the being of the group itself, the basis of choice for its actions, and the focus of responsibility and authority to implement those actions.

Consensus methods are never used for decisions specific to implementing an external action of the group, nor are they used for suspending or withdrawing authority/responsibility from a previously selected focus. Consensus process methods also cannot be used to moderate the process of consensus itself.

Executive process (meritocratic) decision making is used for:.

     - 1; the implementation of a specific group external action. 
     - 2; how to best enable the consensus decision making 
     process during a group meeting. 

Executive process methods are always used to define all decisions in relation to the action, the doing of the group itself. Executive process, as mediated by a consensus selected focus person acting in accordance with consensus process resolved intents, is used to implement selected group activities externally and to facilitate the consensus process internally.

Executive process is never used to make any decision relating to the being of the group.

Democratic process, which is based on a spontaneous majority vote of those present in any majority gathering of the group, is used to make only two kinds of decisions:.

     - 1; whether to immediately suspend the currently pending 
     executive process (i.e., to indefinitely suspend the authority 
     of the currently acting focus person) and return directly to 
     a consensus decision making process; this has the effect of 
     transitioning the group from 'doing' back to 'being'. 
     - 2; whether to immediately suspend the currently pending 
     consensus decision making process, with respect to a particular 
     stalled decision, and elect a different consensus facilitator. 

Democratic process is used as a check on both the consensus process and the executive process of the group and is used for no other purpose. Voting decisions are of exactly two kinds: 1) whether to have a vote, and 2) whether to dismiss the currently selected focus person. Both of these decisions are yes/no (boolean). Whenever a majority requests a vote, a vote is held. A vote can be requested by a gathered majority of the group at any time. A majority result on a vote can be used to immediately revoke the executive process authority of a previously selected focus person or consensus facilitator, (allowing for a new consensus facilitator to be elected by consensus, if needed)."


Notes on the group action/identity distinction

"Insofar as the method of sustainable small group formation described above is characterized on a being/doing distinction (the identity of the group as contrasted with the action of the group), it is important to be able to clarify which group decisions (interaction events) are to be classified as belonging to which category (intra-group or extra-group interactions). The clarity of this resolution is essential as it defines which choices are within the scope of the consensus decision making process and which decisions are within the scope of the executive decision making process.

The basis for the distinction is found in the notion of observability. If the effects and consequences of a decision are concretely visible to people who are not members of the group, then the decision/choice is regarded as external and part of the action of the group (extra-group interactions). Otherwise, by default, all remaining decisions are considered to be internal (intra-group interactions).

Implicit in this description is the assumption that all group internal processes (the internal communications of the group used to establish and consummate consensus process) are maintained in a manner NOT visible to non-members. The reason for this apparent secrecy associated with consensus process is associated with the need for the group identity to be internally (rather than externally) defined. External agencies with visibility to the group internal process would likely attempt to use this information to influence the internal dynamics of the group. Such influence would allow non-members to functionally act as if possessing the privileges of group membership, this weakening the significance of membership, and thus the identity, of the group itself. Insofar as the notion of membership is always, inherently, and explicitly defined as isomorphic with the being of the group, it is always an internal decision and should not visible to group outsiders (even by indirection and inference). As such, all communications associated with group consensus process are considered to be private to the membership of the group itself." (

Structural integration into larger group forms

"As outlined above, the hybrid dynamic of group organizational process using combined consensus, executive, and democratic decision making methods is only directly applicable to small groups. The reason for this limitation is twofold.

1) Insofar as consensus decision making implies and usually requires full communication between all members of a group, and where the number of inter-member messages rises geometrically in proportion to the number of members, the communicative bandwidth required of each member can quickly rise beyond the carrying capacity of that individual.

2) Where executive process requires an explicitly defined focus and range, the selection of that focus and its degree of asymmetry must be commensurate with the grain size of the group (ie, exactly one member). Where the level of focus asymmetry is too high, the demand stress on the selected individual can exceed the available capabilities of that person and/or require the formation of subgroup counsels; the added complexity of which does not translate very efficiently when considering the democratic process override on executive process.

Given these constraints, the hybrid process can only validly be applied directly to groups in the range of 6 to 30 members (extreme limits) with groups of 10 to 16 members being considered optimal. However, larger organizations can be composed of smaller ones by re-identifying the small group itself as a member cell in a larger meta-group similarly organized and constituted in aggregate as with each small group. This process can be continued for any number of levels of scale so as to be able to form coherent organizations of any number of individuals operating in aggregate. This composition method defines a specifically bottom-up topology for larger groups (grassroots organizations).

Insofar as the interactions between groups in forming a composition meta-group are effectively external to the groups themselves, the action of intergroup communications within the context of the meta-group need to be mediated via executive process. This has the implication that the individual cell groups must be internally healthy enough so as to select one of their internal members to act as a liaison in communications with other groups on behalf of the local membership. This in effect constitutes a form of local group representation, where the representative is effectively immediately answerable to the represented cell group by democratic override and consensus process.

Also, insofar as the communicative bandwidth limits identified above will apply to the representative individual, it is important that some composition constraints be observed:

     - 1; The number of component cell groups in any meta-group 
     must not exceed the communicative capacity limits of a 
     representative individual, and therefore, each meta-level 
     can consist of at most 20 or so component groups.  It is 
     preferred that different focus representatives be elected 
     for each compositional level so as to not exceed the 
     capabilities of any specific group member (Note; this is 
     particularly relevant where meta-groups are themselves 
     combined into meta-meta-groups). 
     - 2; The membership decision of a cell group within a meta-group, 
     insofar as it is an aspect of the being/identity of both the 
     cell group and the meta-group, must be made by positive consensus 
     at both group levels.  The choice of the cell group to belong to 
     a meta-group, as determined by the cell group, is not the decision 
     of the elected representative, but is the result of an achieved 
     cell group consensus.  From the perspective of the meta-group, 
     the membership of the cell group is defined by the consensus 
     of all of the participating cell groups as mediated through 
     their elected representatives.  Only where both conditions hold 
     is cell membership in the meta-group established. 

Finally, it is noted that in the same manner that a single individual can be a member of multiple groups (although this is not necessary nor desirable), so also can specific cell groups have membership in multiple meta-groups. In this manner networks of interchange can be created for arbitrarily complex structures. This has the distinct advantage that while the specific structure is everywhere clear, there is no concentration of organizational complexity (or points of failure) at any particular locus within the overall system." (