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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hosting Lessons from the Field – Inviting Innovators and Pioneers in Health Care

It is just the beginning of 2012 and already the year has been rich in hosting lessons from the field, diving deep into new levels of awareness around hosting subtleties. It began in Utah early in the month, hosting Healthier Health Care Systems Now with Tenneson Woolf, Steve Ryman and Marc Parnes.

Marc Parnes

Marc, who is a physician, gynaecologist and host from Columbus Ohio, started us off on day 2 with a story intended to set the tone and challenge of the day.  He told of what was to be a routine surgery he was doing on a woman.  When he opened her up and looked inside, what he saw not only surprised him, it alarmed him.  Things that were not supposed to be stuck together were.  He could not see the path for the surgery.  He was not able to see his way.  He did not know how to proceed with the surgery as he stared at this jumble of internal organs.

All eyes were on him as he then he stood up in our circle.  We could feel the anxiety of that moment.  Standing there, Marc planted his feet shoulder width apart, just like he did on the day of the surgery, to ground himself.    As he closed his eyes, he described doing exactly this as he stood beside the woman on his operating table.  Then, with his eyes closed, he reached into the woman and began to feel his way around, searching with his hands for the openings he could not see with his eyes.

When he finished, he knew what to do.  He opened his eyes.  He could now calmly begin the surgery, having expanded his vision of what was possible by “seeing” with other senses.  The surgery was successful.

There was a collective sigh of relief in our circle.

We began to reflect on what Marc’s story had to do with innovation in health care, what it had to do with hosting.

After coming through the first day, we checked in as a host team and invited the voices of others who showed up to participate in the design process.  We tracked our day around purpose and intention.  We felt good about the design and flow of the day and we felt we had challenged people beautifully in our opening circle on day 1 by asking them to speak to the pioneer and innovator inside of them that had responded to the invitation, but not to speak too deeply to their work, promising that would come later.  We sensed that though the day had been good, something was missing.  With reflection, we realized we were still on the ground of old territory and familiar conversation, not the new conversations we had invited people into.

The invitation was to be in a different conversation about health care.  The challenge for this group was to move into what would be a new conversation for each of them. This amazing group of individuals carry in them irrepressible dreams for healthcare systems that thrive; for simplicity that doesn’t deny the complexity, yet responds well to it.  They continue to have high hopes for healthier healthcare despite having been in many, many conversations about shifting the systems within which they work and play.  Those who responded to the HHS call were already innovators and pioneers in health care.   Maybe the new conversation was not a collective conversation about a new global vision about health care but was about individual systems of influence and what was at the edges of their own learning that might be new territory.

Our challenge, as a hosting team, we realized, was in making sure we really did travel to new territory – not an easy challenge given the experience of the people who came.

We continually scanned what we knew that could invite people into new territory. We brought play into our process – a beautifully renewed learning edge.  Collaborative play, allowing us to see and experience our learning beyond the cognitive or intellect.  Then, through reflection, seeing our patterns in work and relationship in whole new ways.  Allowing inspiration to enter in.

At the end of day two, despite traveling much ground in the day, there was still a sense of restlessness in our hosting team that took awhile to fully sense into. Something edgy.  Something still not quite arrived at.

Checking in as a host team and, like the day before, with others interested in our design process, we recognized that we were happy with our design and the flow of the two days. We briefly wondered if we should be satisfied with where we were and consider how to enter and close our last day well. Yet there was something we still had not quite arrived at.  Something about the new conversation we hadn’t quite dug into.

We reflected on what we knew from our Art of Hosting experiences that would push the edges of where we were.  If we were looking for a groan zone or acupuncture point in our process, normally we would look to a point in day two.  But this timing did not show up in day two.  Were we willing to push our own learning and hosting to bring in something even  more edgy in the morning of day three?

We knew we would not get to where we wanted to go through another conversational or intellectual process.  We decided to invite this group of physicians, health care administrators and others into a guided visualization process, to invite them to explore their own future journey in healthier health care now. Following the visualization, we invited them into drawing or illustrating some representation of their experience in the visualization process, followed by a conversation with a partner to really dive into this experience in depth.

The experience was intense and provocative. It shifted the shape of some individuals.  It shifted the shape of our gathering.  It broke the pattern of the old and invited a new pattern. The World Cafe that followed was amazing.  It was sparky. Ideas flowed quickly.  There was a new quality that had entered into our space.

Once we saw it, experienced it, we could name it.  We had shifted from conversations that came from the head to conversations that now came from a deeper place.  The conversations were now embodied. People began to look at their own path and their own systems of influence rather than at points of the system too far beyond their own systems of influence to have any real impact.  We were in new territory.   We observed that embodiment shifted the conversation to deeper and more meaningful places.

As a hosting team we agreed to continue to push the edges of this group, knowing we still had a whole day ahead of us, even though if we had planned a visualization process, we would likely have planned it for the end of day two.  But sensing where we were, knowing what we were aiming for, keeping our essential calling questions close, we pursued our purpose and intention.  We continued to host potential right up to the moment of preparing to close our circle.

It isn’t over until it’s over.  We know that.  I have often heard it said in a hosting team.  And this time we lived it fully with a trust in each other, in what we were sensing and our willingness to flow with what was there.  Even as I write this, it is hard to describe the exact edge we were on or the truth of our experience.  But I’ve been reflecting on it a lot.  These reflections flowed into the last couple of weeks in Brazil, during Warrior of the Heart and a local Art of Hosting stewarding gathering, where we danced with flow to the most amazing degree – letting go of design to sense into what was alive and needed in any given moment.  More reflections on that later.

For now, the richness of the host team learning in Utah stays with me, embodied in my own experience in the best of ways.  I feel myself growing my capacity in hosting in the most delightful of ways, brought out by those I have the privilege to host with.  This year has started off so rich in learning, it makes me deeply curious for what the rest of 2012 will bring.

Innovators and Pioneers in Systems Change

In Utah for Healthier Health Care Systems Now (January 11-13, 2012), we used the 2 Loops Model of Systems Change as one of the framing references for why we were gathered. It is a tool and a framing to understand the work we are individually and collectively in that shifts the shape of health care.  The two loops model looks like this:

 

The first loop represents the old system, the one we often name as the dying system.  The second loop represents the new system, the one we keep claiming we want, the one we think cannot emerge by fiddling with the old, the one we believe is needed to bring our current systems out of crisis.

The problem is, when we begin to think about the complexity of something like health care, where there are so many jurisdictions, so many players, so many interlocking systems,  trying to imagine what this new system or systems could be becomes paralyzing.  The conversation often becomes philosophical and theoretical.  It largely comes from an intellectual and cognitive place focused on all the things that need to shift that are outside our circle of influence.

Some of the frustration in being innovators inside of systems is that the systems begin to push back on the work in small and large ways, leading to the exhaustion, frustration and disillusionment so many leaders in health care experience.  This is all part of the old narrative.  Of course this showed up in our conversations in Utah to greater and lesser degrees depending on the questions, depending on who was in the conversation at any given time.  Any time we were in that conversation, thinking about the new system, it didn’t feel like a new conversation.

So, how could we be in conversation about Healthier Health Care Systems Now without  focusing on the second loop or the new system?  Well, by remembering who we are – pioneers and innovators in health systems – working under the first loop – in the in-between spaces – championing the new or being championed.  We began to focus in on and explore new questions: Where are the edges of my work?  What is the new territory I could begin to walk when I go home?  How can I draw on the resources in the room to expand my thinking, even turn it upside down and on its head – like the person who relies on gift economy in her practice, for her livelihood?  What more becomes possible in generative spaces with other innovators?  This was a different conversation, in tone, texture and energy.  This one did not come from the head. It was embodied in a whole new way – the beginnings of a new narrative of health.

The awareness of the old narrative and of the stuck places infiltrated us in the best of ways at the end of the first day of our three day gathering.   Someone suggested what we needed to do was create a vision of the new.  Ordinarily I might agree.  In this case though, that didn’t feel right.  It felt like it would take us further off track given that our roomful of people were geographically stretched from coast to coast across two countries with countless “systems”?

So, without taking our eye off the intention of shifting the narrative of health, we refocused on innovating and pioneering and guerrilla tactics of  hosting, collaborating and co-creating, engaging those around us in this journey that is health.  We didn’t leave with a specified vision of the new system.  We left heartened in our respective journeys, knowing the way to the future is through new processes, deeper conversations and finding our way with as many of our friends and colleagues as we can attract, engage and embolden along the way.

As we continue to shine the light on the experiments already underway, the successes, the challenges and the “failures”, and tap into the individual and collective resilience that is fighting to emerge, we can remember it is a journey that will shift and change as we go.  We remember life actually wants to help and it wants to heal. If we focus on how to expand our individual systems of influence and share those stories with our friends, our collective system of influence automatically begins to expand.  What seems like isolated work informs pockets of work elsewhere and we grow an energetic field that is part of the new, part of the second loop and is fueled by everyone stepping into innovative, courageous and pioneering ideas and projects.

I still can’t see what that second loop is for health care – other than it is about health and it is healthier.  I’m not sure anyone who showed up for this conversation can see the second loop either.  But I am absolutely sure that the innovators and pioneers are already prototyping what’s possible, what’s new, and in this work more and more of the new and the new narrative will show up.  I am reinvigorated by what’s possible, by the people who continue to explore these questions, who challenge the status quo, despite possible personal risks in doing so and know that there are better and more healthy ways to engage health care.

I and my hosting mates are committed to convening more of these conversations with people compelled to be in them to grow the field.  We envision large gatherings of people convening in new ways, continuing to innovate our way into the new system(s) so that maybe one day we will wake up and see in front of our eyes what we once thought impossible – a new generative system of health resilient enough and healthy enough to be sustainable in unexpected and beautiful ways.   If we take our eyes off the urgent need for something that feels impossible and put it in the places where possibility thrives… well, what more is there to imagine or say?

Steve Ryman, Tenneson Woolf, Kathy Jourdain, Marc Parnes

 

 

2 loops of systems change

Healthier Health Care – Now! A Little Taste of What’s Cooking

We wondered what would happen if we invited friends from across North America to convene in Salt Lake City, Utah around the question of Healthier Health Care Systems Now?  We were amazed.  We began by sharing who we are – the innovator and pioneer in us that  compelled us to come to this conversation.  Then we shared the exciting work we are engaged in.  We talked about the “system” and discovered “it” was never A system and “it” was not about health.  We moved from talking about systemic issues that felt as philosophical as we know they are real and moved into embodying the conversation, coming from a place of deep connection to ourselves, each other and the work that continues to call us in the worlds we work and travel in.  The insights, themes and cool learning are just beginning to percolate for each of us.  More, much more, is cooking.

It was beginning to cook before we even arrived in Salt Lake City.   We discovered healthier health care was such a compelling question people went to great lengths to get there.  Some initially said no and then found a way to come.  Others felt the question so urgently they used vacation days and airmiles to get there.  One person even crowd funded her flight.

Twenty-six of us arrived on January 11, 2012 – physicians, naturopaths, other practitioners, administrators and consultants from heath, public health, dentistry, acute and long term care from Nova Scotia, Ontario, Alberta, Ohio, Minnesota, Winsconsin, Illinois, Texas, Oregan, Washington and Utah.  Everyone an innovator or pioneer already working diligently on shifting the shape of health care within their spheres of influence.  We all brought stories of change and deep and compelling questions. We made instant connections that inspire us to go deeper and to keep at it.

This will continue to simmer and cook for quite some time to come.  I will have more to share here about this conversation at the beginning of 2012, curious to see how it might grow as we convene a community of practice for those who were there, those who wanted to be and couldn’t make it and those who begin to find their way to this particular conversation in their own way.

You can find snippets of harvest on Twitter by searching #HHSUtah.  Thanks to Amanda Fenton, who was with us from afar, for stepping in and compiling our tweets @Storify.

I offer here a little taste of a quick and fun harvest at the end of day 2 as we went around our circle and each of us added a line to the unfolding story of our journey together. I didn’t catch every word, but it will give you some small essence of the experience, recognizing some references are very specific to our experience, and it will have to tide you over til the next post.

“There were a bunch of hooligans in a house by the mountain.  They thought of themselves as pioneers, radically re-engineering, brought together by living systems that taught them how to transfer what they are learning and experiencing into what they are doing now – open to possibility.  In sharing, they saw new connections and unique opportunities.  They described them as opportunities to change and blow shit up.  These hooligans had so much to think about, they sat in circle, played, visualized and created on many levels a new vision of what they were yearning for – simplicity, wellness, with open heart toward the future to bring this new narrative to everyone.  Envisioning systems that bring forth vision and health, letting go of the old to release into timeless universe.  They pondered next action.  In the middle, they went deep into the cellar to share unique fonts and forms of creativity.  They came together to discuss the topic but it was more than the sum of its parts – human nature – own beauty, higher power and purpose run in each of them and each other with gratitude, although we do fear discovering in horror on FB the shaking moments, with brains exploding in chaos, guerrilla gardening and permaculture parties.  But then, a pause for reflection and even more to emerge.  Finished.  No shame.  Amazing thing, working hard to create something different.. but in the end, they were different, a community – and in their differences they found their common humanity from which to go back to the places they came renewed, reinvigorated, inspired to innovate on!”

With gratitude to all who were there, all who held the rim of this gathering from afar and specifically to my fellow hosts Tenneson Woolf, Steve Ryman and Marc Parnes for an experience that will be long remembered, in a gathering where the new narrative of health was activated, the field of innovation in health care where we meet was amplified and shifting the shape of health care in our spheres of influence has been accelerated.

Exceptional is not an Extension of Good

“There is a fundamental discontinuity between good and great,” was one of the assertions Ray Ivany, President and Vice-Chancellor of Acadia University, made during a talk at a recent Knightsbridge Robertson Surrette event.  He was invited to speak on the topic of being the best and his talk was an insightful blend of the human dynamics and structural components necessary for exceptional performance.

“Exceptional is not an extension of good but it’s in a completely different place,” he said as he shared the following diagram with us.  Imagine that organizational effort is represented by a helium balloon that is attached to a stake in the ground by an elastic tether.  It manages to rise to the expectations of good performance without too much effort.  And, with some effort and exertion, it can stretch into the category of great.  However, it takes sustained effort to keep it there and as soon as the pressure is taken off, the elastic tether immediately yanks that balloon back into the category of good.

Great is not on the same continuum as Good

In order to allow it to stay in the zone of great, you actually need to sever the tether that holds it in place.   If you believe that great is discontinuous from good, the organizational and human strategies needed to move to and stay in great or exceptional performance are fundamentally different.

In looking at this diagram, it occurred to me that not only is good the enemy of great, it is probably the enemy of itself as well.  As soon as we think we are onto something good, we want to institutionalize it by creating standards and policies to maintain it.  This standardization means we often prevent the organization from conceptualizing the strategies that lead to great.  On the other side, the more we insist on standardization without the ability to continually adapt, the greater the likelihood we actually unintentionally shift our organization from good to mediocre by insisting on standards that often lose their meaning and relevance over time.

From this place of mediocrity, leaders still try to aim their people for excellence without any hope of getting there and the people are often frustrated in their efforts to shift organizational thinking and performance and no one really understands why.

We only shift the shape of our organizations from good to great, and stay there, when we build in the systems and the capacity to take different risks – one of those risks being failure.

Looking at this diagram and the capacities necessary to shift into a whole new category of performance reminded me of the Chaordic Path where one of the key questions is: “what is the minimum amount of elegant structure required to enable us to act in purposeful ways that lead to wise action and meaningful results?”  This is also the amount of structure that allows an organization to stay nimble and responsive to its environment, creating the conditions for chaos to emerge into its own sense of order and cultivating the adaptive and collaborative leadership that is also a strategy for exceptional performance.

Ray’s comments were entirely consistent with many of the steams of thought that show up in the Art of Hosting community and body of knowledge, providing a beautiful avenue of reflection for me.  The next entry will focus on some of the human dynamics elements that comprised the other main thread of this thought provoking talk.

Prototyping Collaborative Leadership at Capital Health – Citizen Engagement and Accountability

Citizen Engagement and Accountability Portfolio

In May 2009, the creation of a portfolio within Capital Health with the title of “Citizen Engagement & Accountability” presented a rare opportunity to create something that had no precedent.  The portfolio was launched in response to the strategic stream of Citizen Engagement that came out of the Strategic Quest work in 2007.

Lea Bryden was tasked with bringing together three functional areas under this new portfolio: Marketing and Communications, Community Health Boards and Patient Representatives.  In looking across the country, they found themselves virtually alone as there were no models to inform the portfolio development.

In January 2010, Kathy Jourdain and Tony Case, through Shape Shift Strategies Inc., were contracted to assist in shifting the shape of this portfolio.  The intent was to truly create a new portfolio with collective purpose, principles and streams of work and not just perpetuate the three existing functional areas under a new name.  Some of the functional work would be the same and new work would emerge through the process but all of it would be informed by the collective purpose.

This work was given context and framing by the following pre-existing pieces of work:

  • Our Promise
  • Declaration of Health
  • My Leadership: Being, Caring, Doing
  • Citizen Engagement Strategic Stream
  • 2013 Milestones

In addition to wanting to honour CEO Chris Power’s intention in asking the question: “What kind of future could we create if the vision of Our Promise and belief in our Declaration of Health showed up at each of our touch points in the course of our day?”, Lea also wanted to uncover the unique gifts and contribution of each member of the portfolio and understand how they came together as a collective.  And, it was  very much a mechanism to create a cultural shift to even greater transparency and accountability.

This process invited a design team to co-design the process.  There was initially a very specific invitation to a member of each of the three functional areas. As the process unfolded participation in the design process was completely open and transparent and those with the greatest interest and passion continued to participate in the process.  Some people showed up in the beginning because they thought they should and then kept showing up because they saw how their contribution directly influenced the design of each session.

This work took place over a period of four or five months to establish collective purpose, principles, priorities, and strategies.   It took into account other work that was underway in the organization, incorporating things like the budget planning process or the response to Capital Health’s community engagement recommendations right into the process so the portfolio could learn how and when to respond as a portfolio to other moving parts of the organization.

We knew we were making headway when we hit the groan zone.  The collective purpose and principles were articulated and we began to hear, “Oh good.  We have what we need.  Can we be done?  Can we get back to our regular work now?”  This was a signal to push back.  Lea did this by asking a simple question, “Where are we seeing evidence of our collective intention at work?”  The responses were amazing, informative and represented a turning point.

A philosophy of our work as consultants was to transfer collaborative leadership skills into the portfolio so it could flourish once our involvement came to an end.  The portfolio created a transition team to continue to guide the work and this team is also working collaboratively.

A key contributor to the success of this initiative was Lea’s willingness to foster collaborative leadership and her openness to growing her own awareness and skills in the process.

Like all significant culture shift initiatives, there are certainly bumps along the way.  But there is lasting change in the way this portfolio views itself, understands its work and engages with the public.

Prototyping Collaborative Leadership at Capital Health – Infusion

In March 2007 Capital District Health Authority (CDHA) in Halifax, Nova Scotia took on a planning process called Strategic Quest.  A significant component of Strategic Quest included public participation in an unprecedented way, shifting the shape of awareness and thinking at Capital Health.  The results were revealing and the impact continues to reverberate throughout the organization today, strongly influencing ongoing public participation in a number of areas and inviting collaborative leadership as a strategy to accomplish many of its goals.

One initiative I was involved with where Collaborative Leadership was an essential part of the process was Infusion: a gathering in November 2008 of 70 leaders from across North America, in our local community and within Capital Health, convened to inform what bold and unique leadership development within Capital Health could look like.

The planning process for Infusion, championed by Lea Bryden and led by Shape Shift Strategies, invited and modeled collaboration, shared leadership and shared responsibility.  A diverse group of people from across Capital Health were invited into the planning process.  Many identified the planning process itself as a leadership development opportunity as they experienced collaborative leadership in new ways, stretching beyond their original assumptions about how and what they could each contribute to this unusual event.

Achieving clarity of purpose was the first task.  It required a significant investment of time – several meetings.  It was a difficult task because there were multiple overlapping components all alive and unfolding as we were in this planning process.  We stayed in the conversation until sharp clarity was achieved and then rest of the planning process unfolded rapidly because it was guided by this clarity of purpose.  We also actively worked with Theory U in the planning process and for the event itself.

The planning process always had a forward momentum, even when people missed meetings.  As they came back in, they found their place in the process and continued to contribute constructively.  They could step into and out of the flow of the process without having to back track and rehash decisions made when they were not present.

The two day Infusion event drew on the talents of everyone on the planning team.  Invited guests: leaders from a vast array of backgrounds, many of whom were leadership consultants, were asked to bring their knowledge and expertise in a participatory way.  It was at times a challenging field to hold.  The team was able to hold its ground as we went through the fire of chaos, adjusting design in the moment and holding space for some anger and frustration that unexpectedly arose within the group because of the collaborative leadership we had been growing throughout the planning process.

Infusion did not end in a nice tidy wrapped up bundle and Lea Bryden, myself and the team were good to leave it that way while taking away the gems that guided the development of My Leadership – a truly unique leadership development initiative inside of Capital Health with a bold vision and goals that has since had 500 leaders complete and won a number of regional and national awards.