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Quantum Community - Andrew Woodgate (Framework)

Main Points

Twelve characteristics of a quantum community. What makes a quantum community different? Here are twelve key characteristics? which I suggest will define any successful quantum community.

1 Self-reference, or self-awareness – the community understands itself as a community, and its members are aware that they – and others – are part of it. So if you don’t think you’re part of a community, then you’re not – you can’t be labelled as part of a community by someone else. Thus, membership of a community demands a voluntary commitment and can’t be imposed. The community will maintain its selfawareness through feedback loops, which allow issues to be heard and communicated to the wider community.
2 Autonomy and diversity – all members of the community are free and of equal value, although they may perform different roles and have different levels of participation. The community cannot be controlled, designed or led by an individual or a group (although members might agree to delegate leadership, or other functions, to an individual or a group). The community recognises and respects the differences between individuals.
3 Participation – all members of the community are enabled to participate, but are free to choose their level and manner of participation. A community needs to value and accommodate these different levels of involvement by creating opportunities to allow spontaneous reflective sub-groupings.
4 Relationships – the community pays attention to developing relationships, valuing both the individual and the collective. Members of the community do not need to be in direct relationship with every other member. (This is in distinction to a group or team, where all members would normally be in direct relationship with all other members.) Relationships within communities can be thought of as ‘integrative fields’ in which individuals come together and create something greater than the sum of the parts, while retaining their distinctiveness.
5 Intention – the community has a clear and shared intention. In traditional work teams or groups, the mission or task is often about doing something, about effecting change external to the group. The task is generally envisaged in rational, practical terms. In healthy communities, the intention may have a ‘doing’ element (encompassing the cognitive and practical) but this will be balanced with a ‘being’ intention, which pays attention to the emotional and imaginal realms of human beings. Healthy communities will pay attention to how they are, as well as to what they are doing.
6 Energy – the community has enough internal energy, or enthusiasm, to sustain itself. Energy is likely to come from the generation and flow of information which is given a shared value by community members (that is, meaning, not mere data). Meaning is generated from intellectual knowledge, strong emotions, values and beliefs present in the community.
7 Culture – the community has the basic minimum necessary ground rules or culture (even if implicit) to form a gentle container for the relationships between community members. However, in order to maximise energy-flow throughout the community, the culture must be one which allows as much diversity, creativity and spontaneity as possible.
8 Processes – the community pays attention to the processes needed to create and transmit meaning, including the community’s culture, to its members.

Members

Community members will share a ‘community hygiene’ role, making sure the community is functioning to the optimum, by looking out for, and dealing with, individuals who are struggling or processes which are not working.
9 Wave and Particle – the community exists, like matter, in wave packets and may manifest itself at different times in ‘wave-form’ (eg: virtual communities, loose networks, very disparate or low-energy communities, everyday neighbourhood activity) or in ‘particle-form’ (eg: close groups, teams, during specific events, in response to particular occurrences in the external environment, street parties, and so on). Low-energy (‘wave’) communities (and community members) have the potential to shift to a high-energy state (‘particle’) and vice-versa.
10 Context – the community, and what happens within it, emerge from, and are inseparable from, its context. The community can’t be designed, controlled or predicted from outside itself. What works in one context can’t be precisely translated or copied into another context.
11 Boundaries – the community pays careful attention to managing its boundaries. The community is aware of both inside and outside perspectives.
Members of the community ‘scan the horizon’ to see what is happening in the outside world, and bring relevant information back into the community. The community pays attention to welcoming and inducting suitable newcomers, and to celebrating the departure of individuals leaving. The boundaries of the community are thus permeable and fluid. They are seen as the place at which it interacts with, and learns from, its environment.
12 Emergence and evolution – the community evolves and changes in response to its own energy levels and to other internal and external stimuli. It will need to have feedback loops and review mechanisms to help this happen. The community will need to pay particular attention to what is happening outside itself, in its wider environment. Flexibility will be built in to how the community functions, to allow the unplanned to emerge.

Shadow Side

The shadow side of community
Of course it would be foolish to be too starry-eyed about community. We can all think of communities which have been oppressive, restrictive and moribund. The very concept of ‘learning communities’ in an academic context, for example, has been challenged by a number of writers
14 . Communities can be seen as idealistic, harking back to a non-existent pastoral golden age, enforcing conformity while punishing difference, valuing the collective over the individual, and so on. Nor is it always easy to participate in a community. It can be hard for some people to join together with others – to step into the ‘integrative field’ of a relationship
15. Some people may be left on the sidelines feeling isolated. And while we may strive to respect others, it can be hard to know how our personal behaviour is affecting them until it is too late. The creativity of a community comes from the energy generated by the various relationships and interactions within it. But these interactions can trigger negative, as well as positive, reactions within us. Parker Palmer highlights the irritating side of community, saying ‘we might define true community as the place where the person you least want to live with always lives!’
16 . However I would argue that the reason for communities feeling uncomfortable, or even damaging, is because some of the characteristics of a healthy community listed above are absent. For example, in a small village community where conformity is enforced, one could say that participation is not voluntary – one has no choice about where one is born. Similarly, in a community which is not evolving, the boundaries may not be permeable enough to allow in new members or ideas, or the community processes may be too cumbersome or irrelevant to allow growth. Where individual members are feeling bruised in a community, it may be that the ‘community hygiene’ role is not being carried out effectively, or that not enough attention is being paid to generating healthy relationships which value the individual. A healthy community will have processes to bring awareness of these facts to its attention and to allow it to evolve in response to them.

Reality

What can we do? Working with the reality in many organisations
But, sad to say, ‘community’ will feel very far from where most of our present organisations are. Trying to create a fully-functioning quantum community from scratch will be an unrealistic task for many. Creating a community demands investment and commitment. While a community can encompass far more people than a group or a team, the larger the community, the more energy will be needed to manifest it in a high-energy ‘particle’ state.
Change may be hard to imagine. Within our organisations, people are so entrenched in their structures, tasks and roles that it may be hard for them to imagine how they could move outside the perceived safety of their present way of doing things.
Realistically, people in our workplaces may simply be reluctant to see themselves as part of a community – they might not want the challenge, they may not even like their colleagues enough. It might just sound like one more management initiative hitting them over the head.
But our organisations need to capture some of that shared meaning-generation and energy of which communities are capable. Fortunately, I believe there are some practical steps, some of which most organisations could take immediately. In taking them, the role of leaders and managers will be crucial by helping giving a commitment, by ensuring that resources are directed where necessary and in helping generate enough energy to bring the quantum community into its ‘particle’, highenergy state.
1. Be more creative about stimulating the free flow of information, and thus energy. Set up events in which the widest range of people come together freely to exchange and generate ideas. Activities such as Open Space, Market Place, Learning Exchange or The Street allow individuals to mix in small and large groupings and to share information and ideas which are important to them in a spontaneous way.
2. Concentrate on developing information into shared meaning. Don’t just collect more data: use the data to develop a collective understanding of what’s happening between as many colleagues as possible. Notice how information – and meaning – flow (or don’t flow) around your organisation, perhaps even in the form of gossip or rumour, which always contain huge amounts of energy.
3. Invest in exploring the non-rational side of the organisation. Generate debate around your organisation’s rituals and myths. Introduce the topic of spirituality, wellbeing, being a full and free person. Be brave enough to spend time collectively dreaming your organisation’s plans as well as thinking about them. Tell each other stories about the history of your organisation, plus about what you’re doing now. Make sure that the stories aren’t controlled by a small elite but that dissident voices and alternative stories are heard too.
4. Pay attention to how the organisation is, as well as to what it does – to its health as well as to its effectiveness. Reward time spent developing interpersonal relationships, and the processes which support them, as well as time spent achieving ‘bottom line’ tasks. Schedule time during working hours to allow people to talk and interact with each other away from their desks, perhaps even in a more social setting.
5. Reward individuals who act as ‘community hygiene monitors’ by identifying where your organisation is not functioning well – and who do something to clear up the mess, even if only by bringing it to wider notice.
6. Identify how the boundaries of your organisation could become more permeable. Encourage people within your organisation to ‘scan the horizon’ regularly for new developments outside your organisation which may affect it, and to share that information. Make it easy for new members to join your organisation, in whatever capacity, for whatever length of time (for example, through proper ‘hand-holding’ induction procedures, guest speakers, consultants, secondments, job placements and shadowing). Make it easy for members of your organisation to leave it, in whatever capacity, for whatever length of time (for example, through exit interviews, study trips, sabbaticals, job-sharing).
7. Really value diversity, criticism and dissident voices, rather than paying lipservice to difference or trying to enforce sameness.

Biographical note Andrew Woodgate is an independent consultant with Framework – a values-based network of consultants working in the non-profit sector. Andrew has an interest in fostering spirituality in organisations, particularly through helping people build community and shared meaning within their workplaces. Andrew is an alumnus of the Spiritual Development and Facilitation course of Surrey University (July 2004). He is a member of the Edward Carpenter Community, a ‘virtual’ community for gay men dedicated to exploring personal growth and spirituality.
Contact details Andrew Woodgate
Framework
7 Arthur St
Oxford OX2 0AS
+44 (0)1865-436034
07814-508984
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
skype: andrew.woodgate

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