Art of Hosting: Example of a Collaborative Network

The Art of Hosting is an example of a collaborative network.  It’s not the only one but it is the one I am most familiar with and it is the one I find myself speaking about most often when the topic of new models of organization or business comes up.

The Art of Hosting network emerged organically, even before it was called Art of Hosting (AoH) as practitioners of dialogic processes gathered to inquire into what it was they did that was different and what were the conditions that contributed to their successful consulting or process work.  They created the conditions for relevant and meaningful conversations to occur in such a way that the conversations individuals, organizations and communities had were different and more impactful than the ones they traditionally had had and where wiser, more informed action often emerged.

As trainings were offered – always co-hosted by a team, they were a place of co-learning and open source sharing and such a meeting of mind, heart and spirit that people naturally wanted to stay in touch to continue sharing and learning.   Teams of hosts were invited into the same work together and variations of these host teams emerged as people newly introduced to AoH who wanted to deepen their understanding and practice began to call AoH trainings and join host teams.

Somewhere along the way, the AoH listserve was born and, as is typical of listserves, there are sporadic bursts of activity around themes that catch fire among some list serve members and there is also silence for some periods of time.

There were always people who carried a deep curiousity about this work and what, for many of the AoH practitioners I know, is a sense of deep calling.  They – we – work together often, deepening learning and often find each other at other gatherings like, for instance, ALIA.

From early on the notion of stewarding began to emerge and there have been many conversations along the way about what is stewarding, what is a steward, who is a steward, what is the AoH, how do we protect the integrity of this work, is there a brand, what do we do when someone calls an AoH training and no one in the network seems to know who they are.  These kinds of questions are integral to gatherings of stewards – practitioners who do not just use the AoH in their work but tend to the larger field.  A steward seems to be someone who understands deep within themselves what we call the DNA of the AoH – the formative field from which the AoH emerged.

Over the last decade, the number of AoH offerings has grown exponentially through public offerings and through client work that many of us are engaged in. These offerings have now occurred literally around the world, although not in every country yet.  We have experimented with forms of AoH like the Art of Participatory Leadership, the Art of Collaborative Leadership, the Art of Social Innovation, the Art of Harvesting, the Art of Protection, the Art of Humans Being and I’m sure there are more.

The AoH network is not without its faults or its own shadow.  It resists defined structure, hard and fast rules and continues to be organic despite calls from time to time for definitive answers.  It resists responding in traditional ways and roles.    Not everyone is happy with the way it works. And it works exceptionally well.

There is no central office and there are no staff.  While not a perfect system, AoH host teams are invited to share a percentage of the revenue earned in trainings to help support the technology that is key to connecting this global community and to offer something to those in this network who host this on our behalf.  And any of us can also contribute personally.

The AoH community is held together by a strong sense of purpose and principles in the work, a commonality of language and practice and core methodologies, processes, and world views. We understand that before we can host others, we must host ourselves and that we grow the body of knowledge and our own knowledge and practice through communities of practice.

It is easy to find people to work with on small and large projects and on systemic change work because there is such a strong alignment of principles and values.  I’m a sole practitioner but I’m not a sole practitioner because at any given time I either draw on the body of knowledge of the AoH or the mates I have in this network.  I have the privilege and benefit of often working on international hosting teams – here and elsewhere.

As the network grows, the sense of caring for the core of the AoH grows stronger amongst those of us who feel we are stewarding something here,  recognizing that it is completely impossible to control how it spreads, nor would we want to.  That is both the beauty and power of it – and the frustration.   It is a chaordic organization.

When we come together as teams to work together there are no hard and fast rules but there is certainly a sense of honour and integrity in relationships and of patterns of hosting and relationship.  We operate by agreement and we determine who and how host team members get paid by agreement achieved in conversation each time we gather.    People who are not part of this network sometimes have a hard time understanding that we don’t necessarily need a written contract to work with each other (like when one of my good friends was trying to get into Halifax to co-host with me and others and the customs officials asked several times to see the non-existent contract).

We care deeply about this work, about this body of knowledge, about this community and about the relationships we have entered into that are enduring for many of us.  We have a lot of conversation – purposeful conversation.  We don’t have a lot of structure.

A lot of information on AoH can be found on the website and on the community ning.  What I’m offering here is just one version of a very large story, the beginning of which I did not actually witness.  I don’t think this form of organization is the right form for every organization but with the clients I work with who are in a question of what next and how to structure their organization, I offer it out as an example to take some learnings from.  I also talk about World Cafe and Berkana, among others, as organizations experimenting with different organizational models.  Built on trust.  Built on relationship.  Purpose.  Principles.

And, it will be one of the collaborative networks used as an example during the Art of Collaborative Leadership next month in Halifax as we explore the conditions that foster good collaborative networks and what their role is in shifting the shape of the world.

Creating Conditions for Collaborative Conversations

Collaboration is a process where two or more work together with deeply held collective intention and determination to reach a shared objective.  As  the planning for the Art of Collaborative Leadership (March 16-18 in Halifax) begins, we are becoming even more curious about what it really means to be collaborative, the leadership or relational skills that foster collaboration and the subtle changes that can shift the shape of a relationship from defensive, tentative, co-existing or cooperative to collaborative.

The opportunity for collaborative relationships begins to show up when we recognize there could be more power or strength in creating a collaborative space or action.  It also begins to show up when we become curious about what more could happen if we could generate a space of shared understanding – although that usually starts from a place of  “I wish they understood us and our point of view better.”

If we want to change the nature of our conversations with others, we first need to change the nature of the conversations we have with ourselves – personally and/or organizationally.  What would need to shift in how you think about potential collaborators in order to open the space for a collaborative relationship to form and then deepen so it has the potential to create sustainable and fundamental shifts in the area/work/system you care about?

What are the different dimensions and depth of collaboration?  What does it take to stay in a collaborative relationship, especially during the episodes of difficulty that often challenge our understanding of the relationships we are in?

These are some of the questions we will be inviting into the Art of Collaborative Leadership.  What about you?  What questions are you holding?  Will you share them?  Will you come?

If you want to come, you can register at this Berkana site.  If you can’t come but want to contribute you can follow the conversation on Twitter using #a0cl or at the Art of Hosting Community Site.

Art of Collaborative Leadership March 16-18/11 Halifax

Can a focus on collaboration, collaborative networks and collaborative leadership as strategies for shift and change create leverage for more sustainable results and the means for  us to move beyond episodes of enthusiasm to fundamental shifts in our work, organizations and communities?

This is one of the questions we will be exploring at the Art of Collaborative Leadership, March 16-18, 2011 in Halifax.  Related themes that will guide and focus our time together:

  • Growing our knowledge  and ways of working with collaborative networks
  • Connecting people, ideas, initiatives in this city (and beyond) who are doing cool things and bumping up against similar challenges to co-learn and co-strategize how to move past those barriers
  • Furthering specific work that participants bring into the training ground so that they leave with clarity about what’s next in their work, project or big idea

An exciting and diverse host team has emerged for this AoCL – diverse in age, perspectives, background and experiences, linked together by our passion for hosting inspired spaces, co-creation and collaboration and for how much we care about what’s happening in the world right now, believing that Collaborative Leadership is one of the routes to shifting the shape of our world(s).

We will be using an on-line forum to begin before the training even starts and to continue to follow the questions and the group learning post the training.  (Anyone can follow us and contribute on Twitter #aocl).  We will be offering the opportunity for participants to join together in a group call or in a one-on-one conversation with someone from the host team (our hosts from New York and Minnesota are wanting to touch in with our community before they arrive for the training).  And we will offer a follow up about 45 days later along with the ongoing online conversation.  We are imagining we may spark a community of practice out of this training, linking to Envision grads and AoH people in this city.

What more will sprout out of this fertile ground?  We have no way of knowing but we are preparing to be surprised!  What about you?  Will you join us?  Will you contribute to the conversation?

The Art of Collaborative Leadership

What if we could grow our courage and resilience in working with the status quo that says it wants to change but doesn’t seem to know how?  What if all we need to do is connect with others doing amazing work in our town who are facing similar challenges so we can grow and learn together how to move beyond episodes of enthusiasm to sustainable, visible and fundamental shifts?

The Art of Collaborative Leadership is an emerging way to meet a world that is increasingly complex and concerned.  It is a training and, more importantly, a practice ground for people who want to discover how collaboration can shift the shape of the world as a new core leadership capacity.  This gathering will contribute to the collective understanding of the Art of Hosting field around the world on how to do this better, more strategically and more meaningfully.  It is to amplify the ways we are working now, partly thanks to social media, and illuminate the networks through which we currently achieve results so we can hone our skill at this and become even more strategic.

We build networks and collaboration through conversation that allows us to discover the cool things we are working on and the cool things there is to know about who we are, what we are passionate about and how we show up in the world.

Mark your calendar for March 16-18, 2011 and prepare to name, illuminate, connect and grow collaborative leadership and networks in this city and beyond.  Registration details available soon.  For an advance copy of the invitation send me a note.

The amazing hosting and calling team – myself, Martin Siesta, Nancy Eagan, Jerry Nagel, Sophia Horwitz, Ryan Deschamps, and Rachel Derrah –  looks forward to meeting you where we all are and leveraging that to see what emerges.