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.