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”.

 

Chaordic Path with infinity loop_000001

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.

Container Holding as a Hosting Practice

In the work and exploration of the Art of Hosting (AoH) Conversations that Matter we often talk about the container, creating the container, holding the container – but what does it mean, really? We tend to speak of it in the same breath as hosting, as if it is the same thing.  But, is it?

In preparation for a gathering of sixty five AoH Stewards from thirteen countries that took place in Minnesota in October 2013, Jerry Nagel, Stephen Duns, Bob Wing and I became deeply curious about what it would take to hold a dynamically complex field that included three breaths of Art of Hosting – founders, early adopters and new or emerging stewards, many of whom did not know each other and had never met in person – who were holding, each in their own way, many similar questions percolating in local fields around the world, centering on what it means to be a global self-organizing system.

panoramic photo of circle

We began a series of calls to see what we could learn about container holding that we could apply at the Stewards Gathering, recognizing that some who would be holding the container would not be present in person but would be holding from the rim – wherever they happened to be geographically located.  For our inquiry, we separated out container holding, design and hosting recognizing they often are intertwined, happening together at the same time and that they are distinct in and of themselves.  It was – and is – rich learning.

Container holding is part of the subtle arts.  It is metaphysical, meaning of or relating to things that are thought to exist but cannot be seen. So much of what we pay attention to in hosting, beyond process, people and design, is the invisible – the energetics, consciousness.  It is why we have offerings of Hosting from a Deeper Place or the Art of Hosting the Subtle.

The invisible is alive all on its own and it shows up in the physical in group dynamics, ease or tension, flow or disruption, to name just a few ways it manifests.  We know that in any offering that is co-hosted, the frequency of the team is also alive in the field.  When the team has challenges within, those challenges show up in the larger field.  When the team has an ease of relationship, infused with trust (and usually joy), this also shows up in the field.  What is in the team is reflected back to the team.  A well connected, trustful, aligned team – which does not mean members all think alike – can hold the larger field from a place of trusting what wants to emerge and not be knocked off balance when challenges spark – at least not so off balance that they cannot recover.  The more coherent the team, the deeper they can host and the more process will flow through them rather than the team trying to control design or over-design.

Container holding might look inactive whereas design and hosting might look more active.  When we are hosting, it doesn’t mean we ignore elements of the metaphysical or subtle realms – although we are often not full intentional or conscious about it.  Attention to the metaphysical or subtle realms can also be a sole component of container holding. You can be a container holder and not be in a visible hosting role.

In the work we do, the container can be porous or permeable – and given it is metaphysical in nature that would likely hold to be true all the time.  When the container is held with the crystal clear energy of intention, this intention infuses the field and what happens as much as, and sometimes more than, design does. The hosting can be flexible, which is what we always advocate –  with a willingness to be disturbed or disrupted, trusting the chaordic path – chaos can be good, especially as we learn to sit with it until a natural sense of order emerges. If the intention is strong and held with clarity, disturbance can lead to emergence.  When the intention is less clear, disruption can lead to chaos with no pathway back to order. It is important to not be attached to design, to hosting or to process  – to hold it lightly – which is simply good hosting practice at the best of times.  We can ask the question, what does the container need to be infused with to hold chaos and disruption so it is of service to what wants to happen? It could be different depending on what is the work we are about.

A well held container invites coherence into the field. Coherence is a frequency. When we tune into the frequency we can host it into being to allow or invite it to become present, or more present – like when we hold tuning forks up to each other, they pick up the frequency of each other and become entrained.  How do we grow coherence without control, to celebrate different thinking, recognizing it can all be aligned with a common purpose and clear intention?  Is this not our work as hosts?

Container holding is part of hosting – especially when we are intentional about it.  And container holding has its own energy, its own path and its own coherence.  So much more to explore.  We are deep in our learning.  And how beautiful is that?

Explaining Art of Hosting for Beginner’s Wanting to Know What It Is

Every place we go has its own tone, texture and timing.  It is part of what makes Art of Hosting – or in the case of California in August 2012, the Art of Participatory Leadership and Social Innovation – so hard to define. “We” being whatever configuration of hosting and calling team has coalesced around an identified need or opportunity.  Every training is different because every place is different, every group that responds to the call is unique.

People who are just coming across Art of Hosting want to know, what is it?  One way to think of it is, at its core, a set of patterns and practices that help us be successful in complex circumstances.  Developing skill in using these patterns and practices is particularly helpful now at a time when long term strategic planning doesn’t work anymore (if it ever did) because we don’t know and can’t predict what ten, five or even two years down the road will look like.  One thing many of us have a growing awareness of is that what has worked in the past – strategies, practices, principles – doesn’t seem to work anymore – if it ever did.

The world is providing us with increasing complexity – in the environments in which we operate, our communities and in our organizations, especially as things seem to move faster and faster.  Social innovation is a response to this increasing complexity.  Rigid protocols have limited application in complexity.  Complexity calls for a different set of leadership skills – skills that tune in and are responsive to emergent circumstances.  Complex systems share behaviours that cannot be explained by their parts.  This requires a different set of frameworks to see and understand it.  In the Art of Participatory Leadership we draw on world view, chaordic path, divergence/convergence, the 2 loops of systems change, theory U and other frameworks as lenses through which to think about complexity and social innovation.  Social innovation looks for an alignment of circumstances that makes action possible – the relationship among elements.

One of the names we use for this type of experiential learning is the Art of Participatory Leadership because it also calls forth a new set of leadership skills required to deal with complexity and social innovation, quite different from how we think about traditional leadership.  Participatory leadership focuses on participation and engagement strategies, knowing from experience there is wisdom and knowledge that exists within a group, a team, an organization, a system.  When we make it visible in a group, it moves into the realm of collective wisdom, knowledge and understanding leading to a different kind of action and ultimately different results.

Participatory leadership  connects well in high pressure situations. Some of its core characteristics are curiosity or non-judgement, staying in the space of not knowing, generosity or openness, a belief that conversations matter and that good conversation leads to wise action.

It is not a quick fix or a magic bullet for problems that have existed and have been evolving over long periods of time.  However, there are often very immediate results for individuals as they examine and reflect on their own leadership practices.  This is also why we encourage teams to participate so they have a new common language and are more able to hold each other accountable to create a path of behaviour change and organization practices that will be sustainable.

A core element of the Art of Participatory Leadership is for each of us to deepen our own capacity to effect transformation – in ourselves and in a complex world.

Where have these practices and patterns been used? In community, private sector, academia, healthcare, and educational settings as well as social change efforts around the world.  The stories are only just beginning to be documented because many of us have been deep in the work rather than the writing about the work.  Stories are alive in Nova Scotia, Ohio, Minnesota, Europe and Brazil and many, many more places.

Art of Hosting is also a global self-organizing community of practitioners who use these integrated participative change processes, methods, maps, and planning tools (like circle practice, appreciative inquiry, world cafe and open space technology) to engage groups and teams in meaningful conversation, deliberate collaboration, and group-supported action for the common good.

The hosting and calling team for this first Art of Participatory Leadership and Social Innovation in California: myself, Jerry Nagel, Ann Badillo, Sherri CannonDana Pearlman and Mia Pond will weave stories of where this work is alive in the world into these three days of co-created emergent design and process – a little taste of what we do in the world and what is possible.

The Art of Stewarding

Anyone who has ever wanted to call an Art of Hosting training has, in all likelihood, been told how important it is to have seasoned hosts – or stewards – as part of the hosting team. What does it mean to steward and why is this role so important in the Art of Hosting community and in individual training offerings?

I wanted to ground the word steward with a definition but none of the ones I found resonated until I came across this on Wikipedia:  it is desirable to increase capacity within an organizational system.  The Art of Hosting is a system – an interconnected, self-organizing global network – and since it began almost two decades ago, it has been increasing capacity in the network, within and across organizations, within and across systems and within and across individuals.

Even before there was such a thing as the name Art of Hosting, conversations were being hosted in many places around the world using different dialogic processes, including World Cafe, Open Space Technology, Circle Practice, Appreciative Inquiry  (and still are being hosted by people who have not heard of the Art of Hosting). Those who have become known as Art of Hosting Practitioners were intuitively and intentionally sensing into questions like: what is underneath this process, what are the patterns we can make visible, why do these processes or this way of convening a meeting produce different results?  They were deeply curious about the answers to these questions and the more evocative questions that were often provoked through the conversations stimulated by these questions.

Stewards sense and hold the deeper patterns in the field.  They don’t just hold this particular piece of client work or this particular training, they sense the patterns of the larger field and bring those patterns into the specific work and conversations they are involved in.

They have skill, wisdom and expertise in holding space, creating the conditions for powerful work (setting the container) and in working with emergence by paying attention to what is wanting and ready to happen in an individual, group, organization, or community or with a pattern.

They practice self-leadership or self-hosting and bring with them a presence often forged through the many fires of chaos, disruption and intensity they have found their way through which often enables them to keep their centre or ground in the most challenging of situations.

They have no need to hold centre stage although they find themselves there because of their willingness to share knowledge and learning while hosting fields where people are hungry to learn.  They bring clarity without doing the work of others or disempowering them or disconnecting them from their own sources of clarity, wisdom and knowledge.  They witness growth and ignite even more growth – within themselves and others.  They are flexible and diverse, growing the depth of field through co-learning with others.  It is precisely this co-learning, co-creating and collaborating on the edges of what they do not know that makes them most excited  – more so than presenting their expertise.

My awareness of stewarding has heightened over the last year or so as I have found myself in many stewarding conversations with good friends in the Art of Hosting, World Cafe and Circle Practice networks (most recently at ALIA in Columbus) and as I have the privilege to co-host with other seasoned practitioners in a variety of situations where the ability to draw on accumulated wisdom and knowledge has been powerfully beneficial to other hosting team members including apprentices hungry to learn as well as the full group involved in the training.

What do I know through some of my experiences? Stewards are able to check perceptions with each other to sense more fully into the field in which they are working, arriving at more informed choices of action, often to surface tension, move through groan zones, understand when divergence or convergence or some other intervention or process is needed.  They are comfortable with silence and with chaos, have no need to rush in and they can weave with each other through and across the field.  This does not mean there is never any tension but it does mean they have the capacity to work it through without detrimentally impacting the group or the overall experience.  In how they work together, they are often living, breathing examples of the beauty and power of co-creation.

I have had the opportunity to work more extensively with youth in the last year – in Canada, the US and Brazil – and see how sharing experience, asking good questions and holding space expands the depth of field in any given place and creates the opportunity for individual and collective expansion – by holding the space of curiosity with the space of experience.

In One Art of Hosting Does Not A Practitioner Make, I wrote that each Art of Hosting has its own flavour influenced by the hosting team, the calling questions, the people who show up, whatever is emergent in the field, whatever we choose to call the training and the place in which it is hosted.  It’s like seeing only a slice of the bigger picture.  One reason why stewards are necessary to these trainings is that they carry with them the depth of the patterns from across many trainings and client consulting work and they can help illuminate these patterns and this depth through how they hold the space and the questions they ask.

In any given training we will often say it is not about the methodologies – although when we use them we want to use them well.  It is about the purpose and intention of what we are about, what we want to achieve and how to create the conditions to meet purpose and intention and make more things possible.

Stewards illuminate the connections between people, places, trainings, theories, processes and patterns.  They bring the weave of the whole network into the space and disturb the training ground in subtle and overt ways, based on the imprints of their many experiences, helping shift the shape of the experience, enabling individuals to shift their own shape and ultimately influencing the shifting shape of the world.

This work is not for the feint of heart or lone wolves.  It is for those who are willing to show up more fully in the relational field, ask for help when they need it, offer what they can and sink into their own learning.  Stewards want to learn from each other and the more we work with each other, the deeper the relational field, the deeper the friendships and the richer the space we hold for others.

High Performance Result of Human Transitions

In my last post I wrote about the fundamental discontinuity between good and exceptional organizational performance, after hearing a talk given by Ray Ivany, President and Vice-Chancellor of Acadia University.  That post focused more on the systems side of performance and this one focuses more on the people side of high performance.

High performance organizations are filled with great human beings, not dysfunctional ones and not dysfunctional dynamics – which doesn’t mean that things don’t sometimes get messy. Creating a culture of high performance means paying attention to the “soft skills” of leadership and human dynamics and learning to deal with the messiness before it becomes dysfunction.

Ray Ivany commented, “If you ignore the transitions people need to go through, you will not get to high performance.”  He suggested that in the book Good to Great, Collins overrates leadership and underrates the human transitions people need to make, not just in their professional lives but in their personal lives as well.

The culture in many workplaces supports a fundamental separation of self: “please do not bring your whole self, just bring the part you need to get your job done.  We will all pretend that professional growth is isolated from personal growth and we’ll just focus on that part. And when we don’t get the best out of you, we will just assume it’s because you are lazy, are just putting the time in and really don’t want to take any initiative.”

But take a good look around: People do not wake up in the morning desiring to put in mediocre performance; most people are thirsting for a deeper meaning in their work and believe it is unachievable, believe their initiative is not welcome and so they leave a part of themselves at the door, trying to collect it at the end of the day when they go home.

Too many rules in our organizations – the stated and the unstated – create the conditions that make it extremely difficult to tap into the full potential of our people.  And when we do put the toe of empowerment in the water and are met with resistance we withdraw it quickly rather than persevering.  We often do not support people in transition, we make it more difficult for them to navigate it.

It is the job of the leader(s) to create the environment and set the conditions that allow people to do extraordinary work.  People need help in unlocking the part of the heads and their hearts they cannot get to themselves.  Leaders create these conditions by lightening up on the rules and instead providing clarity and context.  With clarity and context people have enough freedom and flexibility to be responsive to the needs and requests of others and the organization. and to do it in ways that make sense to them.

As a leader, in order to do that well, you need to be in fundamental alignment with the core of who you are and your values. The greater your own personal integrity and center, the easier it is to let people run with their own ideas.  With the right conditions, things you could never dream will emerge in the most delightful and unexpected ways.

This kind of emergence is not likely to happen in organizations that reject failure.  The one thing we are assured off as we move toward higher performance is more failure.  That may be counter-intuitive but failure is where creativity and innovation often meet.  Creating a culture that makes it safe for people in your organization to fail for the sake of learning with no blame attached is a component of high performance organizations.

Where and how does the shape of your leadership need to shift in order to support your organization in a quest for exceptional performance?  What systems can you put in place that allow your people to become the best they can be – an integrated human being showing up in the fullness of who they are ready to offer more than most imagine possible