Yearning for A Different Conversation, Yearning for a Turning Point

One of the teams I have the pleasure of being part of is an Art of Hosting team comprised of me, Jerry Nagel, Dave Ellis and Bob-e Simpson Epps. We most often have hosted open enrolment programs in the Twin Cities and we have worked together on a few other initiatives. One of the joys in working with this team is the rich and deep learning we are in with each other all the time. Our backgrounds are more varied than the colour of our skins as are our experiences.

When we check in together about hosting conversations, the topic often turns to difficult and challenging conversations, particularly around race, power and privilege, the need for which is growing more pressing every day. The essence of our many conversations is floating through my awareness as I read about the great unrest that is alive in the world today; so great it has its own pulse, its own life force and it will not stop until we turn to face it with courage, compassion and humility. All of us, not just some of us.

As Bob-e and Dave and my other African American or African Nova Scotian friends remind us regularly, this is not a problem people of colour can fix. Not alone for sure. It is not a problem of their making. And it is a complex problem that is an entangled, interconnected mess that fuels and feeds itself beyond what any one person or any one organization can do.

An article this morning in the Waging Non Violence newsletter pointed out that Policing Isn’t Working For Cops either. Kazu Haga wrote:

“This is not about being an apologist for the individuals responsible for the killing of black life. It is not about comparing the suffering of black communities to that of law enforcement. But in nonviolence, we know that if you don’t understand the perspective of those who you are in conflict with, you do not understand the conflict. You do not need to agree with, excuse or justify the other’s perspective, you simply need to understand it so you can see the complete picture.”

 “Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that “the white man’s personality is greatly distorted by segregation, and his soul is greatly scarred.” He said that the work of defeating segregation was for the “bodies of black folks and the souls of white folks.” He understood that to be a white supremacist, to hold hatred in your heart for so many and to inflict violence on others destroys your soul.”

<> on July 8, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.

Dallas Police Chief David Brown – embodying grief well beyond his own

People’s lives are at stake. As near as I understand it, this has always been the case. The unrest that is being stirred up – whether by presidential campaigns, referendum votes, violence and terrorism or the killing of unarmed black men or policemen in the line of duty is not going to go away. It will not be suppressed.

At the last AoH training in the Twin Cities, we were reminded by participants in the room, that many people – especially people of colour, people who are part of minority groups – walk in multiple worlds – the predominant culture that does not easily see its own worldview or predominance and the world of their reference groups be it their family, culture, colour of skin, way of being or lifestyle. Many who walk in multiple worlds do so with such grace that those in the dominant culture has been able to turn a blind eye to it, filter it out as if it does not exist. And they do so because it is a matter of survival. They do not have the luxury of turning a blind eye. It can too easily be a matter of life and death.

In that AoH training, I sat with a Hmong man in his forties who has lived in the US for most of his life. He, like at least one other person in the room, moved to the country that at the time was oppressing his own country and his culture. A large family of siblings, many did not survive. He shared with me the structure, ties and traditions of his culture which he feels bound to and in which he lives in community with his family and other community members. He shared how that world differs from the larger world he interacts with every single day. A world he has learned to navigate because he has to. He is aware of the differing worlds and differing cultures in a way that many who interact with him daily have no awareness.

A couple of months later, in Boston, sitting with a distinguished Black man in his 60’s who works with the Massachusetts’s Teachers’ Association, I am heartbroken as we speak about life in general and our children. He has two sons in their 20’s. I have two sons in their 20’s (and one in his early teens) and we have very different experiences of “educating” our children when they became of driving age. For me, it was to make sure they went to Driver’s Education so they knew the rules of the road and learned from someone who could teach them to drive without my or their dad’s bad habits. For him, it was teaching his sons, over and over again, what to do if/when they got stopped by the cops. Because they would sometime get stopped – as some of my friends point out – for “driving while black”. And now we know even that might not keep them safe.

There are many more stories I could tell, but I’ll stop here. What I know from the conversations I am able to have with the people I know and love, the people I come into contact with in heart filled spaces, is that we are longing for a different conversation, one that leads to different results, that transforms our differences into progress by acknowledging, seeing and validating others’ perspectives and experiences as real and true. We are yearning for a turning point. We’re not quite sure what this conversation or the “space” it needs to take place in looks like yet. But it cannot involve guns or jail. It needs to invite exploration, compassion, curiosity and understanding. And we need it now. It is already late. Too late for those whose lives are lost but not forgotten. Very late for many who are deeply traumatized. How do we confront ourselves and each other in such a way that we put an end to the violence? How do we do it across whole countries?

I saw a picture today that said something like don’t be overwhelmed, be true and you have an obligation to continue the journey. I didn’t repost it because I thought, Yes, be overwhelmed. It is overwhelming. And, even in the overwhelm you can look for things to help you remember who you are – watch the birds at the birdfeeders, listen to calming music, go for a walk, pet the cats, remember your purpose and your soul’s journey – then do what you can in the places that you can. I cannot, in this moment, affect a whole nation. But I can carry on my work, I can hold spaces for the pain and overwhelm, I can NOT turn away from all that troubles me in the posts rolling across my screen. I can stay in it, with it and with my friends who more than ever need me to be in it with them, who need me to be a disturbance in the world so we can all live in it in truth, beauty and grace. It is only together that we will find the turning point for which we yearn.

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Dave Ellis, Jerry Nagel, Bob-e Simpson Epps, Kathy Jourdain

Leading Through Learning and the Art of Apprenticing

The Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter is a self-organized global network with no head office, no staff and no central authority or decision-making body. It can be an incredibly effective way to get work done – really important work – in addition to providing structures and processes to host conversations of any size. A few colleagues have recently been writing about what it – Art of Hosting – is – again.

Self-organizing is not to be confused with no organization or structure-less, which is what confounds some people and organizations as they try to understand what it is and is not. The seeming lack of structure always evokes the questions from participants like, how do I do what you do? How do I get involved? Who do I talk to? The seeming simplicity of many of the processes, when they are hosted well, makes some people believe that very little preparation time is needed and/or that anybody can do them. And, anybody can do them. But, good preparation goes a long way to ensuring good process and succcess. So does skill, experience and expertise. One Art of Hosting training does not a practitioner make.

There is a structure of involvement or engagement for the Art of Hosting that seems hard to describe, is not always obvious but is pretty simple. It does require some initiative and determination by people who want to be more involved since there is no official leadership development track like there might be in an organization. It can be harder to involve people in existing opportunities for a variety of reasons and many who truly want to deepen their practice create their own opportunities, whether that is internal to their organization or jumping into organizing an open enrolment program and inviting stewards (a requirement for an AoH training) to come and work with them (which is how both Jerry and I began our AoH paths).

In the lightly held AoH structure, there are Stewards, Practitioners and Apprentices. Some of us are all three of these things. In Philadelphia, where Jerry Nagel and I recently co-hosted an AoH training with two new colleagues, Rich Wilson and Mike Ritzius, we heard the term “leading through learning” and it seems a beautiful way to frame some of the AoH leadership and learning structure.

We are all learning even as we lead. Some – those of us who have been around longer and have been deep in the practices on an ongoing and regular basis – have more learning and experience that we can share with others even as we continue to learn from others, including new people in the practices. Others, on balance, may have more, sometimes much more, learning to do. We are not all “equal” in knowledge, experience or depth of practice although all are invited “equally” into the field and the key question may well be, where are we, each of us, in our own learning journey.

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Rich Wilson, Jerry Nagel, Mike Ritzius

The experience Jerry and I had in Philadelphia with our two new apprentice co-hosts was exemplary – which got us thinking a bit about what makes for a good apprentice. This story is a good one to illustrate some things that work well.

A year ago Rich and Mike came to an AoH training in Minnesota that Jerry and I were co-hosting, having been introduced to Open Space through EdCamp, seeing the power and engagement of the structure and curious for more. Rich describes being persuaded to bring an idea he was pondering into the Design Process on Day 3. He says after the session he folded the paper up – really small – and promptly hid it when he got back home – the ideas generated were, in his words, “terrifying”. And yet, they worked on him and in him as the two of them went back to their jobs at the New Jersey Education Association. Mike and Rich began bringing the practices to every initiative they were involved in – with greater and lesser degrees of resistance and lots of successes.Philly Open Space

Because they embarked early on with Jerry and me in creating a call for an AoH training in their area, which largely drew people involved in education and organizing, we got to hear about those successes along the way and we offered mentoring or coaching from time to time on their processes and approaches in the work they were doing. They were willing to ask for what they needed and they kept doing their homework and kept bringing the patterns and practices to the people they were with – leading through learning.

When the four of us sat down to design our three day AoH offering, Mike and Rich jumped at the opportunity to lead and co-teach some of the patterns since they had been using them in their work and developing a good understanding of them – teaches like the Chaordic Path, the Chaordic Stepping Stones, Divergence-Emergence-Convergence, The Four Fold Practice, Theory U, Reflective Listening, Two Loops.

As they offered the teaches, what struck Jerry and me was how well they understood the basics or foundations of the patterns they offered. They explained them clearly. They made room for input from the whole team. They did not unduly embellish what they offered and thus did not get lost in the teach as we have seen apprentices do from time to time. They did not feel the need to prove themselves as “experts”, they were not competitive with each other or with us and they were clearly excited to be working with us to deepen their learning. They value the learning field and they value deepening their learning with and from Stewards on the patterns, practices and processes.

They understand that in order for something to look simple – like a good World Café, Open Space or full on Art of Hosting training – you have to be well versed in the foundational steps, before embellishment, and do the planning and design work in advance. They have had each other to co-design and co-host with and now they have “infected” more people with the desire to have better meetings and get better, more engaged results.

They exemplify leading through learning and we are already planning what’s next. So, stay tuned.

Stealth Hosting

Inevitably in an Art of Hosting training someone will ask about how to bring AoH patterns and practices to a group or organization that is not familiar with AoH and may not be ready to receive them with open arms. When we say, “That is when you use ‘stealth hosting’”, people laugh and the room lights up.

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Jerry Nagel and I, and colleagues we co-host with regularly, almost always start an AoH training with PeerSpirit circle practice. It sets the tone for the whole training. While most people love entering this space, find the opening practices thoughtful and calm, slowing the frenetic pace many are caught up in, inviting people to take a breath, to show up in the fullness of who they are, the thought of bringing it to their organization, understandably, gives them pause.

Art of Hosting uses language that is not a part of the organizational cultures many people work in, that is not familiar and can sound strange. Hosting. Harvesting. Container. Collective intelligence. Not to mention World Café, Open Space or Circle Practice. Then there is the use of a talking piece and a bell.

The use of language is purposeful and, we are really clear, it is not necessarily the use of language that allows these practices to be successful. It is the intention with which we bring them. We might never use the terminology of AoH with a client as we are not interested in promoting any particular practice as much as we are interested in meeting the needs and outcomes of the work we have identified with the client. When we talk to the client about the outcomes, we can often offer them a range of ways to get to outcomes. They can be quite receptive when they see the link to what it is they want done.

world cafe Fredericton 2013Many participants in a training see the possibility of starting to bring AoH practices using check-ins and check-outs, but the idea of naming circle practice or bringing a talking piece feels intimidating and risky – and we get that. We offer there is no need to name circle practice and you can use or not use a talking piece, but you do need a good question. We suggest not using the same question all the time as it can grow stale and in anticipation of the same question people can tune out. If you tune the question into the purpose of the meeting it is useful and can be a great place to start.

If you do use a talking piece, then using something that is either playful and fun or related to the organization is a great place to begin. This can be done in a light hearted but intentional manner. You can preface it by saying, “We are all here physically but sometimes it takes a few minutes to bring our attention to the topic at hand. Today we want to try something a little different, to begin with a check in to help us do that, to bring our full attention to the task at hand.” We might say at an AoH training that we want you to bring the fullness of your humanity. That might not work in your team, but turning our attention more fully to the task at hand might get better mileage.

If you want to use a talking piece you can introduce it quite simply. “Just to make sure we all have a moment to collect our thoughts and speak without interruption, let’s use a talking piece. When you have it, it is your turn to talk. When you don’t have it, it is your turn to listen. We’ll send it around the room until we have all had a chance to speak.” Get people’s permission and it will feel less impositional. Often we are sitting at a table rather than in a circle of chairs and there is nothing wrong with that.

If using a talking piece feels too risky or strange, you can simply say, “It would be good to hear everyone’s voice here before we begin, so let’s go around the table one at a time to answer our question.” The key is to re-enforce and honour the practice. If people continue to talk all over each other, then it can defeat the purpose. But if you can interject gently or humourously, you can bring things back on track. It is not to control what is happening, but it is to invite a flow that achieves the objectives you have for the practice. There is clear research that the sooner people are invited to speak in a meeting, the greater the likelihood they will continue to contribute. If this doesn’t happen, there is a greater chance the dominant voices will, well, dominate.

While it might seem strange at first, invariably your meeting participants will notice that the meeting has a different quality to it than when they jump right into item 1 on the agenda. Before long, people are often asking to begin with a check in. The same with a check out. It doesn’t have to be long and it can seal the meeting before everyone wanders off to the next meeting on their schedule.

For other methodologies you might want to use, you can strategize good ways to bring them into practice. From our own experience working with clients, we match outcomes to methods. If a client wants to connect people, allow them lots of opportunity to talk with each and get to common themes and patterns on a particular topic, then World Café could be a good option. If they want to engage people in ideas, get commitment to initiatives or get to issues and opportunities you don’t know exist, Open Space allows participants to create their own agenda and follow their passion to the ideas that have the most energy for them. In teams and organziations we’ve worked with that are experiencing a lot of tension and want to resolve it in a healthy way, circle is a good practice.

Purpose imageIt is not absolute what to use when, but when you are clear on the purpose you are working towards, and have an understanding of the way the methods work, selection becomes easier. In your organization, as you get clarity on outcomes, you could offer out ideas. “We’ve never tried this before but I have experienced (method) and it was a really great way to do (whatever it is you want to do).”

I once did a World Café with a window installations company with the whole staff including the installers. The purpose was to identify the biggest irritants in the work environment and causes of delays in their ability to get installations done in a timely fashion. We didn’t call it a World Café and they certainly didn’t need 20 minutes per round of conversation but we did have small groups and we did mix them up between rounds, using questions that got us to our end objective, which was their list of priorities to be addressed in that year by the company leadership.

If beginning with your own team is fraught with anxiety, find another environment to test out and experiment, to grow your skill with new patterns and practices. Work with another department or in a voluntary capacity. And, there are good reasons we say, don’t work alone. It is always easier to share the risk, plus we are more creative, when we work with other people. And, we have each other’s backs. You can make it fun and stay tuned into outcomes. The more you try it, the more success you have, the more you will trust the methodologies to deliver.

Look for success stories to share with your team or your boss or whoever it is that might need to approve a new way of moving forward. We are capturing a few under the category of Art of Hosting Works here on the Shape Shift blog – small inspirational-you-can-do-it-anywhere examples to long-term projects.

The language we choose with Art of Hosting is intentional. It signals a different approach, a different way of thinking about and doing things. However, if we become attached to the language, we risk losing the intention of what we are doing – bringing people together in different ways, to engage them more fully, hear them more clearly and find connections, inspiration and ideas that might not have existed before.

Take some care. Stealth host any opportunity you get. And we would love to hear and share your success stories too.

A Decade of More People “Stepping Up”, Engaging in Nova Scotia

Stepping Up

Stepping Up Conference – 2015

On January 11, 2005 (what later become fondly known as J21 within Envision Halifax), I walked into a day long community gathering hosted by Envision Halifax, along with more than 100 other people, at St. Matthew’s Church Hall on Barrington Street, and my life and the way I work were forever changed. And, more than that, a movement began, sparked by a mission to “ignite a culture of civic engagement”.

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A visual depicting the Envision Halifax Leadership Journey – 2007 – which used Theory U as the journey and Art of Hosting as the “operating system”.

I had cause to think of that moment earlier this week when I walked into the new public library in Halifax for the Stepping Up Conference (#StepUpNS) hosted by Engage Nova Scotia, along with more than 350 other people in Halifax, even more gathered at 10 other locations in the province with an additional 500 or more people at their own computer screens following the live streaming.

A decade ago it was Envision Halifax. Something new and meaningful was sparked. Then a sabbatical to check back in with need, purpose and approach, some work in the background and the emergence of Engage Nova Scotia as a next iteration ~ different, stronger and with greater reach.

Danny Graham and Kathy Jourdain at an Envision Halifax public gathering where project teams shared what they were working on in that year (2007).

Danny Graham and Kathy Jourdain at an Envision Halifax public gathering where project teams shared what they were working on in that year (2007).

During the Envision days, Danny Graham and I had a chat about whether we were just “preaching to the choir” as many liked to say or was it something more? Maybe it was preaching to the choir, but I wondered then and I wonder now, is that so bad? Is that not a good starting place? I thought about this because I overheard someone remark at the Stepping Up conference that “we are only preaching to the converted”, since that is who shows up. That may be. But something happened over a decade to grow the number of “converted” in this province by at least 15 fold and probably more.

I was honoured to facilitate the group conversation focused on a new attitude. There were many gems of wisdom in that conversation including: expand your own bubble and do more of what you can, ignore naysayers and time how long it can take you to shift a negative conversation into a positive one. These gems are reflective of “new attitudes” sparking all over the province as individuals recognize their own circles of influence and focus their attention on what they can do and impact.

What struck me in a deep and meaningful way, reflecting over a decade is – more. More people in Nova Scotia are paying attention. More people are asking questions. More people are longing for a future that looks different than the past. More people are Stepping Up. And that is a very exciting ongoing evolution over just one short decade of quiet but growing change in and across our beautiful little province.

A decade ago and this week (and in many other places and times in between), Danny quoted a favourite poem of his:

If you always believe what you have always believed,
You will always feel the way you always felt.
If you always feel the way you always felt,
You will always think the way you always thought.
If you always think the way you always thought,
You will always do what you’ve always done.
If you always do what you have always done,
You will always get what you have always gotten.
If there is no change there is no change

Well, in Nova Scotia, if you stop a moment to reflect, it is clear that beliefs, feelings, thoughts and actions are changing. Thank you Nova Scotia, thank you Engage and thank you to everyone who played, and continues to play, a role in changing the future in the place I am delighted to call home.

Itasca County, MN – Art of Hosting Works – Background, Application and Impact

In just over one year, community citizens of Itasca County, who were not familiar with the term Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter, went from showing up at the first three day training in November 2013 with a healthy mix of curiosity and scepticism, to hosting a one day community wide conversation at the first ever Grand Gathering of Itasca County just one year later that attracted over 85 people who engaged in 50+ conversations that mattered over a five hour period.

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How does a community do this? By being passionate about influencing their future and believing it is possible. Support from the Blandin Foundation, (and thanks to the vision initially held by Bernadine Joselyn) made it possible for Jerry Nagel of the Meadowlark Institute and Kathy Jourdain of Shape Shift Strategies Inc. to offer (with other AoH practitioners) five three day Art of Hosting trainings, two Community World Cafes, one Grand Gathering using Open Space Technology and nine days of Advanced (or more in-depth) Training on specific topics. The Community Cafes and Grand Gathering were brain childs of participants in the trainings who stepped up to community engagement and hosting in beautiful and collaborative ways.

Participants understand that good community conversations on important issues offer everyone who shows up the opportunity to speak openly and without fear, to be listened to authentically and respectfully, and to leave feeling an ownership in the outcomes of their conversations. Community or civic engagement is also about accountability and commitment, a request not only to show up but to engage. This is happening in Itasca County in abundance now.

A report on the background, application and impact was compiled for the Blandin Foundation to show the value of the investment made in this series of program offerings for the community and you can access it here: Blandin Harvest 2013-15. (It might take awhile to download as it is full of pictures and stories that Highlight AoH in Action.)

Because Blandin supported this initiative, it made it possible for diverse cross sections of the community to participate – including artists, teachers, business people, not-for-profit staff, government staff from the county commission, natural resources, corrections and more, people from the Leech Lake Nation, people in transition, volunteers and more to participate. People met new friends and brought a variety of worldview perspectives into the room, where people “met” each other in the most interesting and sometimes unexpected places because they brought their curiosity to the conversations.

The stories of impact are still being collected. It is the stories that bring alive what is possible. The stories convey both subtle and large examples of bringing the practices to life. The last set of deeper dive trainings is happening in August 2015 and the programs are filling fast with previous participants, many of whom are planning to bring more people with them.

Itasca County is a beautiful example of the ripple effect that emerges as people change the way they approach meetings and conversations to get to the heart of what matters quickly, to evoke action that impacts, lasts and makes a difference across the region.

Front End Load Your Planning Process – Need and Purpose

“If you are at a meeting and you don’t know why you are there, why ARE you there?” I have heard Jerry Nagel say this often enough when he teaches the Chaordic Stepping Stones at a training. The same goes for a planning process. “If you don’t know why you are doing something, why ARE you doing it?”

Audrey Moen in the circle with others taking in a teach by Jerry Nagel.

Many planning processes jump right into logistics (the 8th Stepping Stone, by the way) – budget, where the meeting will be, what the agenda is, important people who need to there. Then, when the planning team tries to decide what should happen during the meeting or planning process, people are unclear and sometimes confused or there are too many ideas floating around as meeting agenda is fitted to logistics rather than fitting logistics to the purpose of the work.

Purpose imagePurpose is the invisible leader. It keeps a  community engagement process, planning process or meeting agenda on track. Purpose arises out of Need. Taking the time to reach clarity on need and purpose is, what I often tell my clients, a front end loaded process. It takes time. It can get messy – anyone resonate with, “Let’s just make a decision!” And it can change the quality of the whole process. It is part of what we refer to as slowing down to go fast.

Need is an understanding of the current situation – the reason you have decided that something should be done, planned, convened. When the Need is clearly understood, the articulation of Purpose is often easy. Getting to the root Need can take some exploration and conversation because sometimes the Need that appears most obvious is fuelled by less obvious underlying patterns, behaviours or structures.

Jerry often shares a story about a school district he worked with. School funding comes from area rates and the community had refused, several years in a row, to increase the area rate to address some maintenance issues in the school – the roof needed fixing, the seats were broken and there were other maintenance issues. As he asked the planning team about need they repeated these things several times until someone finally had an insight. The relationship between the school and the community was broken. This was the deeper need to be addressed. Recognizing this changed the whole approach to the planning process.

A few years ago, I worked with a group in Nova Scotia focused on breakfast programs in schools. There were some changes in the environment impacting the organization that delivered these programs and prompting the exploration of a new means to deliver breakfast programs. The most obvious need was to ensure and organizational structure for ongoing breakfast program delivery. The deeper need was a recognition that children who had breakfast were better learners. The planning team recognized the need to nourish the children so they could learn better and the idea of nourishment was expansive, offering the possibilities of broader interpretations (but still very focused) into the future which led to the development and name of a new organization – Nourish Nova Scotia.

Nourish Nova ScotiaUnderstanding the need led to this purpose: To cultivate generations of healthy eaters. And, to this  vision: All Nova Scotia children and youth are well nourished to live, learn and play. With a bit of extra clarification: We aim to support the nutritional well-being of children and youth and desire to build their food knowledge and skills so they can feed themselves well into a healthier future.

Need and Purpose conversations often take a group into a groan zone which is one of the reasons people want to cut it short to get to the “important” tasks of planning. When this happens, it is common that the groan zone just gets transferred to some other part of the process, slowing it down somewhere else. Holding people in the space of a groan zone is a leadership skill.

Also, in any given project there may be multiple layers of need and purpose identified. For a project I’m working on with the United Way in Halifax right now, we are planning a community engagement event in September. That event has a need and purpose identified. There is a desire (even a need) to recruit a planning team representative of the community to ensure success. The need for the planning team has been identified as well as the purpose. And there is a meeting planned to invite potential planning team members  to step up and the need and purpose of that launch meeting has also been identified. The need and purpose of the planning launch meeting and the planning team are aligned with the need and purpose of the community gathering (I want to say, of course) and having this clarity at each step of the process keeps the whole thing on track.

KJ explaining something at WC table CA Women's leadershipSometimes the conversation is iterative as understanding of Need and Purpose may evolve through the course of the planning process. Yet, when these two stepping stones are clear, the rest of the planning process can unfold quickly.