Leading Through Learning and the Art of Apprenticing

The Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter is a self-organized global network with no head office, no staff and no central authority or decision-making body. It can be an incredibly effective way to get work done – really important work – in addition to providing structures and processes to host conversations of any size. A few colleagues have recently been writing about what it – Art of Hosting – is – again.

Self-organizing is not to be confused with no organization or structure-less, which is what confounds some people and organizations as they try to understand what it is and is not. The seeming lack of structure always evokes the questions from participants like, how do I do what you do? How do I get involved? Who do I talk to? The seeming simplicity of many of the processes, when they are hosted well, makes some people believe that very little preparation time is needed and/or that anybody can do them. And, anybody can do them. But, good preparation goes a long way to ensuring good process and succcess. So does skill, experience and expertise. One Art of Hosting training does not a practitioner make.

There is a structure of involvement or engagement for the Art of Hosting that seems hard to describe, is not always obvious but is pretty simple. It does require some initiative and determination by people who want to be more involved since there is no official leadership development track like there might be in an organization. It can be harder to involve people in existing opportunities for a variety of reasons and many who truly want to deepen their practice create their own opportunities, whether that is internal to their organization or jumping into organizing an open enrolment program and inviting stewards (a requirement for an AoH training) to come and work with them (which is how both Jerry and I began our AoH paths).

In the lightly held AoH structure, there are Stewards, Practitioners and Apprentices. Some of us are all three of these things. In Philadelphia, where Jerry Nagel and I recently co-hosted an AoH training with two new colleagues, Rich Wilson and Mike Ritzius, we heard the term “leading through learning” and it seems a beautiful way to frame some of the AoH leadership and learning structure.

We are all learning even as we lead. Some – those of us who have been around longer and have been deep in the practices on an ongoing and regular basis – have more learning and experience that we can share with others even as we continue to learn from others, including new people in the practices. Others, on balance, may have more, sometimes much more, learning to do. We are not all “equal” in knowledge, experience or depth of practice although all are invited “equally” into the field and the key question may well be, where are we, each of us, in our own learning journey.

Jerry Mike Rich Sillouhette

Rich Wilson, Jerry Nagel, Mike Ritzius

The experience Jerry and I had in Philadelphia with our two new apprentice co-hosts was exemplary – which got us thinking a bit about what makes for a good apprentice. This story is a good one to illustrate some things that work well.

A year ago Rich and Mike came to an AoH training in Minnesota that Jerry and I were co-hosting, having been introduced to Open Space through EdCamp, seeing the power and engagement of the structure and curious for more. Rich describes being persuaded to bring an idea he was pondering into the Design Process on Day 3. He says after the session he folded the paper up – really small – and promptly hid it when he got back home – the ideas generated were, in his words, “terrifying”. And yet, they worked on him and in him as the two of them went back to their jobs at the New Jersey Education Association. Mike and Rich began bringing the practices to every initiative they were involved in – with greater and lesser degrees of resistance and lots of successes.Philly Open Space

Because they embarked early on with Jerry and me in creating a call for an AoH training in their area, which largely drew people involved in education and organizing, we got to hear about those successes along the way and we offered mentoring or coaching from time to time on their processes and approaches in the work they were doing. They were willing to ask for what they needed and they kept doing their homework and kept bringing the patterns and practices to the people they were with – leading through learning.

When the four of us sat down to design our three day AoH offering, Mike and Rich jumped at the opportunity to lead and co-teach some of the patterns since they had been using them in their work and developing a good understanding of them – teaches like the Chaordic Path, the Chaordic Stepping Stones, Divergence-Emergence-Convergence, The Four Fold Practice, Theory U, Reflective Listening, Two Loops.

As they offered the teaches, what struck Jerry and me was how well they understood the basics or foundations of the patterns they offered. They explained them clearly. They made room for input from the whole team. They did not unduly embellish what they offered and thus did not get lost in the teach as we have seen apprentices do from time to time. They did not feel the need to prove themselves as “experts”, they were not competitive with each other or with us and they were clearly excited to be working with us to deepen their learning. They value the learning field and they value deepening their learning with and from Stewards on the patterns, practices and processes.

They understand that in order for something to look simple – like a good World Café, Open Space or full on Art of Hosting training – you have to be well versed in the foundational steps, before embellishment, and do the planning and design work in advance. They have had each other to co-design and co-host with and now they have “infected” more people with the desire to have better meetings and get better, more engaged results.

They exemplify leading through learning and we are already planning what’s next. So, stay tuned.

What If Schools Are Communities That Learn?

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What if schools are communities that learn and not just places where content is delivered to students? What if school systems could truly draw on the wealth of wisdom and intelligence it has access to through all its students and staff as collaborators? What if we didn’t just use the word collaboration but lived it till it meets its full potential?

This is an inquiry Mike Ritzius and Rich Wilson have been in, not just recently with the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), but in one form or another over the course of their varied careers.

Attending an Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter training in Minnesota in March 2015 not only helped them, each in their own way, make sense of bits and pieces of practices and fragments of things that had shown up over time, but also gave them more options and greater vision for what is possible.

Rich Wilson

Rich Wilson, Associate Director of Professional Development, NJEA

Rich says he has been practicing “advocacy” for 30 years. “For twelve of those years,” he shared, “I lived in an impoverished community and became involved in community organizing around education issues, working with college students and volunteer tutors. This eventually took me into the political sphere supporting community leaders as they moved into political office.”

“For the last 15 years I’ve been working with the LGBT community to create safe spaces for students and teachers.”  Rich is now Associate Director of Professional Development at NJEA and in the last couple of years has been focused on teacher evaluation, a topic with many points of view, some of them divisive. He works in partnership with Mike , which is how he became aware of EdCamp, a derivative of Open Space Technology.  He and Mike had been monitoring the AoH website looking for opportunities for a training when they saw the Minnesota offering. He took it to his Director who said, “I’m not sure the organization is ready for this but trust you enough that if you think it is valuable you should go.”

Mike Ritzius

Mike Ritzius, Associate Director of Professional Development at NJEA

Mike’s journey into education came from a very different background. He said, “I’ve backed my way into every chapter of my life. I am a molecular biologist.  The lab I worked for had to do some teaching in mid-school and I got tasked with it. Turns out, I liked teaching better than research.”  He certified as a teacher in 2000 and started working with students with special needs. “It was different for me. I was frustrated with the way teaching happened, so I ran for my local office and won.” That began a change-making journey.

Mike encountered Open Space Technology at a technical conference called Bar Camp and fell in love with it. From there, Ed Camp was created. The first event was in Philadelphia with 100 people. It is now 500,000 strong across the globe. The Bill Gates Foundation gave $2 million to the charitable foundation that runs Ed Camp.

Two years ago, Mike took on the position of associate director. His focus was on professional learning as well as teacher evaluation. “I loved Ed Camp and it was hard for me to reconcile how it, or processes like it, would be useful in the classroom,” he said.

During our interview for this post, Rich and Mike gave quite a few examples of where and how, internally and externally, Art of Hosting patterns, practices and methods have been used and they will be the subject of a couple more posts. They include experiencing the Chaordic Stepping Stones for planning for the Division, bringing World Café and Open Space to a meeting of Union Executives in the District Office, using Levels of Listening and Talking (from Theory U), offering engagement processes for a group of teachers and parents known as HOPE (Helping Out Public Education) to use across the State, for mobilization in the 2016 election and on the controversial topic of evaluation.

Philly Invitation headerAnd it has inspired both of them to be on the calling team for an Art of Hosting offering in Philadelphia in February 2016 called The Art of Collaborative Leadership: Leading Together in Complex Times. The calling question is: How could conversations of possibility shift your work? This is a question they have seen manifest in remarkable ways in their work.

What surprised them the most since bringing more collaborative and engagement practices their work?

For Rich it is, “How quickly other people have embraced the processes. Four more people went to a different AoH training. Others have done their homework and come to talk to us. I am surprised at people’s creativity, where they are using the practices, the questions people are asking, the interest that has been sparked. The ‘coalition of the willing’ keeps growing. It is affirming.”

And Mike came to the question from a different perspective. “The effect it has had on me. I look at things from a very different perspective now and it’s evolving fast. I am more intentional with the way I say and do things and in analyzing my own actions.”

What’s the hardest part? “Trusting the process and not second guessing things,” Rich reflected.  “Fortunately, having experienced the training together, Mike and I support each other in bringing new processes.  I am not feeling that I have to control every little thing.  What needs to happen is what is going to happen.”

“I agree with Rich,” said Mike. “We work with not bringing an agenda every time – to bring process rather than content. This is tough when you are employed as the expert and people want us to show up and tell them what to do rather than engage their own wisdom and knowledge.”

What is their greatest hope arising from their experience with these patterns and practices?

“I’d like to see a few more people feel like they have more voice,” said Mike. “To know they can contribute, bring their ideas forward and build a better community together. Schools are communities, not just about content delivery and it would be great to get away from the notion of ‘hero educators’. All voices have value and are valued.”

Rich agreed. “All people in schools count. This could be the beginning of an examination of what schools should be and they should work. If we get more people beginning to talk about it, we can leverage it into change. Where we don’t just use the word collaboration but it reaches its full potential and we are using hosting practices to bring it about.”

What if schools are communities and not just places where content gets delivered? What if school systems could truly draw on the wealth of wisdom and intelligence it has access to through all its collaborators? What if we didn’t just use the word collaboration but lived it till it meets its full potential?

Front End Load Your Planning Process – Need and Purpose

“If you are at a meeting and you don’t know why you are there, why ARE you there?” I have heard Jerry Nagel say this often enough when he teaches the Chaordic Stepping Stones at a training. The same goes for a planning process. “If you don’t know why you are doing something, why ARE you doing it?”

Audrey Moen in the circle with others taking in a teach by Jerry Nagel.

Many planning processes jump right into logistics (the 8th Stepping Stone, by the way) – budget, where the meeting will be, what the agenda is, important people who need to there. Then, when the planning team tries to decide what should happen during the meeting or planning process, people are unclear and sometimes confused or there are too many ideas floating around as meeting agenda is fitted to logistics rather than fitting logistics to the purpose of the work.

Purpose imagePurpose is the invisible leader. It keeps a  community engagement process, planning process or meeting agenda on track. Purpose arises out of Need. Taking the time to reach clarity on need and purpose is, what I often tell my clients, a front end loaded process. It takes time. It can get messy – anyone resonate with, “Let’s just make a decision!” And it can change the quality of the whole process. It is part of what we refer to as slowing down to go fast.

Need is an understanding of the current situation – the reason you have decided that something should be done, planned, convened. When the Need is clearly understood, the articulation of Purpose is often easy. Getting to the root Need can take some exploration and conversation because sometimes the Need that appears most obvious is fuelled by less obvious underlying patterns, behaviours or structures.

Jerry often shares a story about a school district he worked with. School funding comes from area rates and the community had refused, several years in a row, to increase the area rate to address some maintenance issues in the school – the roof needed fixing, the seats were broken and there were other maintenance issues. As he asked the planning team about need they repeated these things several times until someone finally had an insight. The relationship between the school and the community was broken. This was the deeper need to be addressed. Recognizing this changed the whole approach to the planning process.

A few years ago, I worked with a group in Nova Scotia focused on breakfast programs in schools. There were some changes in the environment impacting the organization that delivered these programs and prompting the exploration of a new means to deliver breakfast programs. The most obvious need was to ensure and organizational structure for ongoing breakfast program delivery. The deeper need was a recognition that children who had breakfast were better learners. The planning team recognized the need to nourish the children so they could learn better and the idea of nourishment was expansive, offering the possibilities of broader interpretations (but still very focused) into the future which led to the development and name of a new organization – Nourish Nova Scotia.

Nourish Nova ScotiaUnderstanding the need led to this purpose: To cultivate generations of healthy eaters. And, to this  vision: All Nova Scotia children and youth are well nourished to live, learn and play. With a bit of extra clarification: We aim to support the nutritional well-being of children and youth and desire to build their food knowledge and skills so they can feed themselves well into a healthier future.

Need and Purpose conversations often take a group into a groan zone which is one of the reasons people want to cut it short to get to the “important” tasks of planning. When this happens, it is common that the groan zone just gets transferred to some other part of the process, slowing it down somewhere else. Holding people in the space of a groan zone is a leadership skill.

Also, in any given project there may be multiple layers of need and purpose identified. For a project I’m working on with the United Way in Halifax right now, we are planning a community engagement event in September. That event has a need and purpose identified. There is a desire (even a need) to recruit a planning team representative of the community to ensure success. The need for the planning team has been identified as well as the purpose. And there is a meeting planned to invite potential planning team members  to step up and the need and purpose of that launch meeting has also been identified. The need and purpose of the planning launch meeting and the planning team are aligned with the need and purpose of the community gathering (I want to say, of course) and having this clarity at each step of the process keeps the whole thing on track.

KJ explaining something at WC table CA Women's leadershipSometimes the conversation is iterative as understanding of Need and Purpose may evolve through the course of the planning process. Yet, when these two stepping stones are clear, the rest of the planning process can unfold quickly.

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

 

Art of Hosting – Universal or Not?

When people ask me if I do “this” for a living, the answer is, of course, yes. But they don’t really know what they are asking.  They are asking about what they are witnessing or experiencing in this given moment – a specific Art of Hosting training, a planning process, a team building session, a leadership development training, a community engagement process, a World Café or any other range of possibilities and possible places I might be invited to host or show up in.  And this is not just true for me.  It is true for many of my good friends and colleagues who are in this work.

It is a matter of what you see is what you get and what you get is far more than what you see. Going away from any of these singular events thinking this is it, that you know what it is, that you know it, is an easy assumption to make – and it misses the point.  It often seems so simple, often seeming to flow easily and effortlessly, even in groups or situations where tension or conflict has been evident.

Yet, when people get the “behind the scenes” invitation through being on a hosting team or a design and delivery team for a training or for client consulting work, they will often say that is where the real learning starts.  They begin to see what we mean when we say that 80% of the work happens before we ever get in the room.  It is also why some of us believe in being as transparent as possible in our process.

These days, when I describe the Art of Hosting to people, I’ve been borrowing from Jerry Nagel from the Meadowlark Institute because I love the clarity and simplicity with which he speaks it.  As a set of patterns and practices to work with complexity, that invites non-judgment or curiosity and generosity of spirit, of listening.  It invites us to be present, to stay in the place before the knowing until clarity, and knowing from a different place and quality, emerges – all of us and especially the hosting team.  We believe that conversations matter and good conversation leads to wise action and different results.

I am in deep reflection about the universality of art of hosting patterns and practices and the trap we set for ourselves if we believe universality equals one map, one path, one way to do it.  Overlay the successful work of one organization or one training on everything as if that was THE way to do it.  There is no one way to do it, no one practice or pattern that responds to everything.

It is the variety of hosting situations I’ve been in recently that have me in this deep reflection.   In Palo Alto in August 2012 for the first Art of Hosting training in California.  High tech, consultants to high tech, social innovators and a few pastors in the room.  Wanting to do business better.  In the Phillips Community of South Minneapolis in September 2012 with a remarkedly culturally diverse group of people, many of whom are community activists. Wanting to live in community together better. In Nova Scotia, also in September, working with a brand new charity Nourish NS responding to the need for a new structure for the delivery of breakfast programs in schools, birthed a year ago and still in it using the chaordic stepping stones, birthed out of need, chaos, confusion and pain.  In Fredericton in October 2012, a little AoH taster to sense into the need, opportunity and timing in that province for a second Art of Hosting training there, responding to themes of social change and community engagement.

Very different situations.  The “art of hosting” “worked” in each one.  I use quotations to remind myself that even what I’m writing about is nebulous and that the words evoke certain images, assumptions and expectations as I use them and you read them.

In California, knowing that getting people in the room required us to think very strategically about what would attract them, working with the calling team to find language that bridged Art of Hosting and business; finding that language that invites is a common practice and part of the invitation process no matter where we go.  Working with the concerns of the calling team about whether this group would sit still long enough to experience a deep circle, to dive into a three day process and stay present.  Yes, they wanted to get to action.  And they wanted to meet each other human to human, wondering how to do that in a world that does not always invite the human to human exchange.

In the Phillips Community, when we asked the people who came where they are from, beyond where they live, you could feel the ripples out into the world and then even more ripples when we asked them where their ancestors are from, circling the globe. Coming together to address tensions and violence in the community, their community, to imagine the kind of community they want to create, they want to live in, together.  Finding their way past commonality and past difference.  Human to human.  Getting to action that has the potential to shift the dynamic of their community, co-creating through new quality of relationship and understanding.  Practicing generosity with each other.

For Nourish NS, deep in a question of how to shift their shape from the “kitchen table” to the “board room”, grow their board, grow their capacity as an organization, adhere to Revenue Canada charitable guidelines and maintain the culture they have been intentionally cultivating over the last year or more that is creating an organization that looks different, feels different and invites people into a different experience.  Living their mandate.  Living their principles.  Prototyping how to be and work together and knowing they are in an experiment with clear deliverables, creating decision trees and governance structures to bring clarity and still allow emergence and nimbleness of response.

In Fredericton, a beautifully diverse group of people from the Department of Health, Renaissance College, students, city councilors, the provincial government, university professors, community activists.  Just three hours to dive into what might be possible with Art of Hosting and feeling like we had just begun a three day training but now everyone needed to go home percolating the vast array of questions we invited into the room about social change and community engagement.  Not leaving it nice and tidy, wrapped up in a bow with all the answers. Leaving it in the messiness that invites curiosity, invites exploration, invites a deeper dive together to discover what some of the answers might be.

AoH is only “universal” because it is adaptable, responsive, tuned into who’s coming, what their questions are, who and what shows up in the space, guided by a deep sense of purpose.  Tuning into the ebb and flow of patterns, energy in the room or field in which we are operating, cultivating emergence, leaning into what is wanting to show up in the space – not a set agenda, not a beautiful power point presentation, not all the answers or solutions but a living, breathing individual and collective experience.

In November, I’m invited back to Minnesota to go into another community experiencing many of the same challenges as the Phillips Community.  The core hosting team of four of us will be together again with some of the members of our apprenticing team and more people from the local community.  Our biggest mistake would be to assume that because we did it once well in the Phillips community that now we know what to do.  Of course, we have some beautiful learning from the Phillips community and from our individual and collective experiences from all the places we go.  But the only way we will really know what is needed the next time is to sense into the need and opportunity, the people who are coming, where they are from, the questions they bring, the hopes we are discerning and allow a purpose that is relevant to that work to emerge, let it guide the pattern we identify for the work of the days we are together and then be prepared to let it all go as people show up, we meet them where they are, see more deeply the questions, experiences and aspirations and let that guide what wants and needs to happen there.

I know from where I travel in the world, from the conversations I have, that AoH is universally applicable. But if we stop at that statement then we truly miss how this is so.  It is not the practices, frameworks, methodologies or even the patterns.  It is our ability as a hosting team to continuously sense into what is there, be prepared to let go of any of our own notions of what needs to happen, co-design on the fly from our individual and collective experience, wisdom and knowledge and to be responsive to all that shows up – the tension, the beauty, the joy, the humanness, the messiness and then work with the patterns, practices frameworks and methodologies to co-create the conditions to allow us to go deeply and well into the places waiting to be called forth.  There is a reason why it is called the Art of ….

Anyone who’s ever been to more than one well hosted gathering will tell you, it’s different every time.  And if that hasn’t been your experience, maybe you need to become curious about why that was so, challenge your own knowing and prepare to dive deeper into your own learning – or co-learning – because we are in it together.

Slowing Down to Go Fast

Our world moves so fast we all want it done now, or yesterday – whatever “it” is. The paradox is, we don’t have time to go fast anymore. But it’s not just about slowing down. It’s slowing down, adding in intentionality, purposefulness and patterns of movement – often non-linear and iterative – to take us to places we’ve never been before but that we’ve dreamed and know have to be possible. We want to get to this new place but we keep repeating the patterns that have never gotten us there before – Einstein’s definition of insanity.

Add into the mix, the complexity of today’s challenges generally means it is not a straight path from A to B and even if it is, your destination is probably somewhere else.

What does slowing down mean?  One is taking the time to acquire new lenses with which to view the challenges and complexity we face.  Another is learning how to use conversational methodologies well – tuned into purpose and intention as a guiding principle for how to design, enter and engage the questions of most relevance to what’s needed now – in growing learning, tackling innovation or bridging organizational divides.  It is not simply a learning and development opportunity.  It can be a formidable strategy to grow an organization, engage a challenge, conceive of innovative processes and/or products that serve the mission or mandate of your organization – as you already know.

These things are all possible using the principles and practices alive in Art of Hosting practices and frameworks.  Art of Hosting is not just a training.  Seasoned practitioners use it in consulting work all over the world – in every sector, for small and large initiatives, to launch new organizations and teams and to shift whole systems.  It is not just theory.  It is today’s complex challenges made real.  And it takes time.

For the training work we do, we often get asked about three days.  When money is no issue the larger question that looms is, “Is it worth three days of my time?”  Well, that depends.  On how aware you are of the value of slowing down to go fast – slowing down to allow insight to percolate, new perspectives to digest into new approaches and new strategies to emerge in animated and reflective conversation with other bright lights called to gather together in three days.  Because there are an amazing number of bright lights who show up for any training – of all ages, backgrounds and perspectives.

The beauty of being in 3 days or more with the same group of people is it invites the pattern of divergence-groan zone/emergence-convergence to show up.  There are many times when I’ve been asked at the end of day 2 of a three day training how is it going?  If I write that story, it is a very different story of what emerges because even subtle things shift and change in one more overnight or one more conversation evoked through a powerful question.  There is something in a three day pattern that lets us sense more fully into what our questions are, explore them in the company of others also asking powerful questions, seeing not just synergy but emergence – where we all gain something that no one person brought into the room, and we begin to imagine, often with extensive detail, how we will use what we’ve learned when we go back to work.

Not everything needs to slow down of course.  Not everything needs three days.  Some need less.  Many need more. But we refuse to take the time – we believe we don’t have the time, other things are more pressing, we will get too far behind – lots of limiting beliefs we carry individually and collectively.   But what about the things that do need three days and maybe longer? Percolation does.  New perspectives often do.  Imagining – really imagining the new – does.  Shifting paradigms does.

When we give ourselves permission to slow down we also invite ourselves to be surprised by what emerges and how fast things move with new clarity.  It is a wise investment of time and necessary for those of us imagining how to shift the shape of the worlds we touch.