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.

Worldview Awareness – Imagining the Possibilities

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It might have been in 2005, when I took part in my first Art of Hosting (AoH) Conversations that Matter training on Bowen Island, that I first heard the term worldview, although I can’t be sure. Then and later, if it was talked about, it came in the context of a mechanistic worldview and a living systems worldview, comparing several points of each and recognizing that AoH operates from a living systems worldview. In my experience of AoH trainings, that was pretty much it until, in 2011, I started co-hosting with Jerry Nagel from the Meadowlark Institute in Minnesota.

Jerry was and is steeped in worldview awareness partly through working on his PhD dissertation that looks at social constructionist theory, worldview and the Art of Hosting and partly because of the deep and evolving practice he and we have been bringing around worldview in AoH trainings and beyond. Because of this, we have been developing a more comprehensive approach to worldview and worldview awareness than I had been exposed to before. Jerry and I, and friends and colleagues like Stephen Duns, Dave Ellis, Carolann Wright-Parks and others, have been adopting, exploring and adapting a worldview teach and practice in new, innovative and exciting ways.

What we have been learning from participants in the worldview awareness conversations in the AoH trainings we have led, is that the worldview conversation lingers in their awareness long after the training. In the evaluations we conduct a few weeks after each AoH training we do, participants often identify the worldview exploration as the most impactful part of the training. They state that the reflective space they are invited into about worldview(s), where it comes from, what their own worldview is and curiosity about others’ worldviews helps create an understanding of how to give voice and visibility to multiple worldviews and create openings for successfully leading different, more inclusive conversations on issues and challenges that routinely show up in organizations, communities and social systems.

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If this can happen with a conversation over a couple of hours what more becomes possible with a deep dive into worldview awareness or worldview intelligence? This is what we are now on an inquiry to discover. It is what led to prototyping the first introductory day to the Transformative Power of Worldview Awareness in Halifax where we tested a few ideas and reaped enough ideas to inspire possibility for a long time to come. While the AoH conversations focused mostly on individual worldview, the conversation is now expanding to organizational and community worldview as well as creating the conditions for multiple worldviews to be welcomed into stakeholder dialogues and other places where the risks of engagement are perceived to be higher.

In the one day workshop in Halifax, participants came from a wide variety of places including provincial government departments like health and transportation, the school board, Nova Scotia Community College, Halifax Regional Municipality and community agencies. Quite a few had been involved in diversity and inclusion work for years – welcoming of diversity being one of the more obvious outcomes of worldview awareness – and others identified themselves as social change agents.

The learning environment was rich. Going into the day, Carolann, Jerry and I had so many choices of what to include in the one day and then during the day itself we had to make more choices. We know there is ample material for exploration in a variety of offerings. To say our imagination has been sparked would be an understatement. And we are quite inspired by the reflections shared by the participants in our one day offering, a few of which are below.

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A snapshot of some of the participants at the first Introduction to the Transformative Power of Worldview Awareness Workshop.

“I had no idea what I was walking into but knew when Kathy’s name was associated with it, it would be a great ride. I am a change agent. People’s stories here today have influenced my worldview. It is important to understand the other person and their worldview. This is a wonderful tool to initiate the conversation if you want to be or are a change agent. If you can’t get to the conversation, you can’t get to the change.” Change agent, Department of Health, NS Government

“It’s been a helpful day. I feel very validated in my current practice – which for me is heart work not training. I love the worldview approach and have many new trinkets to take away to apply in my work.” Diversity Officer, Higher Education

“I am more ready to ask more questions to try to go deeper in understanding of the issues and challenges we face.” Diversity Officer, Municipal Government

“I came in frazzled looking for the magic bullet to questions I’ve been carrying alone for six years and I am now connected into a community engaged in this work. I have lots more questions but am optimistic there is another approach – through worldview awareness.” Social change agent at an NGO

“I walked in with some assumptions that proved wrong. One day is not enough. I work in isolation in an interesting system. Starting a conversation with a different entry point might help me impact change in the system.” Employment equity officer in a public organization

So… stay tuned. There is more to come. Looking at Minnesota this fall, Australia in the new year and more in Halifax too. We are exploring a comprehensive approach to worldview awareness: transforming differences into progress, seeing how growing worldview intelligence in an area that has not been explored to the same degree or depth that religious and scientific worldviews have been explored will generate social change methods and processes in situations that have challenged the best of what we know to date in engagement strategies and practices.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

 

Long Term Impasse at a Manufacturing Company Resolved With Two Hour World Cafe

Alanna Kennedy turned heads in our opening circle at the March 2014 Art of Hosting offering in St. Paul, Minnesota when she said she had recently hosted a World Café with welders at Emerson, the manufacturing company where she is a production manager. It was so successful she then did one with shippers.  A true life long learner (see about Alanna at the end of this post) and a third generation in manufacturing, she is not looking for what can’t be done, she is looking for how results can be achieved and success rates improved.  And in both of the Cafés she hosted, the outcome had immediate impact.

world cafe Fredericton 2013

In the case of the welders, there was a long term debate surrounding the criteria by which to measure and know if an individual welder was working within and meeting quality guidelines.  Everyone had a different idea.  In a way, the welders and the supervisors and engineers were speaking different languages with different worldviews. They were not able to hear each other across the worldviews and across assumptions of what they thought they knew about the other. The World Café method was an invitation into letting go of what they thought they knew and into becoming curious about what might be possible.

The original debate was about one measurement only – quality errors.  Welders resisted, speaking also about the individual signature of each welder and in some instances unclear written processes. There was a limiting belief, common in many places with many different work groups, that the welders, if left to their own devices, might want to negotiate for the greatest flexibility possible.  Welders know, like many trades and professions, that the quality of work of any one individual reflects on the quality of the whole.  They want high standards.

Alanna, being on the lookout for what works, sees opportunity in many processes and programs intended to address improving quality and operational standards.  Some forecast the failure of rate of programs like Lean and Lean-Six Sigma to develop lasting cultures of continuous improvement to be as high as 60%.  She calls this “fake lean”.   Overall, she says these programs are great at addressing the structure and technology questions for continuous improvement. However, they are lacking in the methods and tools to support the cultural and social development, or people questions, required to develop and sustain, through time, cultures of continuous improvement.  Alanna believes all change starts with social interaction. Change happens and work gets done through people, through the social systems. Enter the Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter, which she found through Action Learning, with an emphasis on working with human systems, recognizing that the wisdom is in the room with the group most directly affected by the proposed change and that there are a few processes specifically intended to elicit the collective intelligence.

After attending a World Café workshop offered by Jerry Nagel of the Meadowlark Institute in Minneapolis, Amy Lenzo of the World Cafe Community and others, Alanna brought fifteen welders from across the three shifts together for two hours in a world café process. They were paid for their time even if they were off duty during the World Café and they were invited into a series of conversations about criteria for assessing a welder’s work.  For this particular Café, managers were present but supervisors and engineers were not invited.  What emerged in two hours was a resolution to the long impasse and a structure that never would have emerged without this café conversation process.

The welders identified three distinct categories of standards: welding skills, manufacturing processes and the individual signature of the welder.  This is a more comprehensive structure than what was proposed by supervisors and engineers and a structure welders were willing to hold themselves and each other accountable to because they want their counterparts to uphold a certain level of professionalism on behalf of the whole.  The results were captured in a document that reflected the conversations and that document was approved by HR and executive managers.  The end result was the resolution of a long term impasse with a better quality of result than had been previously considered possible.

Alanna then did a World Café with shippers who needed new work stations.  Others in the organization had been trying to design a new work station for the shippers but many of the shippers hadn’t been included in the initial planning and they were obviously stalling.  They did not like the proposed design.  Alanna rounded up shippers from all three shifts for a two hour World Café process. There were three tables of five people. The shippers changed tables, circling around design ideas, sharing what would and would not work until three new work bench designs that they believed would support their needs were developed.  In the harvesting, the shippers were able to share their ideas and the reasoning behind their designs with the engineers.  The shippers had the opportunity to engage in a different type of dialogue.  Again, a resolution to an impasse was obtained within a couple of hours by using the world café process.

Was it worth paying the shippers and the welders for their time?  Was it worth a two hour investment of time to call upon the collective intelligence of the group most directly affected by the changes? Was it worth the risk of bringing social technologies to a manufacturing organization?  The results speak for themselves.

Many people who have attended an AoH training or are aware of the methodologies like world café, open space technology, circle practice, appreciative inquiry will often say, “That’s really great, but it will never fly where I work.”  That’s why Alanna turned heads when she said she worked in manufacturing.

When asked how she might respond to people who say, “It will never work here”, she offered, “You have to careful.  I used it where we were stuck and had been working on an issue. In preparation, I bought each of my colleagues a set of books – circle, open space, world café and action learning – and put them on their desks.  I talked to them.  I first gained the support of my peers.”

She was strategic in her approach. The need, purpose and intention for the café were clear.  She knew who she needed to have in the room, and who not to have. She knew the result she was after in each case – eye on the outcomes – and she understood the conditions that would lead to the generative conversations necessary for success.  She had the confidence to take, what for some people, is a risk.  “A critical piece to understand is that all change is facilitated and begins with human interaction.  If you don’t address that, you won’t get the desired results, no matter how good the plan or the technology.”

Why does AoH work? “Because it is not about mimicking what some other company or some other people did to achieve success.  It is about adaptive solutions generated from the people and systems most affected.”

About Alanna Kennedy

Alanna Kennedy

Alanna Kennedy

Alanna loves the manufacturing world.  She describes it as “a unique social laboratory” which is why she deliberately returned to this world after completing her PhD.  She is a “hands on” manufacturing professional formally trained and experienced in operations and materials management with an active interest in the research and development of social systems within organizations as they pertain to the development and sustainability of cultures of continuous improvement.

Her 2011 doctorate in Organizational Development with an emphasis on successful cultures of continuous improvement with a focus on the facilitation and implementation of Lean, Six Sigma, and SEAM (Socio-Economic Assessment of Management) methods is from the University of St. Thomas, MN, where she also completed her MBA in 1990 with a concentration in operations and systems excellence including the use of lean methods.  Her undergrad BA is from the Indiana University Bloomington in Cultural Anthropology and Psychology (1980) with a concentration in social systems and the application of macro economic theory in non-western societies.

She is certified in lean methods by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.  She is CPIM certified by the APICS organization in production scheduling and inventory management, and is a licenced instructor for the global quality standards of electronics with the IPC Association.  She is also a licenced Brain Gym instructor, a kinesiology based program which uses physical movement to improve focus, learning and over all performance, combining it with Action Learning and Brain Gym and observing amazing, accelerated results for people working with stress and goal setting.

She will continue to pursue her curiosity about the integration of AoH practices and patterns with continuous improvement philosophies by doing a deeper dive into some of the individual methods and identifying opportunities for application in industrial environments.

WISE Women Using the Chaordic Stepping Stones

We love to invite the stories of how people use what they learn after attending an Art of Hosting gathering.  It sometimes seems daunting to bring new patterns and practices alive at work, in community or at home.  And sometimes it is hard to recognize yourself in some of the stories shared by the hosting team during the gathering, especially the larger, more high profile or long term stories.  So sharing where participants are stepping into practice in large and small ways helps illuminate many different entry points into shifting the shape of teams, organizations, communities and ways of being in the world – including in the first practice of the four fold practice of hosting self. This is the first such sharing of how Art of Hosting works for new and seasoned practitioners.  Perhaps you will see yourself or your starting point through these stories.

A team from the WISE Women organization in Newfoundland attended an Art of Hosting training in Fredericton in January of 2013.  They wanted to understand how to better support some of their clients in community engagement.  When asked a couple of months later how they were incorporating what they learned, this is what they shared.

“We definitely are using the practices and methods of the Chaordic Stepping Stones for our strategic planning sessions for the WISE/WEC Custer Project on Bell Island.   Currently working on the ‘Limiting Beliefs’.   Of course the awareness is helpful and making some of the beliefs conscious and shared has been bonding.”

Chaordic Path

She further shared, “Personally, I am using the World Café format for an upcoming ‘RED HAT Society’ Event I am hosting for 100 seniors in the community.  This format is working wonderfully for sharing of health related issues and information.”  – Linda Hickey

 

Navigating Decision Making Dilemmas

The increasing complexity of our environments – at work, in community and at home, time crunches and decision making pressures often leave us wanting for good decision making processes – especially when 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 the decision meets resistance because people impacted were not involved in the decision making process. Collective decision making often misses the mark if dissension, debate or strong personalities dominate the process (meaning some people just give up or give in) and when it seems to take too much time we hit the panic button and believe any decision will do.  Yet how often are decisions revisited because not enough time was invested in the exploration of options or in creating the generative conditions for conversations that lead to eliciting the collective wisdom and intelligence inherent in any group? Or because leadership under the pressure of chaos or uncertainty turned into the heavier hand of trying to manage the situation?

There are some simple patterns and practices available through the Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter that offer us windows into understanding the human dynamics alive in any group and particularly groups or teams seeking direction or guidance through decision making.

In May 2014, Shape Shift Strategies will be offering a one day workshop in Moncton (May 8) and in Charlottetown (May 15) to explore effective decision making practices.  The emphasis will be on the human dynamic conditions that lead more often to generative conversations and wiser decision making.  We will dive more deeply into the practical application of worldview, powerful questions and divergence/convergence in ways that support collective decision making in teams, organizations, communities and maybe even families.

WorldView hand drawn

Divergence-Convergence Diagram_000001

Information and registration details for both Moncton and Charlottetown are available through Eventbrite. Join us if you can.  Ask how you can bring this one day workshop to your team or organization.

Blinded by White Privilege

“We need an advisory committee to advise the steering committee on how to involve the communities that are not here.”

 “We just need to empower…”

 “We could provide mentors or buddies for people so they don’t feel uncomfortable coming into the room.”

 “Maybe we need someone to come and help us get comfortable with having the conversations.”

All seemingly innocuous comments that are meant to be helpful in addressing a lack of diversity in a room full of forty or so almost all white, highly educated, corporate like people for a conversation about the next steps of a voluntary organization whose mission is dedicated to creating an inclusive society.  Innocuous because, as white people, we do not even know what we are saying.  We are saying, “How do we make it possible or more comfortable for others – the other – to come into our world?”  (And it was a diversity discussion that also included seniors, disabled and very young people as well as people of colour.)

There is no consideration or thought that maybe others don’t want to come into our world or that there are other worlds and world views that exist that maybe we should be more curious about. That we should meet at some point other than in our own world view.  That the invitation to “come and join us and we’ll figure out ways to make it easier for you” might not be all that inviting.

It is the difference between being in your own home and being a cautious guest in the home of another.  Sometimes as guests, we are on our best behaviour. We try to fit into the context of the environment we are in but maybe we never fully relax, never really feel invited to show up fully.  It might even look like we are fitting in but when we go back to our own home, our own environment, we are finally able to relax, knowing someone is not going to judge us or patronize us because of assumptions they are carrying they cannot even see – even when it might be right in front of them in full living colour.  Cannot see because white privilege is blinding.  It blinds us to the things we take for granted without knowing we take them for granted.  In 1988, Peggy Wellesley wrote a thoughtful and eye opening piece on White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.  Twenty-five years later what she writes is just as relevant and real as it was then.

I never have to wonder if I will be followed by store staff or security guards when I go shopping.  I never have to worry about being arrested at night while locking up my place of employment (and certainly not more than once), keys in hand, police parked in the parking lot. I will never be mistaken for the janitor as I move furniture prior to an Art of Hosting training to get the room ready.  But these things have all happened to friends of mine whose skin is not white.

And it is simple but powerful things that often get overlooked, partly because we are not even aware and partly because we don’t understand how important these things are.  Language is one of those things.  I am paying attention to the language and invitation in a way I never did before and it is taking me on a deep journey.  The opening sentences of this post are a beautiful example of how I am listening with new ears and hearing through the lenses of some of my friends who keep challenging, in loving, gentle but fierce ways, my world view.

Carolann and new friends

Ursula Hillbrand, Dave Ellis, Renee Hayne, Carolann Wright-Parks and Barbara (Bob-e) Epps-Simpson – a few of these people (Dave, Carolann and Bob-e in particular) have been instrumental in helping me expand my world view.

Pictures are another thing.  When I asked my good friend Carolann Wright-Parks, with whom I have had the privilege of co-hosting with in service of the African Nova Scotian Faciltiators Guild, if she knew of any African New Brunswickers who might be interested in attending the Art of Hosting training there this past November, she said to me, “Kathy, I looked at that invitation but I didn’t see myself there.”  She wasn’t meaning herself – she was meaning there were no people of colour in the pictures.  The pictures were from the previous AoH training in New Brunswick.  There were no people of colour at that training.

World Cafe with Diversity

Now I have pictures I use of my friends that illuminate the greater diversity that is showing up.

Not too long ago, in my own naivety, I would have shaken my head, wondering why it mattered.  Wondering why we were not attracting people of colour into our trainings.  Wondering why, even though we keep trying to invite it, we cannot achieve greater diversity.  But now I know why it matters.  It matters because I don’t see it when I look at pictures. Blinded by the white, I do not even realize I identify with the people in the pictures.  I am already there.  Many of my friends haven’t been able to identify with the people in the pictures in the same way.  I am much more aware now of the pictures I use in invitations.

In Minnesota, there are a few good friends in an exploratory conversation – Dave Ellis, Barbara (Bob-e) Simpson-Epps, LeMoine LaPointe, Nancy Bordeaux, Jerry Nagel and myself about what it takes to generate transformative conversations on power, privilege, race and racism – because the ones we’ve been in aren’t yet creating the kind of shift we believe could be possible.  The language of social justice, restorative justice and racial justice has only taken us so far.  What is the language that is needed to take us – all of us – to a different conversation, to a different reflection, to a different perspective, where equality is based on diversity, not on sameness?  What is the language that is a door opener and invitation to shifting the shape of the conversation as we’ve known it?  We don’t know it yet.  We don’t presume to know it.  We know it is needed and we feel now is a time of greater receptivity.  We are excited and hopeful to be in the exploration.  Just like we are in the exploration of Growing Hosting Artistry at the end of January 2014 in Minnesota where we will explore world view, creating safe containers, working with shadow and a few other themes that seem central to growing our depth and capacity as hosts.

Now when I am in a meeting like the one I described above, I find myself stirred up and agitated, sometimes even outraged whereas I know a couple of years ago I would not have seen it.  I would only have seen how progressive the people and the thinking are – which is also true.  And that makes me curious. More and more I am aware of bringing expanded listening and awareness and a willingness to speak up from gained experience and exposure to questions and friends who will not let me rest in naivety or white blindness. And I am grateful to my friends for their boldness, courage and willingness to be in the openness of challenging our limiting beliefs so we can host ourselves into what will hopefully be the transformative space, individually and collectively, that will show us the way into the transformative conversations we are yearning for.

Sit by the River or Engage?

“If you sit by the river long enough you can watch the bodies of your enemies float by.”  – The Art of War

This is an expression offered often by my good friend and colleague Jerry Nagel, particularly when conflict surfaces, and it comes from The Art of War. It is a provocative and intriguing statement and I have been viewing it as invitation.  An invitation to pause.  An invitation to host self. An invitation to sense whether to engage a conversation or situation with someone else or let it be.

Mississipi river

Not every conversation is worthy of engaging.  Not every conversation will produce results or take you to a clearer place. Not every conversation will do what you think or hope you want it to do. Coming from an Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter perspective, you might wonder if that is almost a sacrilegious thing to say; but perhaps part of the discernment is in whether ultimately the conversation will matter – and to whom?

To truly invite a conversation that might be powerful, it is helpful to discern your own desire and motivation in wanting the conversation.  This is part of the inquiry in the pause, in hosting self.  What is the reason for the conversation? Are you really wanting a conversation or do you just want to make your point or download on the other person and not care about or hear their point of view?

This is where a second bit of advice is useful:  “Feedback should be given from the part of you that wants to grow and learn to the part of them that wants to grow and learn.”  I’m not sure where it is from but I heard it in an Open Space session that Juanita Brown initiated on World Café at the Art of Hosting Stewards Gathering in October 2013 in Minnesota.  It gave me pause and invited me to reflect about some situations requiring my discernment – whether to invite a conversation or not – or a few.

When you ask yourself if you want to give feedback from the part of you that wants to learn and grow, it becomes pretty clear.  If you are willing to be in conversation, if you can do it without attachment to how the other person takes it in, you might be ready to invite the conversation.  If you are only wanting to download and don’t want to hear the other person’s perspective then it might not be wise to engage the conversation – because it is not a conversation you are wanting, only an opportunity to express yourself, your frustration or your hurt.  An opportunity to blame someone or point out where they are not hosting themselves – from your perspective of course – because how do you know they are not hosting themselves in whatever way they relate to that practice of presence?  It is your assumption, your lens, your perspective, your judgment and it might not be true. And, in all likelihood, it is not true in their experience of themselves – as hard you might find that to believe.

And it also quite likely the other person’s actions have nothing to do with you and more to do with them, what they need, what they hope for.  You just happen to seem to be in the way.  Sitting by the river will help you discern that.  If it has nothing to do with you, and the other person is either intentionally or unintentionally trying to cause harm, eventually it will catch up to them and they will, metaphorically of course, float down the river. We see or feel lack of alignment in others, even when it is not clear, even when we cannot put a name to things.  Simply waiting may reveal far more than engaging – in some situations, since we are our own worst enemies and motivation and intention eventually reveal themselves.

Sometimes when you are being challenged it has nothing to do with you. By hosting yourself you might be able to sort that out.  If you engage something in a defensive or challenging way you are more likely to fuel the situation than turn it into a powerful conversation. And you can ask yourself questions like: What is the point of engaging?  Will it be a learning field?  Is there an ongoing relationship that needs to be tended to? Can it be left alone?

When you do engage, engage the conversation, not the person. Invite the conversation with as much clarity as you can and bring the level of fierceness to it that will make it powerful.   Sometimes that is a light touch and sometimes it is very fierce and it can be more fierce when it comes from a place of clarity and compassion.

And sometimes the conversations “just” happen on their own – ready or not. Right timing. Right moment. Right circumstance. And if you’ve been in an exploration of your own motivations, intent and clarity, you will be ready, even if you don’t feel ready. And it is always a choice – even in the times you might feel it is not. Sit by the river or engage?