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Calling Out Our Potential:
A Report on the
Second Fetzer/IONS
Group Service and Synergy Conference

With Reflections On Our Collective Future


Sponsored by the Fetzer Institute
The Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS)
as part of their
Spiritual Heart of Service (SHOS) Project

Written by Robert Kenny
In Collaboration with Julie Glover
7292 Maxwelton Road
Clinton, WA 98236-8814
March 15, 1999
Revised December, 2001

© 2001 Robert Kenny and Leaderful Teams Consulting

Executive Summary 

This is in part a report on the October, 1998 conference sponsored by the Fetzer Institute and the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) as part of their Spiritual Heart of Service (SHOS) Project. Out of four SHOS conferences, it was the second to focus on Group Service and Synergy (GSS). [1] This report also examines the key factors which make GSS effective, the reasons why GSS is so important, the trends that the emergence of synergistic groups reflects, and the steps that might be undertaken to support the emergence of this relatively new field of inquiry. 

GSS is service that is provided specifically through the collaboration of a group of people who are enough in synch with each other to think and move as one. Their coordinated action draws upon the diverse yet integrated resources of the group as a whole. Synergy multiplies exponentially the power, efficiency and effectiveness of the effort and work of the individual members, in terms of greatly improved physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health of group members and those they serve. Synergy is characterized by experiences of communion and resonance with Spirit and between group members, by nonlocal and nontemporal field effects, and a sense of community. John Fetzer, in the statement he made upon founding the Institute, referred to the centrality of such collective effort in realizing the mission not only of the Institute, but also of other great endeavors: 

I am sure that as you listen, you will hear the ring of truth, first and foremost, trying to create a community of freedom....It is up to the collective group of trustees and staff....It was the collective group...that created the beginning of this great country....Here you will find the answers to the final definition of the Foundation's purpose....A certain consciousness of synthesis brings forth a light.... It is here, ready to assist all....Its summary will be unconditional love. That is our avatar of the future, because love is the unifying energy field that mobilizes physical, emotional, mental and spiritual resources in the caring and sharing with one another. 

GSS is important for a number of reasons. It expresses our essential relatedness and who we are most fully as human beings -- spiritual beings in respectful service to all of life. It therefore engages us in a natural, fulfilling and creative way to live. Through the experience of being deeply known, members of synergistic groups can be called to actualize their full potential. Because of mutual support and affirmation, they can meet challenges that are overwhelming when confronted alone. As recent research has shown, GSS utilizes one of the most powerful healing and creative forces in life, by bringing people back into wholeness and thus into relationship with the sacred. Through coordinated intention, synergistic groups can metaphorically form a chalice, a container, a structure of unified, transpersonal consciousness that draws in and expresses Spirit and from which emerges group wisdom, a level of insight and realization that is greater than the sum of individual understanding. By synthesizing diverse perspectives and types of experience, group wisdom can lead to solutions that are holistic and comprehensive and can therefore address complex problems more effectively. With practice and increasing skill, synergistic groups  can learn highly efficient processes of inquiry and problem-solving that are so crucial in our rapidly changing world. GSS can demonstrate new partnership-and-collaboration models of authority and organization. Synergistic groups can be experimental incubators for exploring new paradigms of leadership, especially the nurturing of group fields and leaderful groups. Finally, through the development of deeper and more inclusive levels of personal and group identity and of what I call the “communion of the heart”, synergistic groups can contribute in a significant way to a widespread evolution of individual and collective consciousness. They can help us learn to utilize the wisdom of synergistic collectives, to create a new global wisdom culture that integrates two broad, 300-year-old cultural strands, each of which has tended  to emphasize one aspect of each of the following polarities: individual-group, independence-interdependence, rights-responsibilities, differentiation-integration, competition-collaboration, uniqueness-commonality, heterogeneity-homogeneity, feminine-masculine, etc. The integration of these strands is, I believe, what John Fetzer envisioned when he spoke of the “consciousness of synthesis”. 

Thus, the emergence of synergistic groups can significantly contribute to the development of a  new, inclusive, global wisdom culture. Fetzer and IONS can continue to play a critical role in supporting this crucial advance in human evolution. 


It is necessary to deal first with some introductory issues, including definitions of some of the phenomena that were discussed during the conference. The participants in the GSS conferences are listed in Exhibit A. Their depth of experience with and wisdom about GSS is impressive. They each have been involved in community service projects for 15 to 40 years, have founded or managed organizations dedicated to group service in some of the most strife-filled or devastating human situations, or have participated in residential intentional communities that have required daily, close contact and work with others. Their group service projects have included a national AIDS-care program; initiatives of the Untied Nations Development Program; NASA's Apollo 11 team; an internationally recognized, comprehensive youth development program; the United Farm Workers; programs regarding diversity, social and economic justice, psychological and spiritual development, and team- and community-building; and work with indigenous populations, the poor, the disenfranchised and other marginalized groups within our society. These are people who have taken great risks in their lives, who have dared to enter the uncharted territory of consciously creating and sustaining group fields [2] and collective service efforts. they have spent most of their lives engaged in what John Fetzer described as the collective effort to build “communities of freedom”, drawing upon the “unifying energy field” of unconditional love and synthesis. [3]  

Whereas the first GSS conference focused primarily upon group service [4] , the second mostly examined group synergy. During the second conference, the three days were mostly dedicated to each participant's storytelling about a GSS project or experience (an illustrative story is included in Exhibit B). Unfortunately, the time we had to dialogue about each presentation was extremely limited. It was therefore impossible to reach explicit consensus regarding the common themes exemplified by the stories. Nonetheless, as I reviewed my notes and the audiotapes from the conference, I was struck by the consistent principles that emerged from the stories and subsequent discussions. Unless otherwise noted, this report therefore reflects the themes that I have culled from the proceedings. [5] Based upon my reflections, I have postulated a number of ideas, insights and questions that illuminate where our culture or the world may be headed in terms of group synergy. 

What is group synergy? 

The root of synergy and energy means work. According to the dictionary, energy (en-ergia) means “at or in work...; strength of expression, force of utterance, life, spirit...; in physics, the capacity for doing work and overcoming resistance.” Synergy (syn-ergia) means “working together or jointly...; combined or cooperative action or force..., e.g., of different parts of the body.” 

The word system is closely related to synergy. [6] The dictionary defines system as “bringing together...; arrangement of things so related or connected as to form a unity or organic whole...; e.g., a  number of bodily organs acting together..., such as the circulatory system.” So when a group works well together, it expresses the primary characteristic of a system, namely, the synergistic effect that is often expressed in the sentence, “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” As one conference participant stated, “Group synergy is the action which flows from a group of people who are enough in synch with  each other to move and think as one, to take action that is coordinated, effective, efficient, and uses the resources of the group as a whole. Synergy typically implies a multiplier effect,” through which the power of individual work or service seems to multiply exponentially through joint, coordinated effort. 

Many conference participants described experiences of communion (deep connection or union with others and with life or Spirit7) during times of group synergy. They referred frequently to consciously creating8 and accessing a group field, or feeling themselves to be a part of larger fields (e.g., a culture) or the “great field of life”, and of coming into “resonance” (defined below) with each other and with other fields. Some participants felt that simply creating communion constitutes service in and of itself. Other participants felt that synergy inextricably involves external acts of group service for others. For example, as one participant said, “We don't want musicians just to commune together. We want them to make beautiful music together.” 

I believe that both perspectives B one focused upon being and one upon doing B express aspects of synergy. Why? First, experiences of communion in groups do tend to transform group members and therefore serve not only them but also those with whom they subsequently interact.9 Second, the field effects of GSS may work across space and time10 and thereby serve others who are not part of a particular synergistic group. If Sheldrake's theory regarding morphogenetic fields (endnote 2) is correct, then any group that creates communion would make it easier, through field effects, for subsequent groups to enter into communion. The cumulative effects would strengthen over time and smaller fields would influence larger fields (e.g., a whole culture), thereby inducing or facilitating more frequent and more intense experiences of communion and synergy. Third, groups can move from communion to external acts of service, or vice versa, regardless of their initial focus.11 I have found that some of the inner psychological and spiritual changes that facilitate group synergy are closely related, even identical in some cases, to those changes that often motivate individuals to serve (such as expansion of identity, as discussed below). So perhaps it does not matter where a group begins.12 

I'd like to take a moment to discuss resonance, a concept I mentioned earlier, because it seems central to an understanding of GSS. The dictionary defines resonance as “reinforcement and prolongation of a sound by reflection or by vibration of other bodies; in electricity, the condition of adjustment of a circuit that allows the greatest flow of current of a certain frequency...; in physics, the reinforced vibration of a body exposed to a vibration, at about the same frequency, of another body.” Resonant means “resounding, re-echoing; increasing the intensity of sounds by sympathetic vibration.” Group members can, given some of the conditions described in the following sections of this paper, come into increasingly greater levels of resonance, i.e., empathetic vibration and rapport with each other and with life itself. Similar to the effects of resonance, in terms of sound or electricity, a resonant group does seem to be able to allow a greater, more intense flow of energy to come through it and to channel this energy for constructive purposes and in service. In light of the above definitions, what sound, vibration, or energy might a group be reinforcing, prolonging and allowing to flow through it, via empathetic resonance? I would suggest that it is Spirit and its manifestations (insight, wisdom, love, etc.). 

A phenomenon that is related to resonance is attunement, which means bringing into harmony or agreement. An apt metaphor is provided by the members of an orchestra, who tune their instruments to the same note before they begin to play together. The musicians then play in tune and in harmony with each other, even though their individual instruments, the timbre of the instruments, the actual notes played, etc., may differ. Another related concept is alignment, the development of a common orientation in terms of intentions, purpose, etc. An interesting metaphor comes from superconductivity: alignment of the polarities of different particles within a given material enables faster and more efficient transmission of energy, similar to the electrical and sound phenomena described in the above definition of resonance. Finally, the concept of entrainment, which Cedar Barstow introduced during the first GSS conference, may also be relevant. Entrainment means guiding into a common state. One example of intentional, freely chosen entrainment is provided by the Navy's precision-flying team, the Blue Angels. Prior to flying their jets in tight formation and maneuvers, with their wing tips within inches of each other, they conduct a ritual together. They sequentially and methodically call out the numerous commands they will use as they fly, in order to move in total coordination. Similarly, hunter-gatherer groups often engage in ritualistic dance in preparation for hunting, so they can develop an extrasensory awareness of each other and a high level of empathic coordination, thereby avoiding being killed or seriously wounded by the animals they stalk. 

Returning now to group synergy, the conference participants discussed other aspects of it, including the following: 

o        Group synergy typically occurs periodically, rather than being a sustained experience over long periods of time.13

o        Negative or destructive group synergy can also develop.14

o        Group synergy can occur in a variety of settings, although it is more likely and more frequently to occur when groups are together long enough to establish some of the conditions listed below. Examples of such settings are shown in Exhibit C.15

o        Experiences of group synergy in the context of longer-term, day-to-day relationships, e.g., in a community, may be perceived more realistically (see below) and may be more likely to be translated into practical results and service (since an existing structure of relationships is immediately available to be utilized and acted upon). 

I would like to take a few moments to discuss the relationship between communion and community, since the conference participants discussed some of the similarities and differences between them. I will then end this section by placing them within the context of group synergy and GSS. 

Experiences of communion tend to be of relatively short duration for most of us, often have the quality of what Maslow described as peak experiences, and can be unexpected and spontaneous, rather than being consciously intended. They are particularly likely to occur when individuals work together in response to a threatening crisis (e.g., a flood) or engage together in an intense activity of sufficient duration (such as an experiential workshop of two days or longer). They may also occur, as mentioned above, during experiences of group synergy. But such peak experiences do not necessarily result in long-term, sustainable improvements in individual or group lifestyle, practice, activity, or behavior. Typically individuals and groups fall back after a while into less collaborative patterns of relationship. 

Sometimes people describe such experiences of communion as community. Due to feelings of oneness, closeness, and commonality, they have a sense of belonging to a group. I call this a sense of community.  

In my mind, community involves more than just experiences of synergy or communion, and more than a sense of community. When healthy, community is a system of relationships and roles, characterized by shared values, meaning and norms; by a sense of responsibility among members to care for and about each other (i.e., to serve each other); and by a commitment to work through difficulties for the sake of the growth, development and health of the whole community and all its members. 

Compared to experiences of communion or synergy, community tends to require more time to build, involves engagement in sometimes mundane operational and organizational tasks, requires members to deal with issues or people that they may find unpleasant, and is hard to sustain over time (at least in a healthy state). Due to its demands, it therefore requires a deeper level of maturity and individual development than periodic, especially spontaneous experiences of communion or synergy. Cornelius Pietzner stated that, in contrast to experiences of "random synergy", community requires "going through crap and getting beyond appearances. This takes time. You can't be in your head. The Bushmen of the Kalahari have a term, 'to grow slowly'. If you rush, you abort the element that will make synergy [and community] stick." 

Yet community can result in deeper, more complete, mutual understanding and appreciation among the members and deeper levels of change and growth than periodic experiences of communion or synergy. The distinction may be compared to the difference between creating and sustaining a day-to-day sense of partnership, mutual understanding, oneness and love within a long-term married relationship, for example, and experiencing communion when one has just fallen in love. 

Even more important, the learning of attitudes and skills (such as how to work successfully with variable leadership in a group or how to build trust) that are necessary for creating group synergy or experiences of communion on a more regular basis, requires repeated practice in a group setting over time. Therefore, individuals who work on creating synergy and a sense of communion more frequently, especially if they do this within a community, have a more comprehensive and realistic understanding of the value of synergy and its place within relationships. As the Skin Horse in the Velveteen Rabbit wisely notes, “'Real' is when you love a child for a long, long time. Most of your hair has been rubbed off and your eyes drop out. Once you are real, you can never become unreal again.”  

So experiences of communion and synergy can occur within communities, especially if they function in a creative and healthy manner, but those experiences do not necessarily result in community. On the other hand, if the members of a community do not periodically experience communion and synergy with each other, Spirit will be absent and the community will feel lifeless. 

I have spent this much time comparing and contrasting synergy, communion and community for a few reasons. First, it is important, as we experiment with group synergy and communion, to realize that “high” or peak experiences do not necessarily translate into ongoing healthy relationships that are characterized by service. We can mislead people into thinking GSS is about having peak experiences, rather than serving each other. Second, as I discuss later in this report, an increasing number of researchers are realizing that simply the experience of community is a powerful healing agent. I believe, however, that experiences of communion and synergy that are the real healing agents. The more we can help communities create these experiences on a regular basis, the healthier their members will be. It is therefore important that we understand the relationships among these phenomena. Third, it is important that we be clear about what we are talking about when we discuss GSS. 

In summary, here are the relevant definitions. Service is shared presence, compassion and care between individuals who perceive and treat each other respectfully and as equals. Communion is an experience of deep connection or union with other beings and things or, ultimately, with Spirit. Group synergy is the experience of communion and collaboration by the members of a group. Community is a system of relationships and roles, characterized by shared values, meaning and norms; by a sense of responsibility and commitment among members to care for and about each other (i.e., to serve each other); and by a commitment to work through difficulties for the sake of the growth, development and health of the whole community and all its members. In its ideal state, therefore, community involves service, communion and synergy. Group service and synergy is service that is intentionally provided as a group, the efficiency and effectiveness of which, in terms of improved physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health, have been exponentially increased by synergy. 

Why does group service and synergy matter?

         There are a number of reasons why GSS represents an important development in our world: 

GSS recognizes and expresses our essential relatedness. When we engage in GSS, we create and tend a common hearth that honors our interconnectedness and nourishes us all. As Lorain Fox Davis said, “Like the worldview expressed in the Lakota phrase 'all my relations', most spiritual instruction teaches us that we are all related and that we are here to serve."16 GSS matters because it expresses who we most fully are as human beings -- spiritual beings in respectful service to all of life -- and therefore engages us in a natural, fulfilling and creative way to live. 

GSS utilizes one of the most powerful healing and creative forces in life. As I stated above, regular experiences of communion and synergy through GSS are one of the most important factors in creating and maintaining physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. Research over the past 10 years has demonstrated that simple participation in a community or in social networks -- or, as I contend, the experience of service, communion and synergy within these settings -- is as important for health as are the myriad inventions that caregivers make in people's lives (e.g., diet, exercise, non-smoking, therapy). Through this participation individuals experience that they are part of a larger whole. Not surprisingly, the root of healing (haelen) means wholeness. GSS provides an experience of wholeness, as revealed by the etymologies of the words used by many conference participants either to describe GSS, important aspects of it, or the factors that create it. For example, many participants talked about the importance of creating sacred space.  Sacred means holy or whole and “entitled to the highest respect,” according to the dictionary. Service is shared presence, compassion and care between individuals who perceive and treat each other respectfully and as equals because they see themselves as part of an interdependent and interconnected whole. Group synergy is the experience of communion (union with the whole of life) and collaboration (through which we respect each other's unique contribution to our common work). Community means strong unity, reflecting a common, integrated purpose and effort, and characterized by a sense of responsibility and commitment among members to care for each other (i.e., to serve the whole community). Thus, participation in GSS expresses and honors our interconnectedness. By living our wholeness, we heal ourselves and others. 

Healing also occurs via GSS because both those serving and those being served -- given the conditions for creating synergy described below -- begin to open up as trust is built and to reveal more fully who they are. They come eventually to see and affirm each other's deepest capacities. They often describe this experience as “being known” or "being seen". Such mutual recognition constitutes one of the deepest levels of healing and being served -- a call to growth and development toward wholeness17 and greater creativity.18 Those who are so called begin to express aspects of themselves that they were individually unaware of, denied, or believed they were not capable of expressing. They begin to stretch beyond their perceived limitations. Together with other group members, they can meet challenges that are overwhelming when confronted alone, and, because of mutual support and affirmation, can handle more stress. In such situations people often say that they feel as if they have finally “come home”. The power of such experiences is still largely unrecognized and untapped.19 

GSS helps us learn how to elicit group wisdom, in order to solve complex social problems more creatively and serve more effectively. Many participants spoke about moving into resonance during experiences of group synergy, akin to what Csikszentmihalyi calls a “flow” state20 or what the Chinese refer to as coming into harmony with the Tao (the flow of life). If group members go through a process of emptying themselves of preconceptions, opinions and judgments, they can enter a state of mutual rapport and communion. In this state, synchronicity increases21 and synergy begins to develop. As the members of a group begin to enter a quiet, meditative state, the accuracy, depth and scope of their perceptions increase. They become more deeply connected to one another.22 They become more sensitive and attuned to their intuition and aware of what otherwise is typically unconscious knowledge and sensing. In this state, group members often understand each other more readily, easily and fully than at other times, occasionally without even needing to speak much or at all. They begin to speak for each other: the frequency with which group members express the thoughts, feelings, or sensations of one or more of the other members increases, sometimes with words that are virtually the same as those being thought by the other member(s). 

Eventually synergistic groups seem to develop a "group mind", a "group heart" and perhaps even a “group soul”23. A group wisdom24 can develop, which incorporates into a beautiful tapestry of insight all the diverse threads that have been contributed implicitly or explicitly by group members. Using the language of complex, adaptive systems, Rick Ingrasci noted that “dissipative, or far-from-equilibrium, systems [such as groups], when you make enough connections, a new element is introduced [e.g., group wisdom25] reorganize into a higher order of structure." I believe that the increased and strengthened web of connections forms a metaphorical “chalice”, a structure of unified consciousness that can draw in and contain Spirit, from which group wisdom perhaps emerges. 

Why is group wisdom important? First, by incorporating and synthesizing diverse perspectives, a group's insights and solutions become more holistic, comprehensive and inventive and can therefore more effectively address complex situations. By considering the whole picture, aspects of problems that might typically be ignored or overlooked and might undercut an effective and long-lasting solution are addressed and accounted for. Group wisdom tends to deal with essential, root causes (and therefore all the symptoms, rather than one isolated symptom), and -- at that deep level -- literally resolves (re-solves26) the situation by restoring the harmony that typically is sundered through unintegrative, narrow, or partial efforts and practices. Second, because all the members of a group participate together in discovering and recognizing the wise solution, they support, not sabotage, any actions taken. Finally, with practice and increasing skill, intuiting group wisdom becomes a very fast process of inquiry and/or problem-solving, much faster than our usual experience of consensus. I call it "consensus-plus". Thus, one of the most common complaints about consensus-building -- its slowness -- is addressed. Fast decision-making processes and comprehensive and wise solutions are desperately needed in a world where, as futurist Robert Theobald has said, we must "ride the rapids of change". As Anne Dosher stated, our fast-moving, troubled world "is issuing a deep call to wisdom." By eliciting group wisdom, synergistic groups are a way of "actualizing our social potential", according to Charles Garfield. 

GSS will help establish a new global wisdom culture that is characterized by collective effort and by synergy. Experimentation with GSS is part of a growing and important global movement. As a number of conference participants noted, the number of groups working intentionally with GSS is increasing. Humanity is developing a new global “wisdom culture”, which I believe will evolve to a point of widespread influence over the next 50 years. This movement will bring together two broad cultural strands that have existed simultaneously around the globe for the past 300 years. Certain cultures have emphasized the primacy of the independent, autonomous individual and the great importance of personal freedom and rights.27 Other cultures have emphasized the primacy of the group (identified as a tribe, corporation, local community, etc., depending upon the culture) and the importance of personal responsibility to the group.28 In both cases, individual identity is defined in terms of the overarching focus of the culture, i.e., individualistic and autonomous, with an emphasis upon rights, versus communal and interdependent, with an emphasis upon responsibility to others. 

But experimentation with GSS teaches us that, from a deeper and more inclusive level of identity, both emphases can and must be embraced and balanced. Only decisions and actions that emerge from the consideration and integration of diverse viewpoints and experiences can be wise. GSS can help us develop a new, global wisdom culture29, one that recognizes and works with the wisdom of synergistic collectives. John Fetzer referred to this balancing of individual freedom and collective responsibility when he described the collaborative creation of communities of freedom, characterized ultimately by a “consciousness of synthesis”, a consciousness which I believe underlies GSS. 

As I noted during the GSS conference, the new wisdom culture counteracts several distressing trends in an increasingly influential Western, especially American, culture. For example, creating GSS requires regularly slowing down, instead of speeding up (even though decisions ultimately can be made more quickly); requires connection and, therefore, respect and appreciation, instead of “objective” distance and manipulation, control and domination; and requires a sensing, understanding and valuing of the whole, rather than always breaking things down through analysis into parts. GSS requires that group members learn to resolve the following paradoxes, while being able at the same time to shift their behavior freely toward either end of each polarity, as circumstances require: individual-group, independence-interdependence, differentiation-integration, rights-responsibilities, uniqueness-commonality, heterogeneity-homogeneity, etc. 

Similarly, GSS will help us move from domination-and-control to partnership-and-collaboration models of organization, authority and creativity. The cross-cultural shift described above involves a related movement: an evolution in individual and collective consciousness (as several participants and writers such as Ken Wilber30 and Jean Gebser31 have asserted) and the development of a strikingly new worldview. An increasing number of individuals are moving from a third-chakra, power- and control-oriented centering and focus within themselves to a fourth-chakra, heart-centered, service-oriented focus.32 By developing an identity that encompasses both poles of independence or dependence, yet balances these through the recognition and embracing of interdependence, these individuals are secure enough in an expanded sense of themselves and of others that they need neither to fiercely defend their ideas, nor to conform to group pressures for uniformity, for the sake of preserving a (however limiting or constricting) sense of identity, acceptance, belonging and meaning. They are able to function independently and autonomously, as mature adults, generating and taking responsibility for the expression of their own creative ideas and actions, but without needing to fearfully compete with, control, dominate, or disregard the creative ideas and actions of others.33  

Such individuals are able to contribute to and flow with emerging group wisdom. Due to the influence of their increasing numbers and to morphogenetic field effects (endnote 2), they can help create a new global culture that, guided by a wisdom that transcends the perspective of any one individual, including solitary leaders and expert elites34, will function in a more holistic, healthy and creative35 manner than most cultures currently do.36 Experience with GSS can help individuals make the identity and worldview shifts described above and provide them with the skills and awareness necessary for effective collaboration. Groups experimenting with GSS can serve as cultural demonstration models, as incubators for new ideas and ways of being. 

GSS will continue to provide an experimental laboratory for exploring new models of leadership, especially “leaderful groups”. Those experimenting with GSS are investigating the potential of what I began years ago to call "leaderful groups"37, which are groups composed of autonomous, relatively mature and responsible peers who share and rotate authority and leadership -- what some call "variable”, “positional”, or “situational”38 leadership. Such groups are not led by an institutionalized, hierarchical leader who expects conformity to rules and norms that have been dictated to, rather than developed by, the group. Rather, the role of the new, heterarchical, positional leader is one of inspiring others by modeling collaborative behavior and engaging in what I call the "practice of presence" -- a disciplined spiritual practice whereby simply a leader's quality of being, even without words, helps create the group field and calls to other members of the group to attend to how their presence and behavior affects the building and sustaining of the field. For me, this presence is characterized by openness, risk taking (in terms of vulnerability), authenticity, integrity, identification with others, compassion and wisdom. According to Cornelius Pietzner, this "being-with-ness" is not easy for most of us to achieve or sustain. Yet synergistic groups provide a safe setting for experimenting with and learning about positional leadership and the nurturing of healthy group and perhaps even larger collective fields. 

What are the unique characteristics of synergistic service groups? 

What makes synergistic service groups unique? Although there have been groups and organizations that have provided service (e.g., local groups trying to develop their communities, organizations such as the Red Cross, etc.), the groups that are experimenting with GSS are characterized by the following unique features: 

Conscious intention to work in a coordinated fashion, utilizing the strength and powerful effect of groups and community to heal others and ourselves. Accepting that they are naturally interdependent with others and that many of the complex problems we face today cannot be solved alone,39 as John Fetzer wisely recognized, members of GSS groups freely, maturely, consciously and explicitly choose to create and align themselves with their peers around a common vision that involves working as a coordinated group, and to commit themselves to processes of communication and communion that enhance that coordination, in order to utilize the exponentially increased power of synergy for the sake of more effective service, deeper healing and greater creativity.40 

Being in community with those served. A central theme which emerged from the first conference was that service involves respect between servers and those served and that servers can learn as much from those served as those served can learn from the servers.41 Moreover, as mentioned above, research has demonstrated that being in community is a primary healing force, as important as specific interventions aimed at transmitting knowledge, skill sets, or particular services. One of the ways in which GSS groups can express and utilize these effects is by creating some form of community with those served. In a simpler form, the members of a peer supervision group might attempt to create a sense of community over the course of their meetings. In a more complex form, community might be developed by having the servers live in a residential household that is shared with those served (as do the Camphill and L'Arche communities around the world, which serve individuals with developmental disabilities).  

Seeing personal and group development, including spiritual development, as crucial to more effective service and greater synergy. Many conference participants stressed the importance of this point. Experienced practitioners of GSS know that achieving high levels of coordination and collaboration among those who are attempting to serve as a group requires the ongoing42 psychological and spiritual development of group members. As discussed elsewhere in this report, issues such as self-esteem, expansiveness of identity, self-differentiation, personality integration, worldview, unconscious and conscious beliefs and fears about oneself and others, and meditative or contemplative skills will greatly affect the degree to which group members are able to collaborate. Learning to work with group fields and group wisdom involves dealing skillfully with group dynamics (such as projection and conflict), which requires understanding and awareness of oneself and others and individual and group development.43 Synergistic groups are unusual in their willingness to explore such individual development and group process factors and dynamics -- and the interactive relationship between them -- in depth. 

Consciously working with group fields as a significant determinant of individual, group and collective health (seeing all fields as mutually influential). Although increasing numbers of researchers and organizational consultants44 are beginning to investigate and work with group fields, they still represent only a small proportion of the scientific and organizational worlds. Nonetheless, it was apparent during the two GSS conferences that many of the participants have developed a sensitive awareness of group fields, see working with them as crucial for effective GSS and healing, and are investigating whether and how group fields can influence individual, other group, and large collective fields, and vice versa.45 

Experimenting with new forms of  collective contemplation, inquiry and learning. Meditation and contemplation have traditionally been considered solitary pursuits, even when practitioners have sat together in the same room. Meetings and group discussions have typically been forums where certain individuals dominate and control the proceedings and individuals attempt to convince others of the rightness of their individual opinions.46 In contrast, inspired in part by David Bohm's seminal work on group dialogue, an increasing number of groups are consciously using a group format to engage in meditation and contemplation and in deep levels of collective inquiry and learning.47 GSS groups are experimenting with the ways in which meditation, contemplation, inquiry and learning can be explored in a group format, without attachment to personal ideas or outcomes, in order to elicit group-level, higher-order phenomena, such as group wisdom. Moreover, such groups are investigating the ways in which meditators may work intentionally with their unified group consciousness to serve others at a distance (e.g., through healing) and the ways in which collective consciousness and thought may influence events and environments in subtle yet profound and powerful ways.48 

Experimenting with group creativity. As I have described elsewhere in this report, most Westerners, particularly Americans, have been enculturated to believe that groups inhibit or even destroy individual creativity by causing a regression to lower levels of individual cognitive and emotional functioning, and that groups are therefore inherently uncreative (as Ayn Rand famously claimed, e.g.). Experienced GSS practitioners realize that the opposite can be true49  and that the level of creativity that groups can achieve is astounding, since groups, as more complex and holistic systems, can at times tap into higher-order levels of creativity than individuals. Creative collaboration is a greatly unappreciated and underutilized resource for society. 

Learning to build and access group wisdom through working with diversity. In many business periodicals I have read and in numerous conversations I have had with organizational executives, managers and employees, groups and teams are too often portrayed as boring or wasteful experiences that are dominated by “lowest-common-denominator” activity and by “group think”.50 In contrast, GSS practitioners realize that groups that harvest the gold mine of diversity can be exceedingly wise. Some GSS groups that I have encountered, by exploring the apparent contradictions to be found in pluralistic experience, seem to have tapped into deep levels of group wisdom. Group wisdom reflects the highest common denominator in groups, allows members to see through the otherwise overwhelming complexity of diverse information and experience, recognizes the essence of a situation or of experience, and transcends even what some call “co- intelligence”51

Experimenting with building and utilizing leaderful groups and new understandings of leadership. As described above, GSS groups are experimenting with developing and sustaining leaderful groups. This trend is unusual, since most groups in many cultures have one formal, designated leader, who is often viewed as solely responsible for leadership of the group. By emphasizing the capacities and responsibilities of all group members for leadership, GSS groups can become extremely resourceful and very effective in their service efforts. 

The nature of leadership also changes in synergistic groups. The authentic presence of the positional leader is perceived to be as important as any particular tasks or functions that the leader might perform. Leadership involves intuitively sensing subtle shifts in the group field and helping the group work with and strengthen the field. Rather than merely issuing directives or supplying apparent answers, the positional leader guides the group in together eliciting group wisdom and developing shared vision and meaning.  

What conditions support group service and synergy? 

The participants identified a number of conditions which support the creation and development of GSS. The following list focuses on the most important conditions only. Because developing GSS is complex, given the complicated and at times subtle dynamics involved, increasing one's sensitivity to, consciousness about, and skills regarding building and sustaining GSS can be a lifelong task. 

Building an environment of trust, safety and respect. The need to create a sense of mutual trust, safety and respect among group members seems obvious, but doing so is difficult and many groups fail in this regard.52 When this sense is created, however, group members are more likely to risk being authentic and genuinely share more fully who they are -- a wondrous contribution to the group and very necessary if the rich diversity of a group is to be appreciated and harvested.53 When this occurs, group members often become very attentive and quiet. They begin not only to understand each other, but also to empathize with (not merely sympathize or, worse, pity) each other. Empathy arises from perceptions of our common humanity and equality, and therefore is in tune with real service.54 

Trust involves four key, interconnected areas: trust of oneself, of others, of the group as a whole and of its process, and of life itself. Without a basic level of trust, group wisdom is unlikely to emerge. Eventually, with individual and group experience, openness and a commitment to developing the conditions outlined here, group members come to know (not just speculate or merely intellectualize) that they can trust the group's process and can accomplish amazing things. 

Regularly creating a sense of sacred space. Space is the aspect of life that has to do with relationship55. Creating sacred space (looking again to the root meaning of sacred) involves connecting with the whole, with Spirit. Although there are many ways to do so56, a clear, strong intent on the part of group members to create sacred space is essential: it communicates an appreciation that the work the group is to do together is not mundane and that the members wish to treat each other with respect, reverence, and even awe and wonder. Sacred space is characterized by emptiness (in a spiritual sense, i.e., the absence of preoccupation), an inner quiet, and a sense of slowed-down time (even to the point of timelessness57). In the quiet and slower mode of sacred space, group members become able to hear more subtle sounds, like Spirit moving through the group58. Correspondingly, the open space created by the group allows group wisdom to emerge and enables its members to sense it. Creating sacred space is therefore critical for the creation of group synergy, as a number of conference participants stressed. In fact, the profoundly sacred sense that often characterizes group synergy reflects the fact that it essentially involves standing together in the presence of the Divine. 

Speaking from one's heart and from one's own experience. As Charles Garfield remarked, "When people speak and listen from the heart, they move beyond personality dances and ego games." When group members risk being vulnerable and open and speak about their deepest feelings, concerns and passions, the group field changes perceptibly: respectful quiet ensues, mutual appreciation and respect increases, and other members are inspired and moved to speak from their hearts also. Relating heart to heart, according to one conference participant, helps people “find the courage to act upon that 'still, small voice within’”, to find and express their creativity, fullness and life purpose. As Julie Glover noted in her case presentation, once group members felt heard, seen and known, the group shifted to speedy and seamless work on their task.59 

Developing inclusiveness. When group members work to create an environment characterized by the above factors and by experience-based and heartfelt statements, they find that they can naturally be inclusive of diverse perspectives. Even if the content and context of someone's experience is different from their own, they often can understand aspects of the other's experience and can identify with the other's deep feelings and longings,60 without the need to persuade, convince, or convert the other to a perspective that is similar to their own. When individuals are respected and valued for who they truly are, with their unique perspectives, skills and capacities, and they are able to find a meaningful role within the group, they feel included and will focus their energy and effort toward accomplishment of the group's task.  

As Nelson Stover noted, groups also need to be inclusive of those being served, if they wish to  serve effectively and be inspired by and learn from those they serve. As Rick Ingrasci pointed out, synergistic groups reflect the principle of "tensegrity" found in natural structures: they are strongest when all their parts and members are in place and have the opportunity to share their skills, knowledge and wisdom with the whole.   

Sustaining a clear, inspiring and relevant purpose, vision, mission, tasks and roles. Groups that do not develop and sustain a clear and inspiring vision,61 mission, task and roles, even though they may have periodic experiences of group synergy, tend to become bogged down in a preoccupation with their own process and to rigidify and close their boundaries. Having no clear, sustained focus upon service, they can easily become isolated, stop learning from those outside the group, and become irrelevant to society.62 Without clear roles, group members can more easily become caught up in unacknowledged, unconscious struggles and games about authority, power and responsibility. In contrast, when groups develop a shared purpose and a clear task and roles, their members have the motivation to do the challenging daily work of sustaining their service project. Their excitement about and commitment to the group's task becomes strong. As Dennis Roblee noted, “Synergy is an energy flow that needs [the] structure of a task in order to produce meaningful and relevant outcomes.” 

Creating a synergistic service community with those being served. As described above, when a synergistic group creates a sense of community with those being served, group service is highly effective, the servers learn from those being served, those being served are recognized for the valued experiences and wisdom they have to offer, and the odds that the services provided are in fact helpful and relevant are greatly increased. 

Communicating clearly and being willing to deal with difficult issues, including conflict, fears and grief. GSS cannot be highly effective unless group members are committed to communicate clearly and deal honestly with unpleasant issues, including conflict63, fears64 and grief.65 Otherwise mutual trust and recognition will be eroded. Unresolved feelings will be played out unconsciously and will subtly yet powerfully subvert the group's task.66 Over the long term, groups wishing to work synergistically must develop what Julie Glover calls a "loving ground". Although love is a very misused and overused word, I have noticed over my lifetime that loving, healthy relationships are typically and essentially characterized by what I call a "commitment to clearing": when a disagreement or misunderstanding arises, the parties will rarely let the discord continue for more than a few hours. Living in unresolved tension and conflict literally creates “dis-ease”. 

Playing together. When groups become too solemn and serious, their heavy and stodgy energy blocks the creative interplay between group members. On the other hand, when group members can play and laugh together, they enjoy each other outside of formal roles, appreciate each other's wholeness, and can access a free-flowing, creative exchange.67 

The maturity and transpersonal development of group members and the experience of the “communion of the heart”. Learning to engage in effective GSS can be seen as a lifelong process, involving the development of not only understanding and skills related to establishing and sustaining healthy group dynamics and processes, but also of personal maturity and ultimately transpersonal awareness.68 

In my experience GSS becomes a central, ongoing focus in one's daily life when one comes to directly know and experience what I call the "communion of the heart" -- a deeply felt, ongoing state of connection with the Other. In such a case, individuals move out of what Charles Garfield called an "egoic frame of reference" and "skin-encapsulated, radical individualism", into what some deep ecologists call the "eco-self", what Wilber calls the transpersonal structures of consciousness, what Peck calls the mystical or communal stage of human development, or what John Fetzer called “consciousness of synthesis” . They begin to experience synergy more frequently, more quickly, and with more people, even with some whom they meet for the first time. Such individuals can allow a great deal of openness and interpenetratability without fearing a loss of self or identity.69 In essence, they begin to see themselves and others in greater depth and wholeness, for who they really are. No greater gift can be given, no greater service provided. Caring for their brothers and sisters, and with an expanded knowing of them, they are able to work through the rough patches in relationships that the members of any long-term group periodically encounter. Knowing that they are deeply connected to and interdependent with others, service becomes a way of life, a way of being in the world. 

What trends does the emergence of GSS reflect?  

In reflecting upon the pioneering work being done around GSS, it may be instructive to consider what new images, metaphors, myths, themes and societal trends are being expressed through its emergence. 

The death of the “Lone Ranger” myth and the emergence of leaderful, synergistic collaboratives. A predominant existing myth about leadership, creativity and service in the West, particularly in the United States, is the Lone Ranger -- the distant leader who sweeps down from above and saves those who are helpless and cannot solve their own problems. Searching for an  alternative myth, one might turn to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. But even this does not fit synergistic groups, because the king is the one and only leader. A new myth does not yet seem to have emerged. We might, however, create one, using the metaphor of flying geese. They take turns leading the formation. Moreover, similar to the effects of human collaboration and synergy, the flock increases each goose's flying range by almost 75% by traveling together in an aligned "V" formation, because each goose provides an uplift for the goose immediately following70.  

Growing recognition of new leadership models. New models of leadership, which emphasize the importance of presence and being (not merely action and words), of wisdom (not merely intelligence), and of helping others nurture and sustain synergistic environments and fields (not merely issuing directives), will be increasingly recognized.  

Emergence of heterarchical models of leadership and organization, not just hierarchical models. In a heterarchy, governance is established by a pluralistic, egalitarian, open-ended exchange between all parties, whereas it is typically established in a hierarchy by a sole, expert leader who prescribes important values, norms and rules.71 

A focus upon instantaneously, continually and mutually influencing interconnected fields, networks and systems, rather than only discrete, isolated and disconnected parts that interact periodically, if at all. Consistent with this emerging organic worldview, synergistic groups are reflecting a general and growing trend toward investigating and understanding the reality of fields, networks and systems. This emerging worldview appreciates that a relatively small shift in only a part of a system, field, or network, given certain state conditions within the larger, complex adaptive system, can lead to significant shifts in other parts of or even in the whole field72; that such influence is often not physically manifest to the five human senses and is not necessarily bound by space or time; that reality is essentially relational in nature73;  that chaos is a natural phase in transitions to a higher order and state; that the shift to higher orders of energy and form, together with emergent higher-order phenomena (such as group wisdom), may be induced by invisible forces that cannot be perceived by the five human senses74, etc.. 

Exploration of resonance and related phenomena. Related to the investigation of fields and an increasing interest in collaborative inquiry and creativity, synergistic groups are exploring the nature and effects of resonance, attunement, alignment, entrainment, and related phenomena, as described earlier. These phenomena reflect a growing interest in group and collective activity, in subtle yet powerful modes of communicating, sensing and connecting, and in ways of maximizing the effectiveness of GSS.  

Increasing investigation, recognition and honoring of the transpersonal stages of human development and of group or collective consciousness. Although the transpersonal movement began more than 20 years ago, the mainstream scientific and scholarly communities in the West still do not for the most part recognize the existence of the transpersonal stages of human development and of group or collective consciousness. (In Wilber's four-quadrant model of human endeavor, these would be located in the upper-left [interior-individual] and lower-left [interior-collective] quadrants.) Nevertheless, the number of scholars and practitioners investigating these stages and phenomena continues to grow. As described elsewhere in this report, as individuals move into these developmental stages, their capacity to function effectively as members of synergistic groups and work with group consciousness increases markedly. Over the next 20 to 50 years, this paradigm shift in how we define what it means to be human and in how we are interconnected should gain increasing respectability and acceptance within the mainstream. 

A growing focus upon group- and collective-level phenomena and needs, rather than just individual experience and needs. In Western cultures, particularly in the United States, we have lost much of a sense of responsibility for the common good75 and a sense of community and service. GSS reflects in part a desire to redress this imbalance and loss. Synergistic groups often practice some form of dialogical or appreciative inquiry, with members attempting to empty themselves of preconceived opinions and unconscious assumptions, in order to freely consider the ideas and experience of others and engage together in a creative and open process of collaborative discovery. Various individuals are investigating group- and collective-level phenomena like organizational fields, collective intelligence, group wisdom76, the healing effects of focused group intention or prayer, the existence of a group being or essence, and collective consciousness and cultural-level healing.77 

Movement from sole reliance upon machine-based technological solutions and images to human-technology solutions and organic images. Since the first description of the universe as a clock several hundred years ago, the metaphors used to describe life processes, especially in industrialized nations, have increasingly come to be dominated by machine-related terminology.78 As a result, the organic processes involved in complex adaptive systems (such as groups) are inappropriately described as Apart A moves part B, which moves part C, etc.” Such descriptions emphasize linearity (rather than cycles), independent and isolated parts (rather than interdependent parts meaningfully understood from the perspective of the whole), predetermined and fixed relationships (rather than emergent, flexible and changing relationships), rational and logical analysis (often without an acceptance of intuitive sensing), objectivity79 (rather than subjectivity and feeling), etc. Within this worldview, machine-based technological solutions are often perceived to be the first and often sole response to human problems80. In contrast, the emergence of GSS reflects a movement back toward a balanced, comprehensive worldview and approach to service, where human factors are seen as equally, if not more, effective in the sustaining of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. 

An increasing focus upon space, embodiment, uniqueness and diversity, intuition81, and non-verbal modes of expression and sensing, balancing out Western culture's excessive and narrow focus upon time, abstraction, generalization, analysis and logic, and talking and discussion. I have addressed a number of these increasingly important foci in other sections of this report. All of them reflect a shift, exemplified in GSS, toward more holistic ways of perceiving, being, and acting in life, reclaiming those human capacities which have been diminished, denigrated or ignored, primarily in Western cultures82. All of them reflect a greater focus upon relationship and upon ways of connecting and interacting respectfully and holistically with aspects of oneself and with others and life. 

The continued emergence of feminine modes of being, sensing and acting. GSS reflects the continuing emergence of feminine modes of being, sensing and acting (within women and men), which have been coming into increasing expression over the past 40 years. Such modes involve an emphasis upon many of the factors described in this report, including relationship, intuition, embodiment, empathy, compassion, receptivity, nurturing, partnership, collaboration and networking. Just as the new wisdom culture will synthesize the cultural strands of individual rights and collective responsibility, so too will it synthesize masculine and feminine modes of being, sensing and acting, with a deeper appreciation of both modes and of the need for balancing and integrating them within individuals and collectives. 

More frequent use of images of circles, spheres and spirals, rather than discrete and isolated points and  lines. The image of the circle is increasingly appearing in Western languages (wisdom circles, women's circles, etc.). The circle represents union, completeness and wholeness and a gathering of peers in dialogue and council (in contrast to the traditional organizational chart). It conveys the sense of cyclicality and an enclosing, holding, nurturing feminine energy (balancing out the image of unidirectional, goal-oriented, masculine energy, expressed in a line or arrow). The sphere represents wholeness in multiple directions and can contain within it the four horizontal and the two vertical directions, reflecting not only our relationship with other creatures, but also with the sky and the underworld. It also symbolizes our increasing global awareness. The spiral conveys a sense of not only cyclicality, but also development and process. All three images therefore convey symbolically the processes and trends described in this report. They have been used for aeons in numerous indigenous cultures to convey basic truths about life's processes and now appear to be reemerging in industrialized societies. 

The image of the chalice or the Grail. As I described above, a group functions as a metaphorical chalice or container for Spirit. The image of the chalice symbolically conveys, from one perspective, a circle, and from another perspective, half of a sphere. It also conveys the notion of openness, receptivity and a supportive structure or form for Spirit. In esoteric Christian symbology and Medieval mythology, the Grail represents communion with the Christ, the  representative of “group consciousness” or the energy of loving relationship.  

A more universal and authentic valuing of diversity as a critical factor in the emergence of group wisdom and effective problem solving. By necessity, as globalization has increased and various cultures have intermingled, business and government have begun to take steps to “manage” diversity through various cultural awareness programs. In a number of cases, however, these efforts are undertaken for legal or economic reasons, rather than out of a true appreciation of the value of diverse perspectives in discovering group wisdom and effectively solving problems. Synergistic groups are modeling in many cases the authentic valuing and embracing of multiple perspectives, an appreciation and understanding that will become more widespread as more individuals experience the power of group wisdom. 

A shift from competitive, win-lose behaviors to collaborative, inclusive, win-win behaviors. We are moving from a social Darwinist perspective that emphasizes win-lose competition to an ecological perspective that emphasizes connection and win-win collaboration. Members of synergistic groups are learning to develop this more inclusive identity and perspective. 

The emergence of a new, global, wisdom culture. As described earlier in this report, synergistic groups are helping to model and create a new, global, wisdom culture that balances and synthesizes, at a new order of complexity and wisdom, existing individually-oriented cultures and group-oriented cultures. Elaborating on John Fetzer's notion, this new culture will be characterized by “communities of freedom and synthesis”, by collective inquiry, reflection and decision-making. 

The use of community and group synergy to heal, to restore individuals and society to wholeness, will increase. The role of group synergy and community in healing is still largely unrecognized. As synergistic groups increasingly demonstrate the power of these factors, developing them will become the focus of more of our efforts and resources. 

What questions and issues about GSS need to be explored further? 

A number of important questions and issues need to be explored further, if we are to understand more fully the complex matter of GSS: 

How exactly does the level of psychological and spiritual development of group members, including development of the transpersonal stages of consciousness, and experiences of group or collective consciousness, affect the depth and effectiveness of GSS and the nature of the process issues with which the group must work? A number of participants felt that this is a crucial question. What is the distinction, if any, between group and collective consciousness? Are there various levels of group or collective consciousness? How would they be measured? Related questions include: What is the internal dynamic of moving from feeling disconnected to connected? How do ordinary people develop extraordinary relationships? 

How can we educate individuals and groups to build and sustain GSS, especially if doing so requires a continuous process of inner development? 

How can we work with and influence collective consciousness? Can synergy be achieved on a cultural level? What can we learn from what the anthropologist, Ruth Benedict, described as high-synergy cultures? 

How can we most effectively create communities of freedom and group synergy? What are the attributes of both? How do what John Fetzer referred to as “consciousness of liberation” and “consciousness of synthesis” relate to the transpersonal stages of development? 

If frequent interactions and deep engagement between group members can quickly highlight individual and cultural unconscious assumptions, beliefs and patterns of behavior, is learning and development in a synergistic group faster and more efficient than solitary reflection? 

What is the impact upon GSS when groups do (or do not) work with collective grief, shame, loss, or fear?83  

How does the group synergy experienced by a group led by a charismatic leader differ from the synergy of a leaderful group? 

How can we help people avoid or work with experiences of negative or destructive group synergy, such as cults?84 

What is the effect of group size upon GSS? Is it possible to build group synergy in large groups or organizations?85 

What is the effect upon GSS when one or more members assumes the role of "holding the group", i.e., paying attention to group-level phenomena and supporting the development of a constructive group field?86 

What is the nature of group wisdom? Is it a reflection of shared consciousness? A group mind? 

What is the role of eros and creativity in group synergy, and vice versa? 

Next steps 

Toward the end of the conference, the group considered next steps that would advance the emergence of synergistic groups and the larger cultural trends that this emergence is manifesting. I have expanded upon the ideas that were offered. 

Further explore GSS and synthesize our learning. Many of the conference participants felt that three days were too short a time to adequately explore, let alone synthesize, the complex issues related to group synergy.  Five to seven days would be necessary to do so. A number of questions and issues, related to those above, were suggested.87 

Develop a training and educational88 program for GSS. Several participants expressed an interest in collaborating to develop a training and educational program that would take groups through an experience-based learning program on how to build and sustain GSS.89 Such a program might involve onsite consultation and training with groups that are exploring GSS or might bring together individuals for a series of workshops and retreats, similar to the training program based upon Parker Palmer's book, The Courage To Teach. Group members would explore the relationship between individual and group spiritual development and practice and would engage in practical, hands-on work with GSS, exploring the questions and experimenting with the factors mentioned in this report that facilitate the building and sustaining of synergistic groups. 

Convene an advanced practice group. In contrast to the preceding initiative, which would train individuals who have had a small or moderate amount of experience with synergistic groups, an advanced practice group might be formed, comprised of individuals who have had extensive experience with GSS. Such a group would explore the frontiers of this field, engaging in dialogue about the deeper process principles of GSS, exploring themselves the cutting-edge processes as a synergistic group, identifying the trends that are emerging, and exchanging ideas through a series of papers and conference calls regarding the best ways to nurture and promote this field. 

Conduct research on GSS. Several participants would also like to conduct research regarding GSS. One proposed initiative would involve action research, perhaps within the context of helping local communities prepare for what has been called the "Y2K [Year 2000] Problem". The aim of such an initiative would be to demonstrate constructive (rather than fear-based, defensive and separative) responses to the problem, helping local groups to use their preparations to practice GSS, so that they develop ongoing skills regarding synergy and become stronger and healthier communities, regardless of the degree of severity of the Y2K Problem. Another proposed initiative would be to use appreciative inquiry or grounded theory as research methodologies, to work with and study the process of groups that are currently engaged or would like to engage in GSS, thereby studying and documenting in a rigorous and disciplined fashion the principles and processes underlying GSS. 

Convene a scientific research group. A working group comprised of leading scientists and researchers who are investigating GSS, fields, resonance, the nonlocal and nontemporal effects of focused group intention, etc., would be called together to dialogue about their latest research, the ways in which their work elucidates the key principles of synergistic groups, and exciting new areas to investigate.  

Produce a book, articles and/or a video on GSS. Several participants have also expressed an interest in co-authoring a book on GSS. One option would be an edited version that first presents a coherent framework of principles (developed collaboratively), followed by illustrative stories on GSS, each written by a participant in the conferences. Another option would be a book focused upon common principles and group processes for GSS, with each chapter addressing one of the principles and processes, possibly in a workbook-with-CD format, with exercises for groups to experience together. Another approach would involve writing articles for the IONS quarterly journal, Yes magazine, Common Boundary, etc., that would describe in an accessible fashion the importance of synergistic groups for solving the complex problems faced by society today. In addition, several participants would like to work on an educational video that would present content similar to the workbook, showing groups engaged in GSS. 

Create an Annual “Communities of Freedom and Synthesis” Fund. This award would recognize each year a group that is exploring the frontiers of and making significant contributions to GSS. The award might involve a cash grant, to support not only the continuing work of the selected synergistic group, but also the writing of a report by group members about the group's learning and explorations during the award year regarding the cutting edges of GSS. Over the years, different types and sizes of groups might be selected, including those engaged in larger-scale organizational and societal change processes. Such an award would be unique, since few awards currently recognize and support collaborative efforts and accomplishment. The award would also raise awareness of this emerging arena of inquiry and service and of the new wisdom culture. 


The two GSS conferences focused upon synergistic groups that serve collaboratively. GSS groups are experimenting with innovative forms of leadership, group creativity and healing, and group-level phenomena like group wisdom. Consciously working with the intensifying, multiplier effects of synergy, community, resonance, and fields, these groups provide a level of service and healing that is more effective, efficient and powerful than that provided by individuals serving alone. They exemplify exciting and innovative societal trends and are helping to create a new, global wisdom culture that synthesizes existing, unintegrated cultural polarities.


                                                                      Exhibit A

                                                       GSS Conference Participants


Attended Both Conferences 

Tom Callanan (Program Officer, Fetzer Institute)
Barbara Coffman (Facilitator)
Anne Dosher
Charles Garfield
Julie Glover (SHOS Administrator)
Rick Ingrasci
Robert Kenny
Cornelius Pietzner
Dennis Roblee
Nelson Stover
Mark Yeoell 

Attended October 1998 Conference Only

Glennifer Gillespie
Eric Nelson (Program Officer, Fetzer)
Maryliz Smith 

Attended May 1998 Conference Only

Ysaye Barnwell
Cedar Barstow
Juanita Brown
Michael Cecil
Lorain Fox Davis
Daniel Martin
Vicki Robin
Rosina Wiltshire
Leah Wise
Monica Wood

Exhibit B

A Story Illustrating GSS 

In 1993, seven organizational development consultants formed a peer supervision group, in order to learn from and help each other by providing feedback about their consultations. Some of the consultants knew each other due to prior professional contacts or work together, or due to prior personal relationships. Over the next four and one-half years they met together monthly. At each meeting one consultant presented a case, i.e., the history of an organization with which the consultant was working, together with an organizational assessment and a synopsis of the key factors impinging upon a central organizational problem that was being addressed. Following the case presentation, the group asked questions, discussed the situation, and subsequently generated interpretations and ideas for creative resolution of the problem. Group members thus not only served each other, but also served the organization under consideration by helping the consultant to increase his or her understanding of key organizational issues and to devise creative, holistic and effective approaches and solutions. 

When the group was formed, the members made a commitment to conduct their meetings within certain frameworks. They decided to examine each case from systemic (or holistic) and psychodynamic perspectives. From the systemic perspective, they reflected on the interactions between various parts of the organization (e.g., informal and formal roles -- whether those roles were played by departments, individuals, or even the consultant -- and what those roles represented functionally or symbolically for the system as a whole). From a psychodynamic perspective, they looked at each case in terms of the psychological dynamics (e.g., projection, transference and countertransference, and unconscious and conscious assumptions, beliefs and fears) that were evident in the responses and behaviors of key organizational figures and in their own actions as consultants. They then discussed how those dynamics mitigated against the effectiveness, productivity and well-being of the organization and its stakeholders. Group members also committed to try to be as open, honest and authentic as possible in their interactions with each other, to examine their emotional responses to each other's behavior, to deal directly with conflict, and to reflect upon and improve their own process as a group toward the end of each meeting. As time passed, competitive behaviors decreased and openness, trust and mutual support increased. 

During the fourth year of the group's operation, a research study of the group's process and outcomes was conducted, utilizing participant observation and semi‑structured interviews of group members. In the interviews the members articulated their experiences of creativity in the group, compared group creativity with their personal creativity  outside the group, and identified the factors which facilitated or inhibited the group's ability to collaborate creatively. Group members identified several critical factors which they felt accounted for the high level of creativity in the group: openness to feedback versus defensiveness; the ability of group members to join with each other to discover new perspectives (expressed through connection with each other emotionally, being supportive, and an authentic attempt to understand each other); taking risks and revealing oneself authentically; and being compassionate rather than judgmental. Given these conditions, they found that the group developed solutions to problems that were unusually novel, relevant and appropriate, and that levels of creativity emerged that were often absent individually. Members also concluded that the group's creativity had increased during the prior three years of its existence, as they had developed their intrapersonal awareness and interpersonal skills. 

In terms of process, group members stated that they found themselves becoming internally and externally quieter as each meeting progressed, approaching a very open, receptive, almost meditative state. As they did this, they were able to share ideas and insights without attachment. Despite initial feelings of chaos as many diverse ideas were put forth, an insightful wisdom that reflected a deep level of understanding eventually emerged. Group members described this wisdom as surprising, having an “Of course!” quality to it. They also often recognized the rightness of the solution, finding that it seemed to encompass all the critical factors and viewpoints in the organization and that had been expressed earlier by the group members. They found it remarkable that such wisdom could emerge in only two hours each time, especially since group members only learned the details of the consulting situation at the beginning of the meeting. Reflecting the synergy achieved by the group, the whole did frequently seem to exceed to sum of the parts. 

                                                                      Exhibit C

                                             Examples of Possible Synergistic Groups 














Intensive workshops

Support groups


GSS conferences

Women's groups


Project teams

Peer supervision groups



Wisdom circles



Intentional communities



Spiritual practice groups



Blue Angels flying team





Intensive workshops

Apollo 11 team


Local community project teams

Community-service organizations


Future search conferences

Community-development organizations


Organizational retreats

Intentional communities



Y2K preparedness groups



The Manhattan Project





Responses to catastrophes

Civil Rights movement



United Farm Workers movement




Note: It may be that we were simply unable to think of many examples of synergy on the large-scale, collective level. Or it may be that achieving synergy on such a large scale is very difficult. My hunch, however, is that there have been very few attempts by societies to reconcile diverse viewpoints and reach synergistic solutions. In most cases, societal decisions are made by autocrats or through a democratic process that relies on majority rule. Synergy may not be possible when decisions are made by simple majority, based on a political, rather than a primarily educational and consensual process.

[1] . The GSS conferences were intended to examine the synergy which can be created by groups who intentionally work as a group in service. The participants from the first GSS conference in May, 1998 engaged during the Summer of 1998 in an active and enthusiastic discussion via e-mail and online "threaded conversation". They met again -- with some changes in membership -- at Fetzer in October, 1998. This report focuses primarily upon the second meeting, although I have written it while considering relevant comments and outcomes from the first GSS conference, the interviews that were conducted for New Dimensions Radio during the first conference, the online discussions, the reports for Fetzer and IONS written about the first GSS conference by Monica Wood and Cornelius Pietzner, and the draft report on the findings from all four SHOS conferences written by Julie Glover, the SHOS administrator.

[2] . Modern field theories developed from the work of Michael Faraday, Einstein, Maxwell and Lorentz, among others, who investigated the nature of gravitational, electromagnetic and quantum matter fields, all of which Sheldrake has defined as "regions of influence with characteristic spatial patterns." In the 1920s biologists began examining the role of morphogenetic fields, work which has been continued and extended by Sheldrake, under his theory of morphic resonance. Kurt Lewin first introduced the concept of group fields in the 1940s. In recent years the number of authors studying the role of fields in group, organizational, social and cultural life has grown (e.g., see the work of Gozdz, Jaworski, Kenny, Senge, or Wheatley). 

The dictionary defines a field as "any wide, unbroken space...; the background...; in physics, a space within which magnetic or electrical lines of force are active." According to Einsteir, electromagnetic fields are states of space that give rise to and influence complex processes and even matter itself, with which these fields can exchange energy and momentum. In physics, essential physical reality is now seen as a set of fields, which specify the probability of finding quanta (units of vibratory energy, such as particles) at particular points in space. Particles are manifestations of the underlying reality of fields. In biology, Sheldrake has proposed that organisms (types of systems) at all levels of complexity have characteristic morphic fields (structures of probability or indeterminacy); that these fields underlie and organize the material structures of organisms and the processes of morphogenesis, i.e., the creative manifestation (-genesis) of being into form (morpho-); that morphic fields are built up and sustained across space and time by morphic resonance from previous similar organisms; that they organize the parts within the systems they influence; that the holistic, self-organizing properties of systems depend on these fields; that they and their associated systems are arranged in a nested hierarchy; and that higher-level fields may organize and modify the probability structures that otherwise would be shown by lower-level systems if they were to exist in isolation. From the perspective of complex-adaptive-systems theory, Meg Wheatley has described fields as "invisible forces that structure space or behavior." I prefer to define fields as invisible forces which underlie and influence, across space an time, the probability structures of the systems that they affect (including the less complex systems which they encompass) and therefore the morphogenesis.

[3] . In the "Founder's Statement" (pp. 13-14), John Fetzer stressed that only a collective effort by the trustees and staff of Fetzer would enable them to create a community of freedom, based upon freedom of consciousness, the individual, movement, thought, development and expression. He believed that only the creation of this community would allow Fetzer to succeed in its mission. He drew a parallel to the group effort that led to the founding of the United States, emphasizing that this was not accomplished by one individual. Only this choice of freedom (what he called the "consciousness of liberation") would bring individuals to their higher selves and would permit the development of a "greater liberation", the "consciousness of synthesis", which would bring forth the unifying energy field of love and the mobilization of "physical, emotional, mental and spiritual resources in the caring and sharing with one another" (what I define as service).

[4] . Since the reports on the first GSS conference described various definitions of service,  I will not repeat those in the body of this report. Most seemed to define service as mutual, holistic presence (being with), compassion and care between individuals who perceive and treat each other respectfully as equals. (Maimonides' statement, "May I see in one who is suffering only a fellow human being," seems to express this sense of connection, respect and equality.) Service is often characterized by listening; hearing and seeing one another's wholeness; understanding one another's needs, desires and longings; connection; trust in the integrity of life and each other; love, empathy and compassion; and healing. Service seems to be blocked by psychological distance, inequality, judgment, blaming, giving advice, or attempting to "fix" or cure the Other. All those I know who have read Rachel Naomi Remen's article, "In the Service of Life" (Noetic Sciences review, Spring, 1996), consider it to be an excellent description of service.

[5] . Due to space limitations for this report, I have had to put most of the participants' comments in these endnotes, while summarizing the common themes in the body of the report itself. 

[6] . The prefix sys- (together) is the same as the prefix syn-. The root (-histanai) means bring, place, or set.

7. I use the term Spirit to refer to the Divine, to the ground of all being, similarly to how Ken Wilber uses the term. In my mind, Spirit transcends B and cannot therefore be equated to B the moral, the ethical, or even the religious. As Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., points out in her article, "On Defining Spirit", which appeared in the journal of IONS, the latter domains have been used all too frequently by various groups to allege their superiority over and thereby separate themselves from other groups. In contrast, Spirit by its nature seems to be connective, inclusive and loving.

8. In her case presentation, Julie Glover described this process as "setting the field and getting out of the way."

9. The experience of communion often is transformative, at times resulting in ongoing, enduring change in how individuals identify and perceive themselves (e.g., as related and interdependent, rather than isolated and separate) and in how they therefore live (e.g., more cooperatively and ecologically).

10. As humanity's mystics and sages have long claimed and as research in recent years has demonstrated, our intentions and consciousness seem, under certain circumstances, to influence others, even across space and time. 

Research suggests that those whom Glennifer Gillespie called "resonant partners", who enter an altered state of consciousness simultaneously (as seems to happen at times between, e.g., members of synergistic groups, therapists and clients, individuals focused intently upon a similar creative problem, people meditating together, etc.), may begin to unconsciously synchronize their brain waves and the use of corresponding brain hemispheres. This factor may account for the increased frequency of experiences of synchronicity and apparent telepathic communication in these situations, as if the resonant partners shared one mind for a time. For example, in her case presentation, Julie Glover reported that her group shifted at one point into acting as if the group had one mind and one body, "beginning to think and move together very fast." Nelson Stover stated that he learned how to develop a telepathic connection, sensitivity and rapport while in community and that his skill set can be transferred. And when I recently attended a community-building conference, I found that, as I gradually emptied myself of my preconceptions, opinions and judgments, I found that I came into an easy, free, relaxed state of resonance with a number of the 60 individuals in the group. I noticed that repeatedly, just as I was thinking about or preparing to say something, someone else would say almost exactly what I was thinking about, often using many of the same key words. 

Nonlocal and timeless effects may also take place between members of synergistic groups and others outside the group. For example, the women's group to which several conference participants belong worked at one point with one group member regarding her relationship with her father. Subsequently he did something significant for her that he had steadfastly refused to do during the previous 40-plus years of her life B as if he himself had been influenced by the group, even though he had never discussed the matter with his daughter or other group members. One participant had a similar experience in regard to her brother, who had been very ill after contracting a serious malady. After a workshop group participated with her in an improvisatory dramatic enactment of a healing connection between her and her brother, his health subsequently improved, even though doctors had been unable to help him up to that point. Although these are only two anecdotes, they are stories of remarkable and sudden change B similar to a number of stories that I have heard about the healing powers of groups. Certainly these effects deserve further study. Although not solely focused upon groups, Larry Dossey and others have described research which indicated the potential for healing through focused intention across space and time.

11. Groups can work on a service task and find themselves moving into communion and synergy. Or they can begin to create an environment of trust and safety, also leading to communion and synergy, and then move into discovery of a relevant and meaningful group task. These experiences and processes can be simultaneous or circular, not unidirectional and linear, and have many entry points. It is my experience that, regardless of where groups begin, they must pay adequate attention to both process and task if they wish to remain healthy.

12. However, I do have some concerns about the long-term health of groups that do not eventually engage in some form of explicit, conscious service to those outside the group. I have found that groups that become overly focused upon recreating moments of communion and that do not build a sense of clear and inspiring purpose, task and service become too self-focused, unhealthy and unproductive. Moreover, engaging in service is a good test of the meaningfulness and depth of the good feelings and insights that may be associated with experiences of group synergy. As one of the participants in the first GSS conference said, "It was difficult to sustain this feeling of connection to each other when we tried to move from process to task" - a common dilemma for any group.

13. Cornelius Pietzner noted that group synergy typically comes and goes, depending on many of the factors mentioned in this paper, including what some would call "grace". Charles Garfield said, "Yes, we know how to put ourselves in the way of grace. As Maslow pointed out, we cannot manufacture peak experiences. When I listen to [the conference participants] talking about group synergy, it's as if we're talking about all or nothing." Glennifer Gillespie agreed, "Sometimes we fall into a struggle for synergy, as if there's a place to arrive, as if we could capture synergy permanently." I believe they are right. The members of any group can only make repeated choices to be present and available to the flow of Spirit into the group and to give what they can to a creative and healthy group process. As Rick Ingrasci said, "Groups cannot stay at a level of equilibrium [e.g., one characterized by synergy]. The only constant is change."

14. Just as individuals, harboring harmful intent, may engage in what Larry Dossey calls "negative prayer", groups can become trapped in "negative synergy", where the power of the group is directed toward or results in destructive or deleterious ends. Learning to work with group synergy, like any powerful energy, entails responsibility. In cults, members turn over most of, if not all, their decision-making, authority and power to the leader. They violate their integrity, rather than maintaining it. In contrast, most of the conference participants were interested in what I call "leaderful groups", where authority and leadership are rotated among a group of peers (matching task requirements of a situation with the knowledge, skills and expertise of individual members) and where group members engage in the collaborative generation of ideas and consensual decision-making. In such cases, group members do not invest undue authority in any member of the collaborative. Critical thinking by the members makes it less likely that the group will engage in destructive or coercive behavior.

15. The examples of GSS are diverse, ranging from short-term to long-term, in various settings and of multiple types, expressing common principles and situational differences. Nelson Stover and Barbara Coffman each presented a schematic chart that presented examples of GSS, which I have combined and expanded into the version shown in Exhibit C.

16. Speaking of the Native American elders with whom she has worked and lived her life, Lorain also said, "They don't see their work as service, but as an appropriate way to live, where there is no separation between server and those served." Similarly, Ysaye Barnwell noted that, from an African worldview, musicians know that their creating is not primarily for the purpose of gaining fame, money, or success, but for the purpose of serving the community through documenting its history and anticipating, advancing and expressing its evolving life.

17. I have found that, as we identify and connect deeply with each other -- with our communal wholeness -- we become more whole within ourselves, and vice versa. These corresponding, parallel movements toward wholeness and health take place at the same time on an individual, inner level of consciousness and on a societal, interactive level of behavior. Learning that occurs in each of these domains informs the other.

18. Very little methodologically sound research has been conducted regarding group creativity. For a survey of this literature and reports on research that I have conducted on this topic, you may contact me at 7292 Maxwelton Rd., Clinton, WA 98236, or by email. I have found that the key factors which increase creative collaboration are very similar, and identical in many cases, to the conditions described below which facilitate GSS.

19. Barbara Coffman referred to this as the "power of witnessing" -- a simple, rarely acknowledged, but very significant effect that groups can have.

20. "Flow" was a word used by many of those whom he interviewed, to describe their state during intensely creative times. Mark Yeoell stated that group synergy can be accessed more readily by harmonizing with life's flow: what matters is "how I am in the moment, since the universe is already synchronistic." Rick Ingrasci postulated that the building of trust, reciprocity and connection among group members permits flow.

21. Congruent with this notion, Barbara Coffman has found that "metaphors, symbols and events [relevant to an issue being explored in a synergistic group] often appear [synchronistically] in the natural world [while the group is meeting], as if drawn into the space that is created." Anne Dosher reported that, when her husband was close to death, three members of her women's circle called her, having sensed without any direct communication that something was troubling her deeply. Rick Ingrasci pointed out that, during the conference, as the members of a women's circle led us in an improvised ritual regarding grief, rain began to fall as the ritual started, intensified during the grieving process, and then ended as the ritual came to a close. The rain seemed to mirror our tears.

22. As Rachel Naomi Remen has noted, silence is the place of connection to ourselves and others.

23. In her case presentation Anne Dosher described her synergistic team as periodically "checking in with the group soul". In terms of group mind and group heart, I obviously am not speaking in a literal, physical sense, in terms of one brain or heart. However, just as the brain is the physical mechanism that reflects and supports the mind and consciousness, which are invisible and apparently not limited by time and space, so too may the brains of members of synergistic groups support a group mind. Correspondingly, some researchers have recently begun to argue that the heart may have its own form of consciousness and memory. Certain spiritual traditions view the heart as an energy center (chakra). If true, then it may be possible to increase the resonance between the hearts of group members and for the members to become more perceptive of and to work with that resonance more intentionally than people typically do.

24. I use the term "group wisdom" to describe a deep knowing, characterized by (1) in the moment of realization and insight, a felt recognition of the whole truth of a situation; (2) insight that is holistic, i.e., that appears to address and incorporate all relevant factors and individuals involved in a situation; (3) an unified intelligence that seems experienced, learned and enlightened; (4) surprise, spontaneity, emergence, delight, appropriateness, comprehensiveness, and fit with the situation or problem being considered; and (5) a level of insight and expertise that seem to exceed the mere sum of the expertise of and contributions by the individual group members. 

25. In complex adaptive systems (CAS), such as groups, systems are known to shift from one level of energy to another, from one level of order, pattern, or structure to another. In terms of GSS, group wisdom may serve as what CAS theorists and researchers call a strange attractor, which "attracts" the consciousness of group members into a higher level of order and energy pattern. John Fetzer, in "The Founder's Statement", articulated his belief that the development of a "consciousness of synthesis...brings forth a light", an "avatar of the future" that manifests as the "unifying energy field" of unconditional love. For a description of this phenomenon, contact me at 834 Woodsong Lane, Langley, WA 98260 and request a copy of the paper which discusses the possible role of strange attractors in groups.

26. This is what I believe Einstein was talking about when he said that problems can only be solved at a higher level than the one on which the problem exists.

27. In a December 5, 1998 keynote address given to the Fetzer-sponsored First National Conference on Relationship-Centered Care, Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., referred, e.g., to the "American culture of the frontier, which values self-sufficiency, personal competence, independence, personal mastery, absolute confidence in one's own statements, invulnerability, and control. The shadow aspect of this culture is isolation, fear of others, and profound alienation from wholeness and intimacy. This culture has contempt for and judgment about any expression of needs or about a capacity for suffering, both of which are regarded as 'soft'. Similarly, acceptance of loss is seen as shameful and an admission of weakness, even though such acceptance is a path to feel connection with others, to experience our commonality, and to heal." American culture, while emphasizing individual freedom, still requires -- as any culture does -- conformity to its values and behavioral norms.

28. As we proceed through this global cultural shift, some individuals mistakenly romanticize traditionally group-oriented cultures. Although there is much to learn from the experience of such cultures, it is my belief that they, like individualistically centered cultures, often are what Wilber calls "sociocentric" in their worldview. In other words, the worldview, norms and practices of a particular group or culture are viewed by the members of that group or culture as superior to those of other groups or cultures and may be fiercely, yet blindly and unconsciously, defended as representing the one, right perspective on life. Under the shift I am describing, in contrast, the value of the perspectives of other groups or cultures are explored and appreciated. The common process of human growth and development then becomes a unifying factor, around which all groups and cultures can coalesce and collaborate. The focus becomes the encouragement and facilitation of this process, whatever the location or group, rather than the unquestioning perpetuation of a particular group or a specific, unchanging membership. 

29. As David Bohm recognized in his work on "dialogue", culture is essentially a system of shared meaning. What seems new to me in some of the current work of synergistic groups is that they are attempting to consciously build a new wisdom culture that integrates the existing cultural strands, rather than simply to allow existing cultural elites to dictate values, norms and rules that are expected to be accepted unquestioningly.

30. See, e.g., his 1995 book, Sex, Ecology and Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution (Boston: Shambhala).

31. See his 1949 book, The Ever-Present Origin (1986 translation by N. Barstad & A. Mickunas; Athens, OH: Ohio University Press).

32. See Wilber's and Gebser's work, together with the IONS- and Fetzer-sponsored 1997 report, Collective Consciousness and Cultural Healing, by Duane Elgin.

33. The common theme here is that, as individuals move to full expression of the fourth chakra, and into the transpersonal structures of consciousness (cf. Wilber), they no longer need to identify with and defend their individual or group ideology as superior to those espoused by others nor, correspondingly, to exclude others from group membership out of personal fear or insecurity.

34. In most cultures certain individuals, through their own manipulation of power or through the recognition and acquiescence of others, typically take on some form of elite status. In such cases members of the cultures likely take their cues regarding values, morality and ethics from the elites. In contrast, the members of synergistic groups, drawing upon collective wisdom, attempt to create shared meaning (or culture), after questioning and exploring the values and norms of the predominant or mainstream culture. When this shared meaning conflicts with the dominant cultural paradigm or its values, synergistic groups can support individuals in sustaining the alternative modes of behavior that they value.

35. Some would argue that many significant creative ideas have in fact been developed through interaction between the individual who is perceived as the creator and his or her colleagues and friends. This notion contrasts sharply with the American cultural belief in a "Lone Ranger" model of creativity.

36. If one looks back at the span of human history, it is possible to detect various points at which an increasing awareness of the global interconnection of nations and cultures has been gradually dawning. But humanity is still quite a ways from creating a new global culture. Nations still fiercely defend their sovereignty and cultures still strongly assert their independence and rights, without at times being able to see beyond those boundaries and perspectives and truly respect and embrace other worldviews and work for the global common good. Cultures are similar to individuals in certain ways. For example, as with individuals, cultures and their related ethnic groups must be able to differentiate before they can choose to integrate. They will resist integration, even if the dominant culture(s) or ethnic group(s) encourage it, especially when a long history of oppression and injustice exists and as long as the latter groups do not honor and respect the oppressed group(s). Unfortunately, the dominant cultures in our world have created and imposed a terrible burden upon a number of cultural and ethnic groups, causing the members of the latter groups to suffer tremendously with untrue disparagement and abnegation of their self-worth and value. It will take time to reverse this history of oppression, control, domination and social and economic injustice and inequity. A new global culture must be co-created by the multiplicity of the world's cultures. Otherwise, it will be extremely partial and narrow and will eventually enervate and deplete us spiritually. Those of us who have oppressed others have also paid a terrible price, in terms of feelings of increased emptiness (lack), guilt and disconnection from our brothers, sisters, nature and life itself.

37. Most individuals call these groups "leaderless groups". This reminds me of what people called automobiles when they were first invented: "horseless carriages". But such terms merely reflect what is missing from the perspective and thinking of the old paradigm. They assume that, if a group does not have one permanent, formal leader, then it must be leaderless. It takes time for people to imagine the new, rather than merely referring to what of the old has been lost. I prefer the word leaderful, since it emphasizes what we are discovering about the capacity and potential of groups and since it is a more accurate description of the reality of synergistic groups. 

38. The use of the word "situational" should not be confused with what has been called "situational leadership" in the managerial science literature over the past 30 years. That phrase has referred to the ability of command-and-control leaders to adapt their leadership styles to the a situation (e.g., time available to complete a project, expectations and needs of followers, etc.). According to this notion, the temporarily adopted leadership style may be autocratic in nature. In the newer use of the term, autocratic leadership styles would not be used, since group members in that case would be required to or would tend to merely follow the leader's directions, rather than taking responsibility for eliciting and working with group wisdom.

39. As Julie Glover said during the conference, "I cannot do this work alone." Many who have worked with GSS for a time realize that complex problems require the comprehensive solutions that groups can devise. But this insight runs counter to Western, particularly American, culture, in which admitting our interdependence with is often equated with vulnerable dependency, weakness, or inadequacy. As Charles Garfield remarked, "We are still following the old, hero model for men. Men are supposed to be self-reliant, but...they find they are [still] hurting. When they finish conquering, what's left?"

40. In this choice, they "flow" together and with life, and do not abdicate their responsibility and integrity by blindly or thoughtlessly following some leader's vision or mission, nor do they submit to situations or tasks in which they are expected to give up or ignore their own reflection, intuition, experience, or decision-making.

41. As Nelson Stover remarked, "Our mentors include 'common folk' gathered together, who often know more than all the 'experts' together."

42. The process of individual development is never finished. Learning about the factors that help GSS work is life-long learning, since groups are complex entities that operate in subtle, complicated and mysterious ways and since our understanding and skills regarding synergistic groups can always be deepened.

43. There are numerous descriptions of the group development process in the organizational and therapeutic literature, including the writings of Chris Argyris, M. Scott Peck, Alfred Bion, Irwin Yalom and Yvonne Agasarian. Few of these descriptions, however, deal with some of the issues (e.g., group wisdom) discussed in this report. Members of synergistic groups can gain a valuable perspective on group development by reading these and other authors and thereby avoid misinterpretation of what otherwise are normal events and stages in group development.

44. Researchers include Sheldrake and myself. Organizational consultants include those associated with Senge's Systems Thinking and Organizational Learning Program at MIT's Sloan School of Management (e.g., Gozdz and Jaworski) and a number of participants in the two GSS conferences (e.g., Brown, Gillespie, Coffman, Glover, Dosher and myself). But researchers who investigate group fields are still often dismissed or relegated to the fringes of mainstream science by conventional scientists. Organizational consultants who work in this area have to carefully craft their language when speaking about field phenomena and rarely get the opportunity to work with organizations in the open, ongoing and longer term ways that are required if practitioners are to train and develop individuals to work effectively with group and organizational fields.

45. E.g., Glennifer Gillespie and Barbara Coffman reported that members of synergistic consultancy groups in which they have been involved have been able to sense and feel the field of an organization. I have experienced a similar phenomenon, e.g., in a monthly peer-supervision group composed of organizational consultants, of which I was a member for more than four years (a case study of this group is available from me). For example, members of the peer-supervision group might notice, while listening to a case presentation by one of the members, that they had begun to feel apprehensive or angry and had unconsciously started to assume the roles of individuals in the organizations being described. In other words, the smaller group field would assume the characteristics of the larger organizational field, even including at times certain features or feelings that the consultant had not described. In these cases and in the examples of healing that I describe elsewhere in this report, it appears that group fields can affect individual and organizational fields, even though separated by space and time -- and vice versa. These nontemporal and nonlocal field effects seem to be as significant as the effects resulting from subsequent, specific, in-space-and-time interventions made by the consultant/group member whom the group has assisted.

46. For an excellent exploration of the difference between true dialogue (quietly sensing the shared meaning that is beginning to flow through a group) and various attempts to control and dominate a typical discussion (marked by efforts to convince, persuade, or convert others), see Bohm's book, On Dialogue  

47. E.g., dialogue groups have sprung up in a number of locations in the United States. A growing, but still small, number of organizational consultants (such as those involved with Senge's MIT program, with Gerard and Teurfs' Dialogue Group, or with the High Tor consultancy group) have begun to introduce organizations to the benefits of dialogue. Certain groups of Buddhist lay practitioners (called"BASE" groups, "Buddhists Applying Social Engagement") form non-residential communities, within which they regularly reflect upon and discuss the recursive influence between their spiritual practices and their service or social engagement. Together with a group of organization consultants, I am planning to conduct action research regarding the effects of group contemplative practice upon organizational effectiveness.

48.For example, see the work of Robert Jahn, Brenda Dunne and others at the Princeton Engineering and Anomalies Research (PEAR) Project; the work of Dean Radin and his colleagues; and research conducted regarding the efforts of groups of Transcendental Meditation practitioners to reduce violence, crime and accidents in local communities. 

49. Barbara Coffman described her international women's group as "incredibly experimental and creative". I would use the same words to describe the intentional community that I've been part of for almost 27 years and the peer supervision group, composed of organizational development consultants, that I belonged to for more than four years. Documented instances also exist of groups that, in response to an inspiring mission or a life-threatening crisis, have engaged in remarkably creative projects and have accomplished what seemed in advance to be impossible tasks within incredibly short time frames. One example is provided by the Apollo space missions in general and in many specific situations (such as inventing an ingenious air conditioning system from a limited number of odd and unusual parts when the preinstalled system failed during one of the missions). Another example is the Manhattan Project, during which hundreds of scientists collaborated to invent the atom bomb in order to prevent Hitler from winning World War II. For more examples of and information regarding the potential of group creativity and research that I have conducted regarding creative collaboration, contact me.

50. In these circumstances, groups are seen as typically sinking down to the lowest level of intelligence exhibited by the least clear and cogent members of the group, or, when group think kicks in, as being controlled and intimidated by the most powerful group members into mindless and fear-based conformity. Either the least powerful or the most powerful members of the team are seen as most influential. General experience with group wisdom tends to be rare.

51. Although Tom Atlee explores "wisdom" on his wonderful website,, he uses the phrase,"co-intelligence", to describe the overall phenomenon that I prefer to call, "group wisdom" or "collective wisdom". The dictionary defines intelligence as "the ability to learn or understand from experience...; to acquire and retain knowledge...; use of the faculty of reason in solving problems." Wisdom, on the other hand, is the "faculty of making the best use of knowledge, experience, understanding, etc." It involves not just reasoning, but also intuition, and therefore more direct and multiple modes of sensing and knowing. Arriving at wisdom often requires inner change and deep reflection upon experience. The individuals described as "wise" seem to be much fewer in number than those described as "intelligent".

52. If a number of the members, e.g., hold an unconscious belief that people cannot be trusted or that groups are hurtful and harmful, it will take much longer to build an atmosphere of trust, assuming the relevant members are willing to do the necessary psychological work. Many other developmental issues arise here, such as the issue of identity mentioned previously. Although individuals may temporarily break through (i.e., transcend) these issues in certain circumstances, unresolved developmental issues ultimately cannot be successfully addressed solely through techniques, procedures, or rules. For example, if I have received training in communication techniques, but unconsciously project my fears onto you, I will have great difficulty listening to and understanding you and may quietly withhold my support. Developmental and interpersonal issues must be addressed head on, if they are interfering with the group's work. Barbara Coffman stressed the importance of addressing interpersonal issues if trust and group synergy are to be built. I wholeheartedly agree.

53. When trust and safety are created, group members begin to experience and express much more of who they truly are and often find themselves filled with a sense of beauty, appreciation and even awe about their colleagues. They naturally feel respect for each other, since they are seeing and being seen more fully than usual.

54. The parties involved begin to touch each other and allow themselves to be touched, to allow their hearts to be broken (i.e., allow themselves to be moved) by the life experience, longing, or pain of other group members. Compassion and empathy often follow, together with a willingness to help each other during difficulty. In her case presentation, Julie Glover reported that, as members of the group she was describing began to experience their common humanity, their fear of one another decreased.

55. Notice how individuals speak about relationship, especially group synergy. They most often use spatial metaphors and images: the circle, distance, closeness, sacred space, fields, networks, etc.

56. Rituals (especially those created by the group itself), periods of silence, group meditation, harmonic singing and musical improvisation, etc., can all be helpful.

57. True and deep relationship, including group synergy, alters our Western sense of time and space and re-introduces paradox into these domains. When people speak about GSS, though they talk at times about a sense of connection across vast spaces, at the same time they paradoxically speak of a deepened sense of closeness, even intimacy. Likewise, they often will describe an altered sense of time, a slowing down. The intuition that flowers in the environment of slower, sacred space paradoxically allows group members to know each other fairly quickly on essential levels, without having to process all the historical details about each other. The slowing down also communicates a valuing of the Other. (In contrast, when someone is watching the clock while speaking with you, you can easily feel devalued. Fast interactions characterize the transactional, commoditized, monetarized nature of many of our interactions in the West, through which people can easily communicate to each other that they have more important business to do than spend time on the quality of relationship.) Finally, by slowing down enough to intuitively sense a group's wisdom, decisions can be made and implemented relatively quickly.

58. I find the metaphor of a breeze communicates the notion of Spirit quite well. Spirit comes from the same root as "breath" and "inspiration". When synergistic groups become quiet enough together, they can begin figuratively to hear themselves breathing together. Becoming conscious of their breath, they automatically begin to slow down, moving into a shared, natural rhythm that is slower than the typically rushed pace in the West. When people move at this rushed pace, they do not hear the breeze. Correspondingly, they do not hear Spirit. Spirit is like a breeze or the wind. People cannot see the wind itself, but only its effects; cannot see its origin nor its destination, but only feel its presence.  

59. Rick Ingrasci stated that the first rule of effective networking is, "Only connect" -- i.e., relate to others from the heart. He was referring to a phrase originally coined by the British novelist, E.M. Forster.

60. We all can relate to our common human feelings and longings, such as our desire to be accepted for who we are, to be respected, to be treated justly and equitably, and to be loved.

61. After building a common vision, as Nelson Stover pointed out, groups need to highlight the hidden contradictions between the espoused vision and actual behavior that, if not addressed, will undercut the achievement of the vision. Further, they need to engage, individually and as a group, in reflective and contemplative disciplines or methods, in order to keep their vision alive and inspiring. Taking retreats together helps greatly in this regard.

62. Long-term groups are not necessarily healthy groups. When a group's mission is complete, the group needs to consider whether to disband, to revise its mission, or to adopt a new mission. Otherwise a group will become focused on hollow self-perpetuation and will probably not provide relevant service. Several participants noted that, in their experience, most groups deny their dying process, since they presume it signals the end of the group. In fact, in some cases it can be an opportunity for transformation of the group and its members, for the collaborative creation of a reinvigorated mission, if the group is willing to engage in some form of disciplined reflection upon its purpose. For example, in her case presentation, Anne Dosher described how her team wrote their own obituary every two years, during their regular retreat.

63. Although many techniques exist for dealing with conflict, the willingness or commitment to do so is most important. Cornelius Pietzner suggested that "the best synergy includes the positive and negative," i.e., group members demonstrate a commitment to work with and through the tough patches. Many groups, especially those with high ideals, often have difficulty dealing clearly and honesty with unpleasant issues. An organizational consultant once remarked to me, "In all my years working with organizations, I have found that those with the highest ideals often have the deepest shadow." Groups that describe themselves as "spiritual"  frequently denigrate the value of working with difficult emotions, for example, because they believe that they have "transcended" them or should do so. In my experience, "transcending" unfortunately often means "repressing". In such cases, the uncleared and unresolved emotions can become a corrosive and toxic force that undercuts the collaboration necessary for accomplishing the group's service task. In other cases, conflict over various issues is suppressed for the sake of maintaining a group facade of harmony. When repression, suppression, or denial is not faced, no communication or conflict-resolution technique will help.

64. If groups cannot acknowledge and honestly examine their fears (e.g., that they have failed in their mission, that the purpose of their being together has come to an end, or that they are no longer effectively helping those they are serving), an unacknowledged environment of avoidance, dishonesty and subterfuge will eventually cripple the group's service efforts.

65. Barbara Coffman reported that her colleagues in the women's circle supported a member who was grieving over the death of her husband. As a result, "the meaning of the grief was transformed." 

Acknowledging and expressing grief over a literal or symbolic dying process or death itself can be particularly difficult, yet very important for group members. For example, if they sense that the group's purpose, relevance, or effectiveness is diminishing or coming to an end, they may feel that the group is dying. If much of their sense of personal identity or life purpose and meaning is connected to the continuation of the group and if the group generally has difficulty dealing with fears related to its perpetuation or purpose, they will tend to block or reject expression of the fears or the grief. This will tend to freeze or stifle the emotional life of the group, including emotions like joy, exuberance, excitement and passion, which will make the group life feel flat and restrictive and will ultimately block GSS.

66. In his case presentation, Dennis Roblee described the effect of increased openness in the group of which he has been a member for 20 years. "Without blame and with compassion and forgiveness, we went into territory that had not been discussable previously. We started talking about things as they really are. A powerful commitment to transparency emerged. You could hear the breath of what was going on in the room. The participants were quiet and were paying rapt attention. Because we addressed the shadow, love surfaced. The blameless compassion allowed the group to go to a more profound level of understanding and relationship. A sense of blessing filled the room: people were seeing the sacred in each other and were in awe of each other. After our dialogue, there was a deep sense of relief. The world and our community looked different, because we were accepting the shadow as well as the light -- a paradox we could tolerate. A juiciness developed. People began bringing new energy and ideas and a commitment to action. They cared. Compassion, forgiveness and blessing are essential for group synergy." After listening to Dennis' presentation, Anne Dosher called his story "the 'blessing way'. Often the ability and right to bless is vested in a formal leader. In a peer group, the members bless each other." 

Various organizational consultants (Basler, Gozdz, Jaworski and Senge) have similarly described the liberating effects of addressing the "undiscussable" topics in organizations with which they have worked. Doing so is an important step in creating a healthy synergistic field in organizations.

67. In her case presentation, Julie Glover said that when group members experienced resonance with each other, they relaxed about their task and became quite playful.

68. In my view, the best synthesis and elucidation of the transpersonal stages of development is the model of consciousness presented by Ken Wilber, even though he generally fails to consider relational and group approaches to contemplation, inquiry, etc., and instead writes about the developmental process from the perspective of an isolated individual. Transpersonal simply means beyond (trans-) the personal, i.e., successive expansions in one's identity beyond what Charles Garfield refers to in the following paragraph as an "egoic frame of reference", until one reaches what many mystical spiritual traditions describe as the nondual stage, where the I-Other distinction and other dualities are realized to be illusions.

69. As I mentioned earlier, an organization development maxim states, "Differentiation must precede integration." In other words, if individuals do not basically accept who they are, do not feel secure about their uniqueness and worth, and have not realized their essential freedom (John Fetzer's "consciousness of liberation"), they  they will fear loss of self and will be incapable of merging into states of communion with others and entering into what John Fetzer called "consciousness of synthesis". Communion does not require loss of uniqueness or diversity. Those who have experienced the communion of the heart have learned to move back and forth, as situations demand, between individuality and communion, differentiation and integration, difference and unity. They have learned to understand these apparent paradoxes, to see that the dualities actually do not exist on a deeper level.

The inner/outer, self/other paradox resolves, as they come to see the absolute correspondence between how they perceive themselves and how they see others. As they are able to encompass and accept all the aspects of their own personality and being (what Assagioli called psychosynthesis), including the previously repudiated aspects (what Jung called the "shadow"), they are increasingly able to encompass, include and embrace those in the human community to whom they have previously reacted, due to fear or projection, or whom they have ignored. In this increasingly ongoing state of communion, they are ready to collaborate creatively with others and to experience synergy in their interactions.

70. "The Sense of Geese", by Hawley Roddick and Angeles Arrien: AScience has discovered...why [geese] fly [in a 'V' formation]. As each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in a 'V' formation, the whole flock adds at least 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own. [Similarly,] people who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going more quickly and easily because they are traveling on the thrust of one another. When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone -- and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting bird in front. [Correspondingly,] if we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in formation with those people who are headed the same way we are. When the head goose gets tired, it rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point. It is sensible to take turns doing demanding jobs, whether with people or with geese flying south. Geese honk from behind, to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. What messages do we give when we honk from behind? Finally -- and this is important -- when a goose gets sick or is wounded by gunshot, and falls out of formation, two other geese fall out with that goose and follow it down, to lend it help and protection. They stay with the fallen goose until it is able to fly or it dies, and only then do they launch out on their own, or with another formation to catch up with their group. If we have the sense of a goose, we will stand by each other like that.

71.Hierarchy does not have to involve domination, oppressive control, manipulation. Hierarchy actually means "sacred or holy governance". Depending on such circumstances as nature of task, time frame, the capabilities, skills and knowledge of the members of a group or collective, etc., hierarchy is at times an appropriate and legitimate form of governance and organization. For example, the middle of a battle is no time to gather everyone together to decide who will lead. Moreover, even though social insects, such as bees and termites, achieve a high level of coordination, cooperation and communication, they still operate within clearly defined roles and a clear hierarchy. Finally, even heterarchical groups need leadership, whether a leader is elected or appointed for some term or the group rotates leadership among its members.

72. The old phrase, "the straw that broke the camels back," is an expression of this reality, even though it still addresses the quantitative (critical mass) aspect of reality. The study of complex adaptive systems in recent years has helped us understand that certain forces, although perhaps subtle, invisible, or even quantitatively slight, may exert apparently disproportionate influence upon the overall system. 

73. As the physicist, Henry Stapp, has noted, our scientific worldview is changing: from a belief that the basis of reality is most accurately portrayed by isolated, independent atoms, to a realization that an atom is actually a set of relationships continuously interacting with other sets of relationships.

74. For example, in a far-from-equilibrium system (such as a group), the emergence of what is called a strange attractor (a force which attracts other parts of a system toward itself) can provide a centering point around which a system in chaos reorganizes into a newly ordered system at a higher level of energy. Perhaps such a phenomenon can account for the emergence of group wisdom from the apparent chaos of diverse perspectives. Perhaps the focused yet receptive attention of the group members upon a common problem creates a shared consciousness, a group mind, which begins to resonate more directly and clearly with Spirit and which attracts its wisdom into the group mind.

75. This development is highly ironic in the U.S., the seedbed of modern democracy. Alexis de Tocqueville presciently warned us of the dangers of an excessive focus upon individual rights. But even he could not foresee the effects of materialism and greed upon our democracy. We have commoditized certain people, making fateful decisions to sacrifice the well being of Native Americans and African Americans (and therefore all of us) for the sake of economic profit, determining by statute that slaves were merely property and that Native Americans could be removed from lands they had inhabited for centuries. Such decisions have corroded the soul of our nation, a corrosion from which we are still trying to recover. Today we suffer from a confusion between democracy and capitalism, often equating the two. Our government, which, according to our Constitution, is "by, for and of the people," is controlled and manipulated to a shocking degree by monied, special interests. A number of upper-middle and upper class, wealthy individuals have moved into "gated communities", at times attempting to divorce themselves from any financial obligations toward the common good (e.g., attempting to prevent tax monies to be used for public parks or other public services). Yet there is a longing in our citizenry to return to a balance between individual rights and responsibility for the common good. Architects and lay people, e.g., have been increasingly experimenting with new forms of housing design and layout that encourages interaction between residents, provides for common spaces, and builds a sense of community. We have joined and participate in numerous forms of support groups, spiritual groups, common interest groups, salons, forums, dialogue groups, etc.

76. Perhaps the first documented example of group wisdom was the event called Pentecost. Christ's disciples, huddled in fear, loss, sadness and confusion regarding their identity after he had been crucified, saw a vision of him in their midst. They felt the presence of Spirit, saw golden flames of enlightenment above each other's heads, and spoke "in tongues" (glossolalia), which others could understand fully. In some esoteric traditions, "Christ consciousness" is the term used to describe group or shared consciousness, perhaps similar to the "one mind" described earlier by Julie Glover in her case presentation.

77. For examples of and references to these investigations, contact me.

78. Even today, those working in disciplines focused on the physical aspects of existence apply machine-based metaphors to non-material reality. I was shocked recently to read a neurologist's description of consciousness as a machine [V.S. Ramachandran (1999), Phantoms in the Brain. New York: William Morrow & Company].

79. Objectivism holds the Other as an object, requires that the knower maintain a distance from the object of study, and therefore leads to separation and disconnection, to an overemphasis upon abstraction, and to a distrust of subjectivity, feeling and intuition. Subjectivism, on the other hand, ultimately holds the Other as oneself, requires that the knower engage with and participate in the life of the Other, and therefore leads to connection, a balanced emphasis upon sensing, feeling and abstraction as valid modes of knowing, and to a trust of inner perception, feeling and intuition. After studying the learning approach of the Nobel-prize-winning biologist Barbara McClintock, perhaps one of the greatest American scientists of the 20th Century, the author Evelyn Fox Keller concluded that the highest form of scientific learning involved love: engaging intimately with the Other in a way that embraced difference, rather than attempting to annihilate it.

80. A wonderfully illustrative example is the direction that health care in the U.S. has taken. We spend an increasingly large share of our GDP on expensive, after-the-fact, technologically-based treatment approaches, rather then working with some of the health-creating and -sustaining human factors mentioned in this report.

81. Anne Dosher and Barbara Coffman, during their presentations, stressed the importance of combining embodiment with cognition and reflection. Barbara spoke about "following your intuition all the way through, into your bones. [Inner and outer] space permits that." Although Barbara's comment appears to fly in the face of  ways of thinking about intuition in certain spiritual traditions, where intuition is perceived as being a higher mental capacity, I have experienced that intuition can operate on physical and emotional levels as well.

82. When I refer to Western cultures, it is important to keep in mind that they -- and especially U.S. culture -- are increasingly impinging upon and crowding out other cultural perspectives. As a result, my comments about Western cultures more and more apply to the dilemmas faced by other societies. The resistance of other cultures to this crowding out is in part a reflection of the fact that the loss of certain human capacities (e.g., an ability to feel connected to, sense, and naturally care for others and for nature) that has already occurred in the West would represent a tragedy, should this loss be extended around the globe. The movement to reclaim these capacities in the West, of which GSS is a part, has been going on for approximately a century, although it has gathered more steam within the past 40 years. An example of the movement toward this reclamation and greater wholeness is the synthesis of Eastern and Western spiritual traditions, which is in progress.

83. Anne Dosher reported that she has found only two groups that allow the expression of grief and that many individuals have the expectation that synergy will only be joyful. I also have found that groups typically resist dealing with grief, loss, fear, or shame -- perhaps even more than individuals do, since some cultures interpret these emotions as signs of weakness. However, Michael Cecil and Dennis Roblee each described instances where their communities did acknowledge and work with grief or shame, with powerfully positive and liberating effects. Some people have developed "community theater processes", through which representatives of a group or community create and then participate in a safely structured psychodrama and can work on issues such as domestic violence. I participated in one such process, which resulted in deep levels of healing and resolution.

84. It seems to me that most cults form around a powerful leader, when members abandon their own critical thinking, reflection, questioning and decision-making. In such cases, the conditions for GSS described earlier are absent and the followers seem to find great comfort and solace in the supposedly perfected state offered by the leader. I recently read a chilling analysis of Hitler's impact upon his followers: "One early adherent reported, 'I do not know how to describe the emotion that swept over me as I heard this man....The gospel he preached [was like] the sacred truth....I forgot everything but the man. Then glancing around, I saw this magnetism was holding these thousands as one." Commenting upon this phenomenon, Lawrence Langer recently wrote: "Hitler's Thousand-Year Reich was born of the desire to establish an alternate model of hierarchy; all such models eschew mutuality and promote some form of humility (often miscast as humiliation) as a necessary ingredient of their stability....[Despotic leaders like Hitler] gain their 'eminence' by relieving their subjects of moral responsibility and offering in its place the 'ideal happiness' of a society purged of contaminating or dissident members." ("Satan's Biographers", The Atlantic Monthly, February 1999). 

On a less extreme level, groups can become self-destructive and unhealthy when they do not work with the conditions described earlier in this report.

85. Charles Garfield said, "If my hope were to go as deep as possible, I'd say five to six members. At even eight to nine members, things can become more anonymous. It's easier to opt out if I'm tired or angry. At 12 members, you have to do things to bring people in, unless someone is willing to listen to and for the group, to 'hold' the group." Cornelius Pietzner agreed. "If the group members know me, they know that I'm holding the group if I'm silent." He later remarked, "Getting to know the other is a time-consuming and emotional process. I can only take in, embrace and absorb so many people. This fact limits our capacity for group synergy on a large scale." Nelson Stover remarked that communities of nuns have often subdivided when their membership exceeded 12. In organizational development circles, practitioners have noted that personal communication, intimacy and a certain depth of knowing each other becomes difficult when groups grow larger than that. Cornelius Pietzner noted that when groups are made up of five to 12 members, they will sometimes recognize and speak about a spiritual (not just social) or sacred presence in the room. He has found that it is harder to experience that same sense when the group exceeds 40. It sometimes happens, but is not described the same way. I have found that groups of 40 or more members tend to take on the characteristics of a hostile crowd or mob: misunderstandings and projection increase and the shadow side of the collective unconscious tends to come into play more often. On the other hand, if larger groups have worked together longer and have established a basic sense of trust and mutual respect, or if a number of the members have discovered the "communion of the heart", which I described earlier, I believe that GSS may be possible in such groups. Charles Garfield said that he agreed with my view. He stated, "If we are heartful as a way of being in the world, the process of creating group synergy could be quick." 

Although achieving group synergy in smaller groups may be easier, their membership also tends to be more homogenous, in terms of the experience and worldviews of the participants. Thus, they are less likely to reflect the larger culture within which they are situated and to be able to draw upon the benefits of working with diversity. David Bohm believed that groups of 40 to 60 people were necessary in order to achieve enough diversity to bring out the unconscious assumptions and beliefs held by individuals and the cultures to which they belong. Although the conflict can be painful and difficult, the learning and change may be deeper.

86. Several conference participants referred to this role in synergistic groups. The role seems to require, if not silence, then certainly an inner quiet and dispassionate equilibrium, a witnessing of the group's process, holding an intention for the greatest good for all, and perhaps working with more subtle energies in the group field. With practice and experience, I believe it is possible to learn to do this while participating in the dialogue of the group. According to one organizational consultant, Carol Pierce, some individuals have a penchant for observing and sensing group-level phenomena. But she believes that this is a mode of sensing and information-processing that all group members eventually need to learn, just as others must learn to become more facile with working on intrapersonal and interpersonal levels within groups.

87. Cornelius Pietzner proposed a follow-up conference, perhaps with a multimedia product. Maryliz Smith would like to explore more modalities ( e.g., non-verbal artistic modes) for building GSS. Glennifer Gillespie expressed an interest in exploring questions related to group shadows and sexuality. Julie Glover would especially like to explore intimacy (similar to the exercise led by the women's circle) and the role of eros, "life's longing for itself", which could be considered the heart of synergy. Charles Garfield would like to "share deeper stories, especially related to 'intimacy phobia', the tricky, hard, difficult places". Anne Dosher would like to have enough time to reflect together on the issues raised, and explore collective survival responses to evil (such as World War II) and large-scale, networked responses to societal issues (such as how to involve young people). Like Anne and Rick Ingrasci (see the previous endnote), I would like to have sufficient time to elicit group wisdom regarding GSS. Both conferences pulled together individuals who did not know each other, therefore requiring time to build trust.

88.  I am intentionally including the word education. Although training can be useful in imparting certain fundamental principles, skills and techniques, they need to be applied and practiced over time in real-life settings by groups that are learning how to work with GSS. Moreover, as Alvin Toffler pointed out in Future Shock,  successful education can only be based in and arise from a vision of the future. Whereas training focuses upon specialization, in the belief that it increases one's usefulness to society, GSS has to do with increasing wholeness, individually and socially (reversing the separation and isolation that has grown up as a result of excessive specialization), and with a vision of a future characterized by healing interactions and wholesome ways of living.

89.Anne Dosher would like the conference participants to become an ongoing "practice group", to go deeper together and then to help groups develop GSS processes, in order to respond to what she perceives is the global call for community. Glennifer Gillespie is interested in developing a program that would help groups "go deeper with the big questions" regarding GSS.  Cornelius Pietzner suggested that training should be kept as simple and accessible as possible, utilizing stories. Dennis Roblee is particularly interested in helping members of groups to learn how to evolve their consciousness through relationship and in helping groups create a Asacred field strong enough to contain and help them work with collective shadows, grief and evil.

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