Worldview Awareness as a Transformative Process

Worldview frameWorldview awareness is the most transformative experience Jerry Nagel, I and the colleagues we work with in Nova Scotia, Minnesota and elsewhere have witnessed so far for inviting diverse perspectives into a conversation or a process – around race, power and privilege (diversity/equity), political differences, silos in organizations or for community engagement.  We have witnessed people finding their way into conversations previously inaccessible because no one had language that engages the conversations in this degree of thoughtfulness, reflection and curiosity, instead of with defensiveness, dismissiveness, rationalizations or judgments.

Conversations previously stuck open up because the language of worldview and worldview awareness offers alternative ways for people to ask about how welcoming, open or inclusive they may be, or their organizational culture might be. In one situation, with one of my colleagues in this work, a dialogue that was needing to happen for many years in her organization opened up because someone was now able to ask, “Do we have an issue with worldview here?” The response, which was a surprise to the person making the inquiry, was, “Yes.” My colleague had been ready to have the conversation for a long time without a entry way into it that would be expansive rather than debative. She understood the power of strategically waiting for the right timing to emerge.

The transformative impact we have been witnessing for years now, in our Art of Hosting trainings and other speaking opportunities, through the introduction of a worldview framework and then inquiry through a world cafe or reflective listening has inspired the development of the Worldview Awareness curriculum for personal, organizational and community engagement, identifying and exploring worldview awareness patterns, practices and strategies. The impact continues to be powerful as shared, for instance, in the reflections on our experience in Nova Scotia during the one day introduction to the Transformative Power of Worldview Awareness attended by seasoned diversity practitioners and change agents.

Individual worldview awareness invites each person into reflection about their own worldview, what has influenced the construction of their worldview, how it impacts their communication and relationships as well as how they see the world. This internal reflection, guided by curiosity, then generates curiosity about other people and the evolution of their worldview. In and of itself, this can create “safe enough” space for people to share more of who they are. In one AoH training in Grand Rapids,MN at the end of a World Cafe on Worldview, a young Native American man stood up and shared he felt able to speak more and more openly about his Worldview thanks to the collective exploration we were in and the Worldview teach or framework that invited the inquiry.

The idea that organizations also have worldviews is often a moment of insight and inspiration for participants in this exploration. To be thoughtful and intentional about organizational worldview practices and patterns invites the opportunity to think about policy development and employee recruitment and retention in different and more comprehensive ways. It provides a means to explore alignment of stated organization Worldview with its practices and offers strategies on how to invite and host a multiplicity of worldviews inside the organization which ultimately makes the organization more successful on most indicators.

Community engagement, when done well, invites a multiplicity of viewpoints and perspectives – or worldviews – into the conversation or public meeting. Most community engagement is still done in traditional town hall style – with a panel of experts making presentations and answering questions from the few community members who happen to make it to the scarce microphones placed on the floor of the meeting room. Engagement with constituents needs to be heartfelt and meaningful, not just the opportunity to check off a box that says we consulted.

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Worldview Awareness curriculum, combined with strong engagement or dialogic processes, provides ideas and strategies on how to invite the multiplicity of voices into a process that strengthens the power of engagement and of outcomes, while creating more welcoming and inclusive environments. Worldview Awareness invites the full complexity of a situation and of issues, ensures that people with different viewpoints and sometimes contradictory interests exchange worldviews and often charts unknown territory. This leads to practical outcomes that might not have been achieved otherwise and that can more easily be implemented because all stakeholders involved experience a higher degree of commitment and ownership. The result is better decisions and more sustainable actions (solutions).

One of our dreams is to offer these workshops (tailored of course) to all the places grappling with how to create more inclusive, generative workplaces or communities by accessing new lenses for deciphering the increasing complexity impacting work environments and communities. Worldview awareness offers organizations committed to a diverse workforce the opportunity to engage those they serve, internally and externally, in more generative, compassionate ways in service of the outcomes we all want to achieve.

worldview awareness day panoramic

Documenting Our Work: Three Simple Guides to Harvesting

Central to good process design is understanding what needs to be captured for posterity – documented or recorded in a way that serves the purpose of the work. In the Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter, we call this harvesting. In an AoH training we will often invite a harvest team to take care of this on behalf of the group and offer harvest in from time to time – using words, like through slam poetry or story telling, visually in graphic facilitation or with a wordle, with music, movement or in any other number of ways. In a consulting process for strategic planning, community engagement, innovation or other processes, the question of what needs to be documented is in play from the very beginning. At least one or several of the team holds a primary responsibility for it.

The term harvest is used to invite us to imagine beyond the traditional (sometimes wordy, sometimes boring) report that is often the way we capture and record our work. There are many ways to approach harvest but until July 2014, in Grand Rapids, I had not seen really simple clear guidelines to use in consideration of helpful, useful documentation. Sheila Kiscaden offered the best teach I have personally witnessed so far – clear, easy to understand with beautiful analogies and diagrams that have inspired me to harvest her harvest teach in my blog.

There are three simple guides to consider in documenting your work: what is the purpose of the harvest, who is the audience or recipient and what are the methods available for you to choose from?

Purpose

Is the purpose of the harvest or documentation for immediate consumption, as an ingredient in something else, for preservation and perhaps later consumption, or to be transformed into something else? The analogy of grapes offers a beautiful visual that helps us think of the purpose of the harvest.

  1. Consume

grapesPerhaps the harvest is for immediate consumption – you want or need to eat the grapes now. In a training situation, the group might hear the themes and patterns emerging from a world café process but have no need to capture what they are hearing beyond that moment.

As an additional step you might want to have the themes that have been identified at a table or in a small group IMG_0890captured on post-it notes so there is a visible harvest as well as an auditory one. The post-it notes can be displayed on a wall, clustered into the themes and patterns that have emerged. Clustering can be done by someone on the hosting team and is usually more powerful when done by the people in the room. You might only need a visible harvest for immediate consumption or it might play a later role in one of the other categories identified.

  1. Ingredient

fruit saladIt could be that the grapes are needed as an ingredient in something bigger, like a fruit salad. They still essentially look the same but now are mixed in with other ingredients, adding flavour, new insight and new perspectives. The harvest could be an instigator for something else or something more, part of a mosaic that creates a more complete picture. A synthesis of themes and patterns might be incorporated into a report, ideas might become part of a strategic plan. These ingredients might be essential to an ongoing dialogue.

  1. Preserve

grape jamYou could turn your grapes into jam or jelly – preserve the harvest as a record of an event, a gathering, a meeting or conversation, perhaps when it is important to have a record to note or acknowledge that this event or conversation transpired – like an annual report for an organization. People can go back and look at it and it is an end in and of itself although perhaps a useful reference point in the future when scanning the past.

  1. Transform

wine and grapesLike grapes can be transformed into something else through a process – like dried into raisins or distilled into wine – it could be that the harvest will also be transformed into something else. Themes and patterns might become part of a generative conversation leading you into new conversational spaces, opportunities or ideas – like what can happen in the emergence phase of divergence-emergence-convergence. Input in stakeholder dialogues or community engagement meetings might transform into a larger purpose. A synthesis of many conversations will still hold the essence of the original ingredients and look very different in a transformational process.

Who is the intended audience or recipient?

The harvest might be just for you, a personal harvest, or it could be contributing to a group process or needed for public consumption. This will cause you to also consider how you will harvest.

  1. Personal harvest. It could be that you are harvesting for yourself – taking notes or drawing in a personal journal, creating reflective space for yourself for your own current and future learning.
  1. Sharing with small circles. Is the documentation required for committee meetings, to inform a sponsor of progress in a project, a record of what is shared in a circle of friends or colleagues? If so, what needs to be captured, how is it shared and how often?
  1. Share more broadly. Perhaps your harvest is part of a larger initiative and information needs to be shared with larger audiences, inside your organization, as part of a marketing or public relations strategy, within a community, as part of a public engagement initiative. Who your audience is or needs to be will influence how you think about your harvest.

Methods

There are a myriad of methods of harvest available and the methods you choose will be influenced by the purpose of your harvest, the intended audience and the nature of the work you are engaged in. Some ideas follow. They are categorized but many of these ideas could belong in more than one category and you could be using any combination of methods at any given time. Be as creative as is helpful for your work.

Documentation

  • Reports – which might look like a traditional report or document or could be enlivened with pictures, quotes and sidebars which are more likely to attract and keep attention.
  • Blog posts – many individuals and organizations provide a record or reflections through blog posts which can be captured in the moment or, more likely, provided afterwards.
  • Mindmaps – a diagram used to visually track information and, more significantly, relationships between information. It can be crafted in the moment, with the group identifying and mapping the relationships, where they could also “vote” for the themes that have the greatest energy for them, and later (or in the moment) it can be transcribed into mind mapping software and distributed in a report.
  • Videos – within the process, later in editing or recapping. Understanding what you hope to do with the video and having a videographer and editor who is familiar with the topic at hand, the intent of your work and the language you use is helpful in creating the best record possible.
  • Interviews – people involved in your process can be interviewed about their experience and those interviews posted somewhere for access by the intended audiences. Good questions will produce good interview results.
  • Post-it notes – can be used to capture information, particularly themes and patterns from conversations and processes and then used to cluster the information into a meta themes and patterns.

Art

  • IMG_0892Graphic facilitation – the use of large scale imagery produced live in the moment to capture the essence of the conversations and outcomes of the process. It activates a different part of the brain and helps people see what they are experience and what they know.
  • Photography – of people, processes, flip chart notes and of the other ways that information is being captured. This is a very common form of harvest for individuals and for collective purposes.
  • Table top documentation (like from world cafés) – while oftentimes this provides too much information and most is not that usable, sometimes there is some amazing artwork that does capture some of the important essences of the experience and this can be used also to enliven a report.

Physical

  • Body sculptures – this is often an on the spot harvest of the experience where participants are asked to “sculpt” their experience – perhaps using only their own body or having participants do this in small groups, using group members to create a “sculpture” that reflects their experience. This rotates so that every person either creates their own sculpture or the group might evolve a collective sculpture.
  • Movement – People are asked to offer a movement which we sometimes ask everyone else to mirror. This is a powerful experience that enables the group to embody the collective experience.
  • Dance – it is not uncommon for people who have some form of dance practice to be part of a group or a process and to offer their practice as one way to harvest or even simply to introduce movement into a process at a time when it is helpful to awakening body intelligence.
  • Skits – this is a beautiful way to harvest a conversation, a learning journey experience, a process evolution that illuminates other ways of knowing and gives us a glimpse into any patterns in the system that maybe at play.

Voice

  • Poetry, including slam poetry and other forms of poetic harvest – many people are gifted with a talent for poetry. Sometimes it is a live capture of a circle check-in or other process. Participants always listen carefully to hear their contribution reflected back into the room and it is easier to do than most people imagine. Sometimes there are some very gifted poets in our spaces who offer their work and/or a capture in the moment. Sometimes a poem written by others shows up in the space because it is the perfect harvest in the moment.
  • Story telling – on the spot storytelling invited through a question or later storytelling captured in blog posts, interviews or recordings. Using story brings the experience alive for others who were and were not there.
  • Music/song – this may be music or song that someone brings that resonates with the experience of the group or it may be co-created by the harvest team or the group.
  • Voice recording/radio interviews – this is a way of capturing the experience and spreading the word more widely in a community or amongst an audience.

Other

  • Virtual repositories of information – websites, listservs (like the AoH listserv) – public or internal, community sites, other virtual networks and social media.
  • Any combination of ways and means to document and distribute information – identified here or emerging in new ways.

In these days of a proliferation of media tools and short attention spans, sparking imagination with harvests – both within the team and for the intended audiences – can make your work more accessible to your audiences and bring it alive in new ways. It is a place where people can bring their talents, sometimes gifts they don’t use in the regular course of their work. The more we access the range of learning and information styles at our disposal, the richer the resonance of our work.

Real People. Real Lives. Real Community. Real Impact.

Driving from the countryside of Stakke Lake in Minnesota, through the little towns and forested roads on the three hour drive to Grand Rapids, it is easy for me to forget that I am not in Canada, but driving through the US countryside, with my partner and co-hosting colleague Jerry Nagel, on our way to a rural community that is breaking its way out of any stereotypes we might conjure up about rural communities – in Canada or the US. What is happening there could happen anywhere. It inspires hope at a time when hope, especially for our rural communities, is deeply needed in the world.

Grand Rapids welcome sign

What’s Been Happening

In 2013, the Blandin Foundation funded a grant to the Meadowlark Institute to bring the Art of Hosting (AoH) Conversations that Matter to the Itasca County area. Not a one-off training but, thanks to the vision of friend, AoH Practitioner and Global Steward, Bernadine Jocelyn, and her colleagues at the Blandin Foundation, a series of trainings intended to offer residents of Itasca County the opportunity to acquire and use skills of 21st Century Leadership to work with every day life and address some of the most pressing challenges in their communities. The Blandin Foundation was founded by Charles Blandin in 1941 to aid and promote Grand Rapids (population around 10,000) and the surrounding area (total population around 40,000) in such a way that it could be responsive to changing times, a beautiful alignment with the adaptive capacity of AoH offerings.

What’s happening there, with organic emergence and almost astonishing interconnectedness, is a thing of beauty. Four Art of Hosting trainings (130 people altogether so far) since November 2013 with two more in the works; two Community Cafés (with almost 100 participants altogether) convened by a planning team that sparked from an Open Space conversation in the first AoH, called by Sandy Layman, a well known community leader. She asked the question “How can we become a community that hosts its own conversations?” That question is gaining momentum as it continues to spark the curiosity and inspiration of the county.

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The first Community Café brought together participants from the first two AoH cohorts and was held one evening during the second training. The second Community Café was inserted into the middle of the fourth training, in an afternoon, and brought together participants from all four trainings and others who wanted to join in.

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The Stories That Bring the Data Alive

All of that feels like data. It is the stories that bring the data alive, that show the nuances and interweave of connections; the stories of who is showing up in the same spaces together; the stories of willingness to dive into challenging conversations to address both long held and emerging issues; the stories of risk and courage as people bring AoH patterns and practices into likely and unlikely work settings.

Truly a fractal of the community is coming together – people who might not otherwise find themselves in the same room or the same conversations. The county administrator. Educators. A senior leader in Corrections. Senior leaders of non-profits. Advocates for mental health. Consumers of mental health services. People who have been homeless, some still in transition. People with very diverse political views. Local radio station representatives. Artists. Business people. Blandin Foundation staff. More. All on equal footing with equal voice. All responding to questions centered on “What is the future we want to live into and what can we begin now?”

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The stories that are emerging from the people who have been through the training bring the impact alive and are heart opening. Our friend in Corrections, who was in the February cohort, shared with us that he only recently had the opportunity to offer a check in at the beginning of a meeting. He said it changed everything about the meeting. When we asked him how, he said, “People were very emotional.” When we asked him what his check in question was, he said, “How we are doing?” Simply, how are we doing? An invitation to a moment of humanity, an invitation to show up fully. They will now start every meeting with a check-in question. A small, but powerful, shift in practice.

The County Administrator shared that there is a discussion happening at the County offices about mental health funding, the number of agencies that provide services and the need for greater interagency communication. Someone at the county offices, who has only heard about AoH but not been to a training, said that what is needed for that conversation is art of hosting.

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In Bigfork, another Itasca County community, community leaders have used World Café to host a conversation about an ongoing contentious issue, bringing new insight and perspective to the issue, establishing a foundation from which to move forward.

The region is facing some growing, possibly divisive issues; particularly around resource extraction (economy) and the environment; issues that are growing more complex all the time. Experience with the patterns and practices of the Art of Hosting is helping people see the possibility of different conversations; conversations that invite a multiplicity of worldviews, give voice to all the perspectives beyond the vocal few, invite people who live, work and play in the region to imagine more of the future they all want to live into, to continue to forge new ways forward on small and large matters. There is a growing buzz in the community and a sense of urgency combined with curiosity and even hopefulness.

The Community Conversations planning team grows with each successive training. The team is now getting ready to call and convene a county wide “Grand Gathering” on November 22, 2014 using Open Space Technology – the first community meeting of its kind in the area. This demonstrates the increasing reach of a commitment that began with that Open Space conversation during the first Art of Hosting training nearly a year ago, building on an idea inspired by the Great Gathering in Fredericton, NB; which demonstrates the interweaving of stories across borders and geographic distances. (And, incidentally, we have discovered there is a history of relationship between New Brunswick and Itasca County thanks to the pulp and paper industry.)

KAXE, a local radio station, present at the Community Café and on the planning team, will be doing a series of radio spots leading up to the Grand Gathering, which is being hosted by the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. The team is in full volunteer recruitment and planning mode and the community is being invited to create an agenda of conversations and possible action steps that are meaningful and relevant to them. Some of the potential conversation themes have been popping up already in the Community Cafés and the AoH trainings. They include an emphasis on youth (brain gain), on revitalizing communities, co-ordinating resources and connecting diverse voices.

IMG_0824One of the many compelling themes that is emerging is around evoking stories and extending invitations. Care enough to ask for the story; bring everyone to the table to identify struggles and be open to hearing the unheard. Notice who is not there who should be and extend an invitation. Be a neighbour, bring a neighbour

It is the tip of the iceberg. The work has only just begun. This community is carving out pathways that can be an inspiration to other communities searching for new ways to imagine and live into the future. What can we begin now?

Real People. Real Lives. Real Community. Real Impact.

Conflict Resolution Strategies At Work in Teams

Many things can interfere with maintaining strong positive, productive team dynamics and often it has to do with the interpersonal challenges that arise out of lack of clarity of role or around decision-making processes. When things go wrong, trust is compromised and when trust is compromised it is hard to regain. Some teams never recover. And, thankfully, not every team experiences this level of dysfunction either. This post addresses processes for those teams that have and that have the support for the resource and time investment required to recover. Yes, it is possible although not easy.

conflict group

For senior leadership teams falling into this level of challenge can have devastating impacts personally and professionally for each member of the team. Examples shared here are from consulting work with senior teams experiencing dysfunctional relationships, sometimes so challenging that the professional reputations of everyone on the team was at stake because the issues became widely observed or evident in the organization. In almost every story, team members were barely speaking to each other, tension was high, trust was low, blame was rampant and team members undermined each other in a number of ways. Some of the most meaningful, impactful, rewarding work that Shape Shift Strategies Inc. does is with such teams.

In every team and organization there are two dimensions or polarities that are always at play. This is the polarity between a focus on the task to be done and a focus on tending to the relationship of the team members. Relationship tending is seen as something we should just know how to do and is the first thing sacrificed for money or time. It is also the thing that most often gets in the way of accomplishing the task. People who like each other enjoy working together, are more inspired, motivated and get far more done. They are more likely to have animated conversations that lead to new discoveries and creative solution finding and more likely to look forward to going to work.

For teams in conflict, accomplishing the task is at risk. For teams in conflict that want to address the conflict, it often requires a significant investment of resources and time – the very things that seemed in short supply to begin with – and focus on relationship – the very thing that seemed self evident as not needing tending.

tug of war ropeAddressing the human dynamics of teams in deep conflict is a several stage process that takes thoughtfulness, care and intentionality. The process outlined below is for teams with up to ten or twelve members. Beyond that different processes are needed.

Step 1. Individual interviews.

The purpose of the individual interviews is four-fold. One purpose is to give everyone an opportunity to individually tell the story of their experience, not to be confused with the facts of the situation. Each person will tell the story from their perspective or worldview and can get out any frustrations they have, speaking openly and honestly. A second purpose is to provide an opportunity for each individual to reflect on the situation, how they may be contributing to it, what happens if the situation is not resolved. A third purpose is for the consultant to build connection with each individual prior to having the team meet to address the issues. Often, many people on a team will point to an individual as being the primary cause of the problem and these interviews help uncover the system at play and the hidden dynamics. A fourth purpose is to discover the themes and patterns across the individual stories.

The same interview guide is used with each member of the team and usually an hour is allotted for each interview. They can be done in person or on a call. The interview starts in an unusual place – often with what they wanted to do when they were in school, finding out how they got to their current job or career, why that position now, hopes when they started in the job leading up to the current situation and inviting reflection on the future. It is a deep sensing interview, designed to invite them back into their humanity and to go deeper than simply asking them what is wrong or what needs to be fixed now.

Following the interviews, the information is compiled into themes and patterns as an offering back to the team in the first meeting often in a mind map. Team members are assured that nothing will show up in the mind map unless it is heard from at least three people.

Step 2. A first meeting.

The first meeting with the team is always interesting. The team members do not know what to expect. They are nervous. They don’t know what will be revealed and they are anxious about conflict. They know their own perception of the conflict and are sure they will have fingers pointed at them by others. They feel isolated.

We use circle process – with or without a table in the middle. More and more it is circle without a table, without the protective barrier of something in front of them or something to semi hide behind. Inviting them to show up fully. When people show up in an unexpected and unfamiliar form it is immediately disruptive and uncomfortable. As a consultant facilitating this work, you need to be very comfortable with other people’s discomfort and create an environment that helps them breathe through it.

With one team, when the team leader walked into the room she was immediately taken aback. There was a projection table on wheels by one wall. She sat in her chair, also on wheels, rolled back to the projection table, put her coffee on it, awkwardly rolled her chair and the projection table back to the circle as a source of support. I watched with curiosity. At the end of our day and half session, she commented on her own behaviour, noting her initial discomfort and her growing comfort with the form of our meeting as progress was achieved.

We start with a check in. Maybe around each person’s hopes for this process and naming any tension they are carrying. This often immediately begins to surface similarities or common experience. We review the mind map of the themes and patterns, which is usually in the centre of the circle as we begin – with talking pieces in case we choose to use them.

With one team I worked with, it took until the end of the first day of working together for someone to become brave enough to say, “That could have been my interview.” You could hear the collective sigh of relief as everyone else acknowledged the same thing. It was a shock and a relief to them to discover that what they had each been carrying individually was also being held by them collectively – similar experiences, similar fears, similar hopes. Common ground they had not witnessed in a long time and did not know existed until they saw it in front of their eyes.

We use Appreciative Inquiry (AI) because even in the most distressed teams there is always something that has worked or does work. Reminding people of this by asking them what their best experience of collaboration, their best experience of resilience their best experience of team, their best experience of the organization or other relevant topic has been reorients them to what does work and helps them understand they can make it work again while also surfacing what it is each person values about the organization, the team, each other, themselves. As highly intelligent people, individuals are often surprised to find themselves in a situation where they feel like they have failed or are failures and seem to have no strategies for success. It is good to surface what they do know and where they have been successful to create a bridge to the future.  We also use AI to collectively generate the principles by which the team wants to engage this work of building or rebuilding their relational field.

By investing time in this , we are creating the foundation for the team to enter the difficult conversations in a healthier space of curiosity, generosity and possibilities rather than defensiveness, debate and blame, where they can hear each other instead of only wanting to be heard. Where the conversation goes from there depends on what is most alive for the team, what has surfaced in the themes and patterns and what the team needs to be able to engage in good work together. When a team is in this level of disarray, these initial meetings focus almost exclusively on tending to relationship. The team has to slow down to go fast later.

Step 3. Ongoing meetings.

Issues and patterns that have become entrenched in a team are not easily shifted. A neutral, external support can bring voice to things the team itself cannot name, can bring new strategies and patterns into an existing situation and can challenge the team in gentle or tough ways about its patterns and interactions with each other.

There are many reasons for ongoing meetings. One is simply that entrenched patterns cannot be shifted in a day. It takes reminding, accountability and learning to trust that new patterns produce different results – like using a check-in and check out process for each meeting. Check-in brings people into the room mentally and emotionally and sets the tone for the conversations that are needed. Check out seals the day, allows people to express what is most present for them – gratitude, reflections, questions. Sometimes check out provides purpose and intention for the next meeting.

Also, a consultant can bring in Divergence-Convergence Diagram_000001patterns of human dynamics that help people name and understand their dynamics,
like the divergence-groan zone-convergence framework or surface hidden dynamics through systems mapping or provide strategies for thinking or planning differently like polarity mapping.

Sometimes it is as simple (and difficult) as holding space for the team to be in its own discomfort. One team we worked with, in the first meeting we had in a hotel, the room went completely silent whenever the wait staff came into the room. Not a peep out of anyone. The wait staff were asked to come and serve the break or the meals and leave directly afterward, leaving clearing the room for later. Over the course of the first three meetings, the tension in the room dissolved and conversation continued no matter who was in the room. With this team we used a parking lot for the conversations that began to spin around without resolution and we moved to the next conversation. Later we came back to the parking lot and it was amazing to see how easily most of those issues could then be resolved. More foundation and less edge.

Another benefit of meeting with the team on a regular basis is that the team gets to surface and review its progress – something not always tended to in the regular course of meetings and interactions. We also get to identify the dynamics that get in the way of team effectiveness – like lack of clarity of role or no discernable, reliable decision making processes. Once the team addresses these issues there is more ease in the relationships and a greater possibility of having a conversation rather than making assumptions. The team develops its own common language and short cuts into conversations or dynamic identification. One team I worked with would slide from one conversation to another with no clear resolution, agreement or decision. After having this pointed out to them several times, they began to notice their own pattern and took themselves back to finish the first conversation before moving to the next. They also began to do this with the teams they led in the organization, changing the tone of the meetings and the relationships.

Initially the consultant might have to offer the purpose or intention for each meeting, to attune people to where they are in the process and keep things on track. Before too long, the team can collectively elicit the purpose and intention on its own by tuning into what’s been going on since the last meeting and identifying anything they feel needs their collective attention.

As soon as it is reasonably possible, the focus of the meeting needs to tune back into the task(s) or work of the team and find a reasonable balance between task and relationship tending. As people see the impact of relationship tending on moving the task along or easing work flow, they are more willing to invest time there too.

Step 4. Concluding the process.

At some point, the consultant is no longer needed on a regular basis, often four to six months into the process. The team should become self-accountable with shared leadership and shared responsibility.

With one team, our last meeting was in a boardroom at a hotel. The leader, who had quite an adverse reaction to the first circle, remembered there was a big board table in the room and was feeling regret that it would impact our circle, only to turn up and find out the board table had been pushed back against the wall, leaving room for our circle.

Another team was able to use their resources more effectively. When trust was low, three or four members of the team would show up to a meeting when realistically one or two would do. As they addressed their issues and grew trust, they were able to trust that the perspective of the team could be conveyed by one individual.  And, instead of undermining each other in meetings with others – behaviour which contributed to the whole organization seeing their dysfunction – they began to support each other, even when they did not fully know where their team member was going. Instead of challenging them in front of others they would offer something like, “I’m sure if my teammate has offer this as a possibility, it has been well thought out and we should all pay attention.”

The whole organization began to see and sense the difference before they could really articulate what they were seeing. Like magic. Only it wasn’t magic. It was damned hard work that paid off.

group conversation

Not all teams need this degree of intervention and many times teams later end up disbanded because team members take on new challenges or sometimes there is a re-organization in the company that breaks the team up. But the skills learned during this kind of experience are transferable to many different situations and individuals see, and others witness, that they have grown their leadership capacity.

The Human Dynamics of Navigating Decision Making Dilemmas

The belief that there is a straight line between a problem and its solution is flawed and it is so often what gets us into trouble in seeking solutions to problems our organization, community or team face or decisions that need to be made.  It is what causes us angst when we think decision making discussions should be straightforward instead of the nuanced or circular discussions they often turn out to be, driven by agendas and dynamics that are not clear or made visible for the whole group – part of the shadow of a group dynamic.

Plan-reality

Increasing complexity in fast paced worlds often leaves us wanting for good decision making processes – especially when we are pressed for immediate action and results.  Key decisions taken by one individual – even one expected to make a decision – often fall short because one person does not always have the full picture or meets resistance by people who feel imposed upon. Collective decision making often misses the mark if dissension, debate or strong personalities dominate the process which often means some people just give up and the loudest voices dominate so the collective wisdom in the group is not given voice.

Problem solving and decision making is a task – a task carried out by humans and subject to human dynamics – just like every other endeavour we undertake. Understanding human dynamics goes a long way toward navigating decision making dilemmas unlike those magic bullet decision making algorithms which, surprisingly, don’t seem to exist.

All of these queries resulted in Shape Shift Strategies putting together a one day offering on Navigating Decision Making Dilemmas using a few simple Practices and Patterns from The Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter to better understand human dynamics and what it takes to cultivate the creativity and emergence that leads to effective decision making – one day of in-depth discussion and exploration that leaves participants from a variety of backgrounds with wide array of decision making dilemmas in a reflective thoughtful space around what they need to shift in their meeting process or dynamics to generate more of the results they are seeking.

With the increasing prominence of participatory and collaborative leadership ideologies and practices, there is a growing tension around decision making processes because of a misunderstanding that all decisions need to be made collectively.  When this slows decision making progress to a halt, there is a frustration and impatience that often causes those “in charge” to then circumvent the decision making conversations and make the decision unilaterally, effectively shutting down the desire for a team or community to engage in discussions that are not honoured.

It is folly to imagine that all decisions can or should be made collectively. What are the decisions that would most benefit from all voices? And then, who will make the ultimate decision – the group or the leader or some other individual – and is this clear at the outset of the conversation to everyone involved in the conversation? Is the conversation for clearly identified for input or decision making? Many teams and organizations run into problems because they have no agreed upon decision making process that they use consistently.

Do you know what the key decisions are that when you make them collectively you gain the greatest engagement and commitment of your team, organization or community? Is it clear when individuals – either leaders, managers, bosses or individuals responsible for their own work area or focus – are responsible for making their own decisions? Are they supported in decision making – no matter where they stand in the organizational or team hierarchy? For those decisions that will most benefit from the collective wisdom of the group, are the conditions for creating generative spaces understood?

04 - Day One Fredericton Jan 2013

In creating generative space some things to consider are how to invite and welcome multiple world views in the conversation, the use and understanding of simple but powerful patterns like the divergence-emergence-convergence framework for understanding basic human behaviour in decision making processes and polarity management for discerning whether you are dealing with a decision to be made or a polarity to be managed – meaning there is an upside and a downside to polar opposites (like collective decision making or individual decision making).  Being aware of up and down sides invites greater intentionality into the decision making processes and resulting actions.

Divergence-Convergence Diagram_000001

While the path for those decisions that most benefit from the collective wisdom is not always – or usually – a straight line path, generative conversations mean that we take all the ideas that come out in the divergent phase of the process – ideas individuals have brought in with them and put them in the soup of murkiness that shows up in the groan zone. When we can use ideas to spark new ideas, and build on existing ideas to generate new thinking, this is when innovative ideas begin to spark, ideas no one brought in with them that can take our decisions to a whole new level while also increasing the coherence of a team, group or organization.  It can be win-win-win all around but it takes patience, discernment and requires the leadership skills necessary to navigate that place between chaos and order. What new ways of thinking and being are needed now for you and your organization to navigate your decision making dilemmas?

Dynamic Leadership Arising out of Chaordic Confidence

When interactively teaching the Chaordic Path and inviting people to reflect on what highly chaotic or highly controlled environments look like and how people act and react in those environments, it is common for participants to address the down side of each of these – with quite a bit of energy and zeal.  Then, at some point, someone will make a comment about the benefit of being in that kind of environment.  For chaos they will often say something about creativity, for control they will often say something about predictability – the upside of each of these dynamic forces.

Then the key question we ask is, “What is the difference between control and order?” It always causes a pause as people reflect on what is different between these two. They speak about guidance rather than rigid rules, the opportunity for individuals to bring discretion to decision making within a framework, greater responsiveness, common understanding or collective clarity as hallmarks of the force of order.  The space for an individual to bring everything they have to their role with enough clarity to know the scope of their authority, leadership and responsibility.    When people don’t have clarity they ask for structure – it is a default. Clarity might mean structure and it might not – it might simply mean clarity which could be achieved through conversation or other means before creating structure which might not even bring more clarity.

There is a time and place for each of these forces (chaos, order and control) depending on context and whether the focus is on process, structure or human dynamics.  Trying to address human dynamics issues through structure often increases the human dynamics issues.  Yet clear structure and process is essential to many manufacturing processes.  When getting on a plane, you want to know that the environment is controlled with good structure, process and procedure in order to get to your destination safely. And, if your house is burning down, you don’t want the firefighters standing around making collective decisions about what to do next – you want clear direct leadership, even as the firefighters have no idea of the chaos they are facing.

Knowing what state an organization, group or team is in can illuminate the leadership strategy that is most helpful to the task at hand.  Sometimes the leadership being called for is to help people stay in the chaos a little longer rather than ease the pain, frustration or discomfort of being there, until clarity and the natural order begins to emerge.  If things feel too habituated, stuck or stale, it might be exactly the time to introduce a bit of chaos through a well placed question, a suggestion to shake things up a bit or the introduction of a new initiative.  In environments where control is pervasive, the opportunity might be to imagine how to care for the human dynamics or the relational field in a way that people can navigate with and through regulations, policies and procedures that were intended for clarity and consistency but have overreached into what we commonly call “red tape” or “jumping through the hoops”.

 

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There is an upside and a downside to each of these experiences as represented by the infinity loop in the above diagram and inspired by Polarity Mapping. If we only focus on one or the other we either have an enamoured (upside) or jaded (downside) view of that particular force that then makes us less likely to be able to exercise the dynamic leadership that grows chaordic confidence. It is the interplay or movement through each of the polarities and an understanding of what is in each of the upsides and downsides that enables us to discern wise action.  I certainly have a bias – that the place we are being asked to play and lead to address complex and entrenched problems is in the chaordic path.  It is the skills AoH has been designed to foster and grow and it is an invitation into new patterns and practices of leadership.  Being aware of the upside and the downside of each pattern enables a more complete picture with a greater variety of choices and options available to all.

 

The Chaordic Path: The Dynamic Inter-relationship between Chaos and Order

One of the fundamental patterns used in Art of Hosting offerings – which for many of us includes our consulting practices or as practitioners in-house work environments – is the Chaordic Field or Chaordic Path. Like many of the patterns offered in AoH it is a helpful way to understand what is happening in the world, in our communities and organizations and within each of us individually. It gives us a lens through which to understand the increasing complexity in our environments and a pattern to work with to evoke collective learning and the real-time innovation necessary in a world and in times that are neither predictable nor stable and call for more flexibility as “more of the same” solutions are not addressing the challenges.

Originating with the work of Dee Hock in the development and evolution of Visa to an international network of financial institutions offering “one” credit card, Hock identified the patterns and forces of chaos, order and control that were at play in an animated process that came to the brink of failure at many points along the way.  It was clearly experienced that the greatest breakthroughs and emergent ideas came at the intersection of chaos and order, in a system that was more commonly situated in the realm of control.

Chaordic Path

Just when things seem the craziest is often when new ideas spark, bridges are built, aha’s become apparent and a way out of chaos naturally appears.  These patterns are evident in living systems, where a natural order exists, life cycles are vibrant and the greatest innovations happen at the edges.  While not static, living systems can be stable – or be in order – for long periods of time until disruption comes in some form of chaos – destructive weather patterns or fires – destabilizing the system for a time before new order emerges.

While the chaordic path is the story of our natural world – form arising out of nonlinear, complex, diverse systems – it can also be the story of how our teams, organizations and communities pay attention to human dynamics and function.   In our organizational systems, there is a tendency to want to meet chaos with control, to try to fix the situation or provide a ready made solution.  Many of us as leaders and managers have been educated, trained and promoted to do just this. But increasing complexity means control, particularly as it relates to the human dynamics of a situation, does not often enough lead to a resolution of the problem and may, in fact, exacerbate the situation. Solutions and ways forward are more likely to arise out of accessing the collective intelligence and collective wisdom of everyone, which can, at times, be a “messy” process until new insight and clarity emerges.

When facing new challenges that cannot be met with the same way we are currently working – cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them – new ways of leading and operating need to be learned and utilized to shift the shape of our experience with intentionality. It is during these times of uncertainty and increased complexity, where results cannot be predicted, that wise leaders invite others to share their collective and diverse knowledge to discover new purpose and strategy and decide a way forward.

It is in the phase of not knowing, before we reach new clarity, that the temptation to rush for certainty or grab for control is strongest. We are all called to walk this path with open minds and some confidence if we want to reach something wholly new.

“At the edge of chaos” is where life innovates — where things are not hard wired, but are flexible enough for new connections and solutions to occur.  To lead teams, organizations and communities on the chaordic path, leaders need “chaordic confidence,” to have the courage to stay in the dance of order and chaos long enough to support generative emergence that allows new, collective intelligence and wiser action to occur.

This can be a beautifully dynamic process.  To be in it with awareness and intentionality also means to take care of value judgments or beliefs often brought that one of these modes of being or operating – chaos, order or control – is  better or more valuable than the others. There is a place, a role and a time for each. A subsequent post will explore the upside and downside of each, recognizing that a flow and dynamic movement between each of these modes of being may be the leadership discernment needed for long term success.