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.

Advertisements

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.

2010 Enduring Impression – Deep Gratitude

People who know me who are familiar with my  life’s journey know that I have very few short stories.  I have the most amazing, incredible and sometimes almost unbelievable stories of my life and 2010 was no exception.  This year continued to bring some very big stories of experience into my life.  2010 has been a year of completion where I became aware that a five year deep transition period came to a close, opening up into a much gentler and no less transformative era of unfolding  – one I hope endures into the rest of my life.

This year has brought the deepest sense of trust in this life journey that I have ever experienced, searing into my awareness how much I am supported in the world and in my journey.  I have been aware of this over the years but there was some associated doubt, worry and fear.  No longer.  I have landed with exquisite delight and amazing joy in this place of trust.  When I do notice doubt, fear or angst lurking around the edges I know now to inquire into it and to ask for support to navigate my way through it with far more grace than I could have imagined possible.

I have learned depth of relationship and the gift I have for creating the space for this by being open, vulnerable, curious, loving and open hearted.  I have been gifted with depth and beauty of friendship by learning to be present and available for the relationship that is available to me, rather than wishing for relationship that is not.

Highlights for 2010 include the Art of Social Innovation at Windhorse Farm in NS  in April,  moving into my new house in Bedford in May, attending ALIA in Halifax in June, visiting my sister and her husband on vacation with my youngest son in July, Warrior of the Heart training and the Art of Hosting Stewards gathering on Bowen Island in BC in August, Brazil, beautiful, amazing Brazil in October and then the Berkana Weaving the Web gathering in New York also in October, an invitation into a beautiful spiritual women’s circle in November.  Permeated throughout all of these events or gatherings is the people, the rich friendships, people I love dearly who I also often have the good fortune to work with, some of whom I just met in this last year and others I have known for a very long time, all of whom I feel deep connection with.

As this year draws to a close, my most enduring feeling is one of deep gratitude – for what has evolved and emerged in my life, for this new constant of joy and falling in love everyday, for my children who touch me deeply and from whom I learn lots, for my dad who loves me unconditionally, my mother who continues to show me the extent of soul journey on this earth, to my friends here and all over the world who have my back and I have theirs, to the shamanic journey that has characterized my path far more than I ever knew, for this deep sense of trust that is becoming ingrained in me, to sensing deeply into where I am supposed to go, what I am supposed to do and how I can best do that which is mine to do.

I love how the shape of my life has shifted in this last year and I surrender fully into how it will want to shift in the coming years.  For the beginning of 2011, I feel expansiveness and readiness – ready to accept more into my life in every conceivable way, ready to be of service to that which is mine to do, ready to nourish relationships I care deeply about and ready to receive all that is wanting to flow into my life.

New Models of Organization and Work – Are We Ready?

The shape of the world is shifting, pretty dramatically and quickly, right now.  Are we ready?  Are organizations and systems ready? These questions have completely captured my attention fueled by the conversations and places I’ve been in lately.

I’m not sure we are ready and I’m not sure we will ever actually be ready for the shift that is emerging in the world right now.  Systems and organizations are designed to be self perpetuating.  Threat and opportunity are viewed through the lenses and structures of the system or organization – we usually believe that we only have a certain amount of scope within which to bring about change – we can only get certain people’s attention for brief periods of time, we need to work within the system, within the structures, because there are some things you cannot change, some things that will not work.  They may reflect current reality but they are also limiting beliefs and as long as enough people buy into them, radical change will be stalled.  Yet radical change may be what is lurking right around the corner, ready or not.

What gives me hope?  One is the conversations I’ve been in lately around the 2 Loops of Systems Change with my Berkana friends and beyond.  You can read a bit about it here and you can find my own hand drawing of the model here: 2 Loops of System Change

This model shows that in the peak and the beginning of the decline of the mature systems, there are alternatives already beginning to appear.  These alternatives need space to find their way.  Some will grow stronger and some will fail.  The ones that do grow stronger need to begin to connect with each other to grow collective and individual strength and capacity.  There are people in the mature system (stewards or sometimes called “toxic handlers”) who see and understand the importance of this work and who hold the space and clear the way for these alternatives to grow.

The alternatives do tend to fly under the radar and are often not widely known, but they are there.  Maybe they will be ready in the event of collapse of the old systems although it is hard for me to fully imagine what a collapse of the old systems will look like.  Maybe we are already seeing it but just not recognizing it for what it really is.

While existing organizations are entrenched in their structures and processes, newer, usually smaller organizations  have greater flexibility, resourcefulness and resilience and the greater capacity to totally rethink how they are structured, how they deliver their goods or services to the world.  They often can do this at less cost because they don’t have as much “bricks and mortar” in place as larger organizations and it feels less risky because they have “less to lose”, or so it might seem.

What has me excited is the possibility of new business models that can emerge now.  I have found myself sharing stories about networks – the Art of Hosting network, World Cafe, Berkana to name a few – because these networks recognize themselves as networks, organic and emergent.  They trust in the capacity of people to self-organize and are held together and flourish because purpose and principles are clear.  They have a minimum structure and sometimes struggle with how to live models of organization that are outside of traditional structures, particularly because in times of stress people push for what they already know and are comfortable with.    They are open source, openly sharing knowledge and new learning in recognition that this sharing grows the body and field of knowledge.

I share what I know about these ways of organizing with businesses and other organizations I am in conversation with, not because I think they should adopt the specific models, but because I think there is wisdom in these ways of organizing that could inform new business models – especially business models that see the value in operating from a place of openness and open heartedness – which I seem to be running into more often lately.

More than ever, I feel we are on the brink of unprecedented social change around the world and I have a greater awareness of just how connected we all are.  I can’t imagine what exactly it looks like but I continue to grow my comfort and skill working at the edges of my own not knowing – thanks to collaborative relationships with people I am privileged to call friends.

Are we ready?  I don’t think we really are.  Does it matter?  This shift will happen whether we are ready or not.  Our greatest path to readiness is to grow our own capacity for resilience, dealing with chaos, complexity, simplicity and not knowing.

My next posting will look at some of these new models of organization to see what we can learn from them and maybe, just maybe, grow our level of readiness even just a tiny bit.

Can Large Organizations Navigate The Shifting Shape of the World?

Can large organizations (including government) that have an abundance of structure and control actually navigate the shifting shape of the world and survive?  Are they even aware of the degree of shifting that is going on in the world and and the need to dramatically reformat structures, processes and ways of thinking?  I’m not even sure they need to be large or have too much control.  Maybe we are just stuck in old ways of doing things and can’t imagine it might not be possible to simply tweak what we do to survive.

I didn’t realize the intensity with which I have been sitting with this question until now as I find it bursting out of me thanks to the conversations I have been in with people from around the world over the last six months and the reading that I’ve been doing lately.  I don’t think this question was even formulated in my mind but I could feel it working in my being, nudging me this way and that, puckering my brow in moments of concentration, confusion and curiosity contrasted with moments of complete openness and open heartedness – taking it all in, beginning to congeal in the most unexpected ways – for me anyway.

The congealing factors seem to be the book I’m reading by Nick Bilton: I Live in the Future and Here’s How it Works and a video on the younger generations and how they experience life and work: We All Want to Be Young.

Bilton writes that “a universal brand is not enough for today’s consumers”, “people will pay for well-packaged offerings – even in the face of free alternatives” and “it is evident that the smaller start-up companies are innovating and pushing the boundaries… They are listening to their customers and creating content that customers are willing to pay for and delivering it to the devices where they want to enjoy it.”  This is in his first chapter on bunnies, markets and bottom line, porn leads the way.  He does write about other things in this book – texting, video games, how communication is changing, storytelling.

Quite frankly, I was surprised to find myself reading about the porn industry but his points really hit home for me.  Bricks and mortar will have a hard time being responsive to what their customers are looking for. The new economy is open source and crowd sourcing.  Businesses that have made a living off of protected content and protected product development will find themselves hugely challenged as a result of the new economy.   They will — they are — losing their relevance and many are losing their margins on the bottom line.

We have been saying for a long time that our systems – financial, health care, education – are falling apart and/or not serving us well anymore.  But we are stuck.  We don’t know how to shift the systems and, it is really beginning to dawn on me,  maybe they are not shiftable.  Maybe they really will collapse before any real shift can take place.  I don’t know for sure, but when I think about how technology has shifted the marketplace and made information accessible with a few clicks of the mouse, it is hard for me to imagine how large organizations and systems can actually gain the resiliency necessary to navigate the complexities and the simplicities of the shifting shape of this world.

Organic, emergent networks – like social media, the Art of Hosting, the World Cafe, Berkana – are shifting the shape of how we are in relationship with others and with goods and services.  Smaller, innovative organizations know how to tap into these networks in ways that leave larger organizations in the dust.

There is still a big question about how some of these smaller organizations or networks will make money but there are all kinds of conversations going on about money systems, gift economies and finding other ways to recognize or exchange value.  It wasn’t that long ago that the idea of a debit card seemed far fetched to me and now I have a few of them in my wallet.  Just because I can’t see it or imagine how it would work doesn’t mean it isn’t already on its way.

And, we are underestimating our youth.  They represent new language and new behaviours.  The way they think has been influenced by technology in ways that older generations cannot comprehend. Instead of really paying attention to how they will shift the shape of the world, they are discounted as are their values and their work ethic.  But we are trying to fit them into systems designed for a different time (as this video on educational paradigms so beautifully illustrates) and then faulting them for failing to conform.  They gravitate to networks and social innovation.  They are the most plural youth in history with extended social networks.  Traditional career plans and structures are losing strength as the younger generations seek to unite work and pleasure, not in hedonistic ways but in pragmatic and realistic ways, looking to make small dreams possible.    They are already shifting the shape of the world.  How will large organizations navigate these shifts successfully?  Is it even possible?

In my next blog, I will write about the emergent, networked organizations and initiatives that I am either part of or know a bit about because I’m connected to people who are connected to them – like Art of Hosting, Berkana, World Cafe, the Oasis Game, Swaraj University.  All of these networks are modeling new ways of organizing and working in the world.  I’m believing that there are huge lessons in them for new business models and when I tell stories about these networks it is often in this context.  When I even begin to sniff the possibility of new business models I get excited although I’m not yet sure what they will look like but look forward to co-evolving a few of these over the next few years.