On Creating A Community: A guide for Organizations,
Personal Productivity, and International Peace.
by William Polowniak, Ph.D.
Cardiff-by-the Sea, CA: Quantum Publications, 1994 xxx + 262 pp. Paperback
$14.95 Hardcover $23.95
William Polowniak is an engaging author. His warmth, humanity, and professional
savvy shine through on every page. The tone of the text and sources of
his references indicate that this book is directed to people interested
in building community, especially “New-Agers,” and to colleagues in humanistic
psychology, rather than the traditional academic psychologist. The text
provides three kinds of information: general material on the development
of community in groups, practical “how-to” tips for fostering this development,
and case studies drawn largely from the author’s own professional experience.
The general information is framed by Trust Level Theory, or High Trust
Theory, developed and popularized by Polowniak’s mentor, psychologist Jack
Gibb (now deceased), and extended and refined by Polowniak. Trust Level
Theory maintains that the development of Trust is crucial to the development
of community. Therefore, one builds community by building trust.
Trust can be fostered in small group work or large group work through
various exercises described in the “how-to” information. The exercises
are carried out by using the “five hidden keys” outlined by Polowniak as
a five step process recommended to convenors. In the first step, each participant
works alone in meditation, contemplation or silence; in steps 2-4, participants
work in dyads, small subgroups and the total group; in the final step they
share their feelings about their experiences in steps 1-4, meeting as a
whole group in a full community meeting (117). Typically, the group experiences
stages in development toward community, which Polowniak summarizes as “formation
. . . , euphoria . . . , maintenance, and . . . death or transformation”
(62). However, although these stages occur, Polowniak is much more concerned
with community?building as a process than he is with community?building
as a series of labeled stages. He views trust?building as a process,
which he describes as a movement away from fear?creating behaviors, such
as reinforcing “control and hierarchy,” and toward trust?creating behaviors,
such as encouraging or allowing “organic flow” (33). Seven major fear?creating
and trust?creating behaviors are listed in Table 1 (33). Much of the general
information and “how?to” suggestions are developed against the backdrop
of the information in this table; information and exercises alike are devoted
to moving group behavior and behavior in relationships away from fear,
A refreshingly different point of view emerges in his discussion of
“unproductive leadership behavior” (183). In addition to behaviors one
would expect to see so defined, e.g., behaviors stemming from unresolved
neuroses or ego needs in the leader, Polowniak lists several that would
not normally be considered unproductive based on over 35 years of expereicne
in hundreds of community?building groups. Some examples he outlines are:
“facilitating . . . . Help is not helpful. Doing guided imagery . .
. clutter[s] the experience with distractions. Analyzing and diagnosis.
It is best just to ‘be with’ each other. Lecturing . . . is a colossal
waste of time” (187-188). He also has an original point of view on evaluation:
“Evaluation alone can do more harm than anything else to reduce the productivity
and sabotage community” (157).
The personal experiences Polowniak shares with readers on building
community are written so as to vividly convey what it is like to work with
both small and large groups in this effort. For instance, he discusses
the “vacuum law of productivity” (91)— “doing nothing consciously, deliberately
and responsibly— on purpose and on target” (92). Polowniak has developed
his “vacuum law of productivity” with colleagues and friends from his years
of experiences with groups. Describing his efforts to apply it in
one of his classes on the psychology of management, after his first session
he says, “The following seven sessions were probably the most boring I
have ever endured as I allowed the vacuum of non-productivity to draw in
the behavior of the group” (101), readers feel the tedium he went through.
Likewise, when the experience is working well, flowing, transforming, his
prose draws readers right in: “There was an excitement and enthusiasm.
Prejudices were dropped. . . . Friendships formed, people bonded. Classmates
who seemed rigid and tense began to touch and to hug. . . . Their productivity
surpassed anything I could have dreamed of.” (101.
Another plus is the variety of practical experience the author has
had. He discusses applications of Trust Level Theory in various settings:
churches, schools, universities, corporations, nonprofit organizations,
and, perhaps most grippingly, with the military in efforts to organize
life?sustaining services to 100,000 Indochinese refugees at Camp Pendleton
in Southern California after the Vietnam war. Also he discusses failed
experiments as well as successful ones, and explains why he thinks both
the failures and successes occurred as they did.
The author writes clearly throughout the book and he uses repetition
to emphasize important points. The astute reader can recognize why repetition
is essential in this kind of book. General information and “how?to information
are repeated for emphasis, for example and a few case studies are repeated
to support topics covered in different chapters.
I would like to have seen the author discuss a few points in more detail.
Perhaps he will present this in another book. I would like to see more
information on how trust is built in adverse environments; whether there
are differences in developing and sustaining trust in short?term vs. long?term
groups (and if so what they are); and the relation of the “leader?full”
group to leadership in general. Certain answered questions would provide
useful information, like these: “Can community be built in corporate environments
if the top management is neutral or hostile toward it? If so, how?” “How
can trust be fostered in any work environment that is structured so that
the same people are both in competition with each other for raises and
promotions and are expected to work cooperatively with each other (e.g.,
in project teams, where one might try community?building)?” “How does continuity
affect group trust? For instance, are groups that will come together only
for a long retreat weekend qualitatively different in important ways from
those that will endure for years, such as a residential intentional community?
If so, how. If not, why?” “Do ‘leader?full’ groups really have no leaders?
Or do they have an informal, flowing leadership that changes according
to the task or existential situation of the group?”
I felt the virtues of the book far outweigh these unanswered questions
and would recommend it to anyone interested in group work and in being
part of happy health groups and relationships. It has many helpful practical
pointers. To all those who want more community feeling in their lives and
more trust in their social relationships, Polowniak has much to offer.