Some Questions I Bring Into the Room

As part of my preparation for the Art of Hosting on Bowen Island in February I have been reflecting on what’s alive in my work these days. An Art of Hosting learning experience is not delivered from a standard curriculum that we dust off and teach. Rather, it is informed by what inquiries participants bring into the room, as well as the edges of our practice as a hosting team. And then we activate the art: choosing what maps, models, frameworks, tools, processes and practices will resonate and stretch all of us beyond our current ways of seeing and doing.

So what are some of the threads I bring into the room? Here are a few….

What are radically better ways we can be in organizations?

This thread is informed by looking at organizations as living systems – natural and evolving, which is different than seeing organizations and groups and machines. My curiosity has focused on key organizational practices such as purpose (the unique purpose the organization wants to manifest in the world), colleague principles (values and behaviours for safe-enough space, what is encouraged), meeting practices (practices that ensure everyone’s voice is heard, to invite everyone’s contribution – space for creativity and better conversations), decision-making (increasing self-management) and conflict resolution (as the practice through which peers hold each other to account for their mutual commitments). The Art of Hosting, and one of my core practices, The Circle Way, offers us some helpful approaches in bringing to life this next stage of consciousness in our organizations.

We yearn for more, for radically better ways to be in organizations. Many of us don’t need convincing that new types of companies, schools, and hospitals are called for. An increasing number of us yearn to create soulful organizations, if only we knew how. But is that genuinely possible, or mere wishful thinking? What do organizations molded around the next stage of consciousness look and feel like? If it turns out that it is possible to create organizations that draw out more of our human potential, then what do such organizations look like? How do we bring them to life? ~ Federic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations

What is the value and impact of building capacity to participate in conversations?

Some of my work lately has been supporting conversations in a number of communities about the things they care most about, so that transformative changes might happen. We have focused on bringing people together to talk and listen, to reflect and act across boundaries, hierarchies and cultures – whether they work in the same or very different team, organization, profession, or sector. This is not an easy deliverable for funders to feel comfortable with! After one two-hour community conversation we will not have well formulated ideas with the mandate, strategic interventions and capacity to begin prototyping. What we do have is a group of people who are learning how to participate in conversations in a new way, and harvest those conversations themselves so they can seed and feed what might come next. We are learning to articulate a number of impacts from these initial sessions such as changing psychology (we can do this together, no one will come and tell us what to do for the future, shift from problem finding to possibility/solutions), creating new connections and illuminating perspectives across ages and sectors, discovering the resources already available in the community – people, skills, talents, leadership, physical resources etc, and noting the hot topics/passionate ideas and who else cares about those topics in the community.

My curiosity here has focused on creating some simple developmental evaluation questions that help articulate both the learning curve and value of building capacity for being participants and harvesters in collaborative conversation. The next phase is looking at what of support is needed for the grassroots initiatives and to help prepare those who are ready to shift to hosting their own community conversations.

Despite current ads and slogans, the world doesn’t change one person at a time. It changes when networks of relationships form among people who share a common cause and vision of what’s possible. This is good news for those of us intent on creating a positive future. Rather than worry about critical mass, our work is to foster critical connections. We don’t need to convince large numbers of people to change; instead, we need to connect with kindred spirits. Through these relationships, we will develop the new knowledge, practices, courage and commitment that lead to broad-based change. ~Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze, Using Emergence to Take Social Innovation to Scale, 2006

What is possible if we move beyond vision and purpose to shared work?

You might notice some friction in these threads. Above we have ‘purpose as key practice for radically better organizations’. And now here I am wondering about releasing the desire for shared vision and purpose and instead focusing on shared work. When we have multiple service providers, agencies, and organizations and citizens trying to work together, creating a shared vision can pour molasses on any potential momentum. There are inherent tensions between what their boards and executives are measured by and their internal priorities. What if a challenge or opportunity is enough to start – maybe discovered collectively through a question like “What is an important issue to work on together that none of us can address alone?”. Then from there we discover what will make participation valuable and what shared work we might undertake together to make a difference. What if we hold shared vision and purpose loosely – let’s not laminate it – but get enough of a glimpse to move forward and DO things together?

In wildly diverse groups of people, insisting that we must share a perspective or vision at the outset is often a recipe for group deterioration and/or getting stuck. Forcing common analysis or shared aspiration at these times is not only counterproductive, it is false, and it undermines our work. The work is over before it even begins.

So, what do we do?

I think one answer is Shared Work. I’ve found in my own work in organizations and communities that sometimes we just need to get to work and figure how to navigate perspectives, visions, and purposes as we’re working. In Shared Work, our differences will arise, and we develop processes that help us navigate them while continuing to move forward. Instead of setting up preconditions or false consensus, we centralize the work and getting it done. ~ Tuesday Ryan-Hart, Art of Hosting Practitioner, from Shared Work Not Analysis or Aspiration

So how about you? What are your most burning questions about your own practice of hosting and harvesting conversations that matter?

Burns Lake ProAction Cafe