Living in a group, whether for work, study or life choice, is as exciting as it is challenging. How to balance individual needs with group planning? How to manage the inevitable conflict?  With Lucilla Borio we explore useful and valuable tools for better self-awareness and group dynamics. A workshop with the students from the Department of Cultural and Environmental Heritage in collaboration with the University of Milan.

With the kind translation by Mark Bruno

In collaboration with the Department of Cultural and Environmental Heritage of the University of Milan

2 november 2019

Lecturer: Alice Giulia Dal Borgo Associate professor for SSD M-GGR/01 teaching on regional Geography and  Geography of the Environment and Landscape. Department of Cultural and Environmental Heritage – University of Milan

Coordinator of the project: Graziano Consiglieri

Speakers: Massimo  Candela (Permaculture); Lucilla Borio (group dynamics)

The fish dance: swimming together!

Today we begin again. With new energy we come to the second stop of our course. Right away, it’s clear that it will be an intense experience that asks of us our full participation.

Pen and paper in hand, ready to take notes, we listen. Lucilla asks us to…do the fish dance!

What does this mean? Imagine your hand is a fish that is moving around in the sea. OK? Now move your hand, get up, and walk around to follow it. Now your fish-hand meets the fish-hand of someone else. You need to try to swim together, coordinating with your partner (fish don’t speak: it’s against the rules to use your voice)! Tricky? Hang in there, because now we come to the best part: we’re going to swim as a group! Different fish-hands swim together, diving, slowing down, finding new speed. Now we’re really dancing…oops, I stepped on your foot!

Being together

What happens when we are together with other people?

We find that new relationships emerge, both with ourselves and with others. Therefore we also find the need to manage the group dynamics.

Sometimes we think that entering into a group or community, such as an ecovillage (even Torri Superiore!) means finding a refuge. Is that so?

Not exactly. It means finding many positive things and also new challenges in relationship. In daily life, all groups that team up and work together have difficulties.

course permaculture at the ecovillage of torri superiore
Massimo and Lucilla: 30 years of group dynamics! They share their experiences. Picture by Anja Rampoldi

An introduction to group dynamics

To help us understand these complex and delicate group dynamics, we can look to Bill Metcalf, an Australian professor at Griffith University, president of ICSA, International Communal Studies Association

1. About 50% of people who try to create a group remain stuck in discussion about who, where, when, why, and how to create the group.

2. Among those who succeed in realizing the first stages of a community project, half are missing from the picture after two years’ time.

3. After 5 years, about 10% of the original projects survive.

I was kidding about the fact that the data is comforting.

It is interesting to note that there are similar data about the birth and failure of business companies.

Success or Failure: What determines them?

What does this mean? One thing is clear: among the biggest reasons for success we don’t find high ideals or a good intentions. Strange?

No. Because we are human beings. There are many reasons why human beings break up their groups. One is very common: they argue!

Here we come to an important point, because this topic is at the heart of every relationship, with one’s self, with a partner, or with a group. It’s called conflict, and it emerges, even painfully, when disagreement is accompanied by the experience of discomfort. (Roberto Tecchio )

If we are alone we suffer, if we are together we suffer ... why?

Pain. What we want to avoid at all costs and what the other makes us feel, even unintentionally. It breaks through our fragile peace of mind and leaves us angry, frustrated, wanting to attack and hurt or run away and avoid.

We all experience this, and it has been this way throughout History, as the world’s different religions (Judaism, Buddhism,…) tell us. But we also know it well through the ancient wounds we carry inside and the vulnerability they leave us as a legacy.

Some begin with the trauma of birth (Willi Maurer, La Prima Ferita), while according to Anastasia Miszczyszyn (The Power of the Roots) they are even older and begin even before coming to the light.

What do we do with our vulnerability? We hide it, inside ourselves and underneath a “mask” that lets us enter into relationship with another. This “mask” is our personality(Krishnananda

Thorvald Dethlefsen, Rudiger Dahlke, Alexander Loyd, Ben Johnson and B. Lipton guide us to reflection, to the limit of our ability to trust, of memories written in our cells. Above all, in the confidence that we can act, rewrite our life, change ourselves, and change our world.


We are all rapt, immersed in our thoughts, memories, holding our breath. There is a pregnant silence. What can we do now? How to act?

We have the awareness that we share similar frailties, we have all our dents and scrapes, so to speak. How far can we go and how can we do it together?

We can use various tools to help us when our discomfort within disagreement pushes us toward destructive tendencies.

The most useful tool begins with communication. Human beings cannot fail to communicate, even when they are silent. (Palo Alto school, Processwork and facilitation).

The difficult (but not impossible!) Art of communication

Communication! We have created our culture, our relationships, even ourselves based on surviving through the transmission of verbal and nonverbal codes of meaning, interpreted according to certain culturally-learned patterns.

We decode reality on multiple levels, often without a clear awareness of each layer of communication, and we interpret the result by filtering it through our emotional experiences.

How complicated we are!!!

In groups, nonverbal communication, often unconscious, also passes through the group dynamics. This creates the potential for conflict through roles and ranks. Not to be confused with power, since rank has to do with our personal ability to manage our psyche and our spirituality. (Arnold Mindell )

Responsible communication = sustainable communication

We have the responsibility to make communication sustainable.

Responsibility … sustainability, I browse through my notes and find the same words in the ethics of permaculture. What is the connection?

And so let’s look at where these ideas come into practice: how can communication be sustainable? Through relational feedback: I try to explain how I feel when you behave in a certain way.

Just like a garden requires care, and hard work, so does tending the fields of our relationship. But the harvest is an authentic relationship, based upon trust and that overused word “respect”, respect for the other. Indeed, if we are so deeply linked, the other is not so different from ourselves…

I must admit, I’m a little dizzy!

It’s time to try to get ourselves involved with a game!

Let's play!

We use the cards you can find in Facilitiamoci! a manual, written and drawn by Melania Bigi, Martina Francesca, and Debora Rim Moiso, three young women who try to understand and help us understand the art of taking care of the group with humor and sweetness.

Inspired by the beautiful designs we pick some cards and discover unexpected insights and forge new connections with our playmates …

cover book

And now?

The bell at the ecovillage rings and reminds us that lunch awaits. Our neurons need their nourishment, not to mention our stomachs and our palates!

We have finished the course but the activity at the ecovillage is not finished. In the afternoon, we will reunite around the large tables, students, guests, and residents alike, for a cooking workshop on gnocchi that will be part of the evening’s dinner and the bread for the sack lunch tomorrow, the day of departure.

we make gnocchi together with the ecovillage of torri superiore
Hands up who doesn't like gnocchi! Made together they are even better ...pic by Anja Rampoldi
last dinner for the course participants permaculture at the ecovillage torri superiore
thank you guys!! Thanks Anja Rampoldi for sharing photos


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