Are Our Systems Really Broken?

In my twenty years of consulting practice the idea that our systems are broken and need to be fixed has been ever-present. This was/is true of healthcare, finance, the environment and more. This has never been more true in my life time than right now when the question maybe is not about whether systems are broken but whether they are dying. Dying as part of normal, natural cycles of birth, growth, decay and death, including the last desperate gasps.

In the work I have been involved with over the last two decades (change management, systems thinking, strategic direction and culture shift), there has always been a curiosity and, more accurately, a fear about whether systems need to collapse entirely before something new emerges. We constantly want to fix things – systems, organizations and even (maybe especially) people.

Yet we know in times of crisis normal patterns of relationship can be interrupted; rules, policies, procedures and ways of working circumvented and results achieved faster than in normal, day to day circumstances where, even if the pace is fast, things do not seem to be accomplished quickly. These are conditions that consultants and organizations all over keep trying to replicate without crisis with varying degrees of success and more often failure.

Jerry Nagel and I often remind our clients that systems are perfectly designed to get the results they are getting and cultures are self-perpetuating. So, technically, the systems aren’t broken, but many are no longer delivering results we hope for or are satisfied with. Brexit, the US election, are perfect examples.

What happens, might happen, in total collapse? What ground would we stand on? How would we pick up the pieces and move forward? What if the collapse is so great there are almost no pieces to pick up – like the scenarios in the popular genre of dystopian novels and movies? In most works of fiction, no matter how desperate the aftermath of catastrophe, there are always some pieces to pick up.

Lately we have been using the 2 Loops of Systems Change, offered by Meg Wheatley and Deborah Frieze of the Berkana Institute, with our clients and there is an immediate resonance with the concepts and roles described.

Systems work in cycles – just like life itself. The length of time of the cycles may vary from a few years to decades to centuries and maybe even eons. There is a time of birth, growth, maturity, decay and eventually death. Think, for example, of farming. Originally it was hunter/gather, then people began to deliberately plant crops and farming in the form of small farms existed for a long time. It grew into industrial farming where it is almost impossible to sustain smaller farms. And we are back to a point where people want to track their food from farm to table, plant community gardens and eat organic.

New life is already being brought forth long before death, during the maturity or peak phase of a system. The seeds of the new already exist within the structures of the old. slide1

Innovators, trail blazers and pioneers are always playing around with new ideas. Some of those new ideas seem completely off the wall to many who are still reveling in the old system and do not yet see the need for the new or innovation. Think energy. During the oil crisis back in the 1970s and 80s, there was speculation that oil had peaked. During that time, there were people and small companies experimenting with other forms of energy – solar, wind, water. It was slow going for decades, some of the experimentation was expensive and there was not a lot of support for ideas that seemed crazy or impossible to some, especially to those attached to the old system. Forty years later, many of these forms of energy are now more cost effective and environmentally friendly than oil. It was not easy to see or believe in this possible future at the time.

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Embodying the 2 Loops of Systems Change

Innovators are often alone in their quests and many of their ideas fail. Since no idea is offered in complete isolation – others are also conceiving of ideas to address the same or similar challenges – a first step is in naming the innovators and beginning to connect them in networks. In this way they begin to learn with and from each other. They learn together through both success and failure and they are no longer in it alone.

As the need for innovation becomes more apparent and urgent, there are people within the mature or peak system who take notice and work within the current system to steward or champion the new ideas and the people who generate them to provide protection so this work can continue to advance. Sometimes the role is as a toxic handler – to keep the dysfunctionality of a system that is moving past its prime from interfering in the development of the new.

At the same time, one of the greatest roles in the mature system as it declines is in hospicing the old so it doesn’t completely collapse into chaos and so that that good is not thrown out with what no longer works. The biggest challenge in these days is who are the protectors, the stewards, the hospice workers? Will they/we be able to do this work or will the burden be too great, the rate of collapse now so swift that it will be a deep move into chaos?

As the tentative new innovations and ideas gain more strength and more form, as they begin to coalesce into new networks and communities of practice, it is critical to nurture the emerging life force that will influence and shape the new system. As momentum grows, this grows into a system of influence where choices become clear. Illuminating the choice between the old and the new gives curious and reluctant adopters of the new the opportunity to make this choice and as more and more people choose the new, the new system takes hold.

While I carry some anxieties in these early days of 2017 about our systems and our future, I also carry hope although I am not sure what it will take to release the old and gravitate toward the new. I do know 2017 is calling on us loud and clear to not be silent, to not just watch, but to stand up and be involved in the new systems that will call forth and support our humanity.

The pressing question in the days ahead is who are the innovators and trailblazers? How do we keep connecting people, ideas and networks in ways to build strength, momentum and opportunity? How can the old systems of influence, and people grasping for power, be prevented from crushing the new? And how do we create the stories of the new in ways that brings more people on board.

Are our systems failing us? The answer would appear to be yes. But not because they are broken, because they are coming to the end of their time. Will we be courageous enough to fight if necessary for what is waiting to be born?

Art of Hosting is a Lived Process – Participant Success Story

In Grand Rapids, MN, since November 2013, over 150 people have experienced an Art of Hosting training. It is a community of real people, real lives and real impact. Jerry Nagel and I have begun to document some of the success stories – many of them small miracles that provide inspiration to us and so many others who might be wondering where you start once you have been to an AoH training. This account was provided by Audrey Moen who attended the training in September 2014.

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

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

When I first signed up for the AoH training some people asked me, “Oh, why would you want to do that? It is just facilitating. You already know how to facilitate. Why go for three days?”  I knew, just in the title, before I even read the details of what AoH is, it was indeed going to be much more.  

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September 2014, Grand Rapids – Teach by Karen Zetner Bacig

I was able to bring a diverse group of people with me who normally never attend training like this.  They are considered on the outside as poor, disabled, or have histories that do not allow them to secure basic housing. They may have had a criminal background. They may no longer have the right to vote.  It did not matter. They were welcomed as if they were Kings or Queens. 

What they took away from it has increased their lives.  One is on his way to attend the Day on the Hill at the Capital; one is now leading a group locally; one stated that she feels a sense of confidence and acceptance she never had before.

The learning that took place is something that will, for me, be life-long.  I use it every day in the little things. I think about table conversations in a different light.  I encounter situations that in the past may have been met with roadblocks. With the AoH and Worldview skills this does not happen.  If anything, I find that the skills learned open doors to communication; barriers or walls fall down, and people open up – trust is alive in the room.

The three days went by in a blink. I met people I never knew, developed stronger community links, shared values, insight and ideas that were priceless.

I also was able to participate in the Grand Gathering in Grand Rapids, MN.  What a day of positive energy and inspiration!  I also participated in the Theory U advanced training day which has already helped me in my career, my volunteer work, and in my home life.  

The facilitators for AoH are well trained in their field, they are engaging, accepting, and are an inspiration. 

My thanks to the Blandin Foundation for providing this training.  I would like to see it continue. The community needs to keep the momentum growing so the seeds can continue to take root and grow. The Foundation is very good at keeping things rooted as long as needed. 

I met other AoH participants who attended the training in our area and in other areas. They consistently state the same thing; AoH is a process; it is not a day, an hour, a moment. It is about taking the time, always learning, developing, reaching out, community building, and engagement.

Thanks again for offering the AoH to our area.  I can honestly state I hope it can continue.  There is so much to learn and put into practice!  

Understanding Worldview and How It Impacts Us As Hosts – guest blogger Jerry Nagel

authored by Jerry Nagel (originally published at Growing Hosting Artistry on January 6, 2014)

Each of us has a worldview and a personal story about how we perceive reality. Our worldview combines the cultural and personal beliefs, assumptions, attitudes, values, and ideas we hold to form maps or models of reality. Our worldviews come from our collective experiences in society – from our parents and friends, the books we read and movies we watch, the music we listen to, our schools and churches. We then interpret these experiences into an individual worldview.  (Jenkins, 2006; Schlitz et al, 2011)

World view eye

In practice, we use our worldviews, without necessarily being conscious of it, to construct complex conceptual frameworks in order to organize our beliefs about who we are and about the world we live in. (Schlitz et al, 2011) These maps or models help us explain how we view the world and why we act as we do in it.

Our experiences within the contexts we live in, be they religious, geographic, or cultural, all contribute to how we interpret reality.  Often this vision of reality is not fully articulated in our conscious awareness. In fact it could be so deeply internalized that we don’t question where it comes from. As practitioners and hosts of the Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter this is an invitation into personal inquiry.  Understanding our own worldview grows our capacity to host others better.  Especially because our worldviews influence every aspect of our lives – what we think about, how we act, what assumptions we make about others, what motivates us, what we consider to be the good, the moral and the true. It gives coherence to our lives. It is the channel through which we interpret reality as we see it.

Worldviews are an individual phenomenon and a group phenomenon. (Jenkins, 2006) Everything we hold to be true is found in community. A community is not just a geographic or placed-based clustering of people living together as a village, town, city or nation. A community can also be a discipline in science, a faith community, a community of practitioners of a type of music, art or sport or a community of practitioners of the Art of Hosting; and these communities are part of a world of “multiple simultaneously existing local realities” (Hosking, 2011). These local constructs or realities are primarily constructed through language based processes such as the written word, art, music, dance, speaking, symbols, sign, etc. (Hosking, 2011). Thus, it is through ‘language’ that we represent our worldviews and it might be through language that we will begin to understand another’s worldview.

Worldviews are not necessarily or always fixed. Individual and community/cultural worldviews often shift or change. These changes can be quite small and hardly noticed at first, but eventually have a transformative impact.

Worldviews can also change quite significantly as evidenced by many changes in the past century resulting from scientific advances (flight, Internet, space travel, atomic energy, etc.). Some shifts can be so transformative (or converting) that people change religions or physical characteristics. So, while worldviews are locally constructed, they can shift based upon changes in local or global constructs as well as individual or collective experiences. On a personal level, these types of changes often manifest in some form of spiritual experience that impacts a person’s view of self in the world (Schlitz, Vieten, & Amorok, 2007).  In effect, we have the ability to change our worldviews with awareness, consciousness and intentionality.

If our worldviews are mainly locally constructed, then we could ask, “What consequences do these local, cultural worldviews have for our ability to work together?” – an inquiry relevant to Growing Hosting Artistry. One answer is that they can create barriers to understanding and finding common ground for working together. Which raises questions of “What to do about it?” and “How can we avoid collisions of worldviews and instead come together in ways that build understanding and respect and allow each of us to hold on to that which is most important?”

The invitation, individually and in our hosting work, is to be in inquiry, to be curious; to be nonjudgmental; to approach hosting from a stance of not knowing; to practice generosity; to value good conversations and recognize that good conversations can lead to wise action; to remember that the practice is the work and to remember that many world views can exist in the same place when we step out of either-or thinking into the welcoming of many different perspectives in the same space and time, celebrating difference rather than insisting on sameness. Growing our hosting artistry on the individual and collective levels creates more invitational space for ourselves and for others to show up in the fullness of who we each and all are.

Jenkins, O.B. (2006) Worldview Perspectiveshttp://orvillejenkins.com

Schlitz, M., Vieten, C., & Amorok, T. (2007) Living Deeply: The Art & Science of Transformation in Everyday Life. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Schlitz, M., Vieten, C., Miller, E., Homer, K., Peterson, K., & Erickson-Freeman, K. (2011) The Worldview Literacy Project: Exploring New capacities for the 21st Century Student. Institute of Noetic Sciences, Petaluma, California.

Hosking, D. M. (2011) Telling Tales of Relations: Appreciating Relational Constructionism, Utrecht School of Governance, Utrecht, Netherlands.

Credible Vulnerability?

No wonder we are so challenged by the idea of vulnerability, especially personal vulnerability.  It was a revelation to me to do an internet search on the topic.  What came up first and most was this kind of explanation:

  • the inability to withstand the effects of a hostile environment
  • window of vulnerability as a time frame within which defensive measures are reduced, compromised or lacking
  • Achilles Heel
  • capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt
  • open to moral attack, criticism or temptation

No wonder most of us shudder when the topic of vulnerability comes up.  It is in our collective consciousness and organizational cultures as weakness not as strength although much research confirms the power of vulnerability as pointed out by Brene Brown – beautiful and powerful in her own vulnerability.

I an in a renewed deep dive into this exploration thanks to the conversation that may have surprised and delighted me the most at The Art of Participatory Leadership and Social Innovation in California at the end of August 2012.  A conversation I did not expect to be witness to or our high tech company participants to be in.

It arose out of a World Cafe conversation on complexity in response to the third question: what’s stirring in you now as you contemplate complexity (after exploring complexity they’ve been in and barriers and supports for being in complexity)?  My attention was caught by a table where two men and two women were deep in a shared reflection of where vulnerability meets credibility.

The conversation went something like this:

“Yes, I know it’s a good thing to be vulnerable, but how do I be vulnerable and still be credible as a leader, in my organization.”

“It’s not safe to be vulnerable. You are seen as weak.  How can you be vulnerable and not appear weak?”

“I would lose credibility.”

“First you need credibility, then you can be vulnerable.  But how much credibility is enough?”

“Maybe allowing yourself to be vulnerable will show your credibility.”  Is there such a thing as credible vulnerability?  What does that even mean?

All of this led me to wonder what we mean when we speak about vulnerability – what’s in the field?  A lot about weakness  and protection it seems. This resonates with my journey personal journey, one of Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Open Heartedness.  The invitation was to move beyond believing emotions make me weak to understanding them as a guidance system that will never steer me wrong if I pay attention.  In the context of leadership, particularly participatory leadership, vulnerability does not equal weakness, defense systems do, but how and why is that so?

Thankfully Brene Brown is turning vulnerability (shame too) on its head so we can lean into it differently.  She says, “Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky, but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy ~ the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.”  And also make us the most human.

Sounds pretty personal.  What does it have to do with work? Because as much as we try we cannot be one person at home and another at work.  We suffer from the incongruency and it shows up wherever we show up.  People sense it, even when, especially when, we try to hide and know, from the place of deep knowing, when they have encountered someone in the fullness of their authentic journey and their vulnerability.  They often name it as courage.

Brown says what we are most seeking is connection.  It is why we are here, it gives meaning and purpose to our lives.  I hear the yearning for it in so many people who are drawn to Art of Hosting and related gatherings.  In order to have connection, we have to let ourselves be seen.  Truly, fully, seen.  But then we risk people seeing our weakness, our shame, any inauthenticity or lack of integrity we feel we may be carrying. We make ourselves vulnerable.

Interestingly, when I looked up the definition of credibility it is the quality or power of inspiring belief; the quality of being believed or accepted as true, real and honest.  Seems to describe what I think of as one aspect of vulnerability.  And it’s simple.

Given this definition, the relationship between credibility and vulnerability is so intimately entwined it is hard to separate out which comes first and which you need more.  If we can begin to see vulnerability for the strength and authenticity that it is, instead of as a weakness we cannot show others, our credibility instantly begins to rise.  But how?

There is no simple solution to this.  It requires courage and risk and a path of hosting yourself, growing self awareness and presence.  It requires the courage of being imperfect and of compassion – for self and others, particularly for self.  Finding the way to allow ourselves to be vulnerable without inviting criticism or recrimination – the fear of which intimidates us and makes us believe we need to protect ourselves. This is the conundrum.

Vulnerability is part of an intentional journey of learning to find our voice from the depths of our strength, our sense of worthiness, love and belonging, from the place of whole heartedness.  It is also part of the art of what we do.  The only way to trust is to risk.  The only way to risk is to trust. The only way to do this is to do it.  Risk as much as we dare.  Pause. Reflect. Learn. Embody. Trust. Risk a little more.  Eventually we shift the shape of our experience, our understanding, our credibility and our vulnerability. We live into it as the asset it is rather than the deficit many of us have experienced it to be.  It is not our vulnerability that is the challenge.  It is our fear of our own vulnerability that brings the weakness.

We didn’t name this conversation.  It showed up in an unexpected place.  Speaks to the yearning.  Speaks to what’s missing.  Speaks to the invitation.  Speaks to the first step.  Easy.  Difficult. Complex. Simple.  Choose.

Intentionally Shifting the Shape of the World in 2012

Wow.  2012 is a breath away. When I started the Shape Shift blog I wrote: “the shape of the world is shifting. It is constantly shifting but never more so than now. This is evident in health care, education, finance, communities, technology, organizations and other systems that have become vital to how we function today.  We can be passive recipients of the impact of these shifts in the world or we can become active participants in shaping the future of the systems, organizations and communities that we feel passionate about – that are near and dear to our hearts.”  This was true when I wrote it, and started Shape Shift Strategies Inc, in August of 2009.  It is even more true as we are on the brink of 2012 – a year that has been much prophesied and written about.

If we are paying attention we can literally and figuratively feel the earth shaking underneath our feet as significant shifts take place – in the natural world and the manmade world.  Earthquakes and tsunamis in New Zealand and Japan, the Arab Spring, Occupy to name just a very few.  I say paying attention with the full awareness that there are many of us who see the greater scope of these stories and feel the significance of them in our very beings and there are many who do not yet see the stories under the stories that show up in mainstream media – a medium that is struggling with seeing and understanding the deeper patterns of these movements in the world.

If I am to imagine into 2012, I can only imagine that the chaos and complexity of our systems, our social structures and  our communities will increase.  This because of the reluctance and deep resistance of letting go of what we know, even when we know it doesn’t work anymore, to embrace what is waiting and wanting to be born.  It is so hard to see new ways when all we can see is what we have already built.  I’ve seen it in the conversations surrounding the Healthier Health Care Now gathering set for Utah early in January.  “We want you to be different, but please do it in familiar ways.  Because we don’t know how to support something that looks and feels different, especially when you cannot tell us exactly what it will look like in the end.  We have to be accountable, after all.”

How do we become accountable for our future when we are anchored to what we know, what we have always known, what already exists?  This is why the chaos will increase.  It is already telling us what we know no longer works.  Our collective response?  Hold on tighter.  Don’t let go.  How deeply shaken do we need to be to let go, let fly into the void of the unknown?

Thank God for the growing pockets of people, teams, communities and communities of practice who see a different future and who steadfastly work toward it in the not knowing.  There are so many I can name – because I am part of them – and so many I can’t because I don’t have knowledge of them but I am not so insular as to believe they don’t exist.  Paul Hawken’s work in Blessed Unrest is just one indicator of this world wide revolution that is taking place right under our very noses – whether we see it or not.

Those of us working and living  in the spaces of not knowing the specific shape of the future or of what new systems could emerge from the old as we are shaken free in the chaos, we are Warriors of the Heart.  To be a Warrior of the Heart and be well, we need personal practices that keep us connected with source and allow us to access our own resilience, courage, compassion, strength, joy and love.  There are individual and collective dimensions of practice. We build personal capacity in our individual practice.  We amplify, accelerate and activate so much more when we come together in our collective work and journey.

2012 may show us more and more the intersection between the relational field (love and loyalty) and the strategic field.  We have treated love and loyalty somewhat dismissively – the soft skills side of the equation.  In business we need to be hard – hard nosed, make hard decisions.  What if this is not true?  What  if our greatest path forward is to embrace more fully the relational field so that our choices are actually more strategic, have a longer term view and value all the things that are important to our survival in a time when so much of what we have always known seems threatened?  What becomes possible when we sink into what we’ve known even longer than what we’ve always known – the wisdom and knowledge accessible to us in ancient wisdoms that become more present to us as we pause and listen deeply – to the earth, to the whispers in our own hearts, to the yearning we have to be connected to something that has deep meaning and purpose. What would a world look like that connected through love and loyalty and then developed strategy for the highest good of us all?

The shape of the world is shifting.  It always has been.  Is it shifting faster now?  Feels that way.  What is the intentionality we can individually and collectively bring to amplify, accelerate and activate the shift we desire to see in the world?  What is the shape of the world you want to live in to?

I experience such deep gratitude and appreciation for my friends and colleagues (the ones I know and the ones I haven’t met yet) around the world.  You inspire me.  You lift me up in the moments when I have lost sight of my own light.  You give me great hope for what is possible in a new world order.  I am humbled and honoured to do amazing work in the world with people I care deeply about – from a place of open heartedness and a field of love and connection that makes possible the impossible – only seeming impossible because we can’t always see the how.  The how stops us.  The vision and intention for shaping a future we want to live into compels us all forward.

Walking the path of not knowing.  Setting strong, clear intentions for what I want to see unfold in my own path of shifting the shape of the world in 2012, letting go of the how and inviting what is ready – and urgently wanting – to show up.

Community of Practice – What’s it All About?

One of the biggest questions arising out of Art of Hosting trainings and related work I’ve been part of these days is, what’s next?  How do we actually practice and sustain what we have just learned?  How do we grow our skill, courage and capacity as practitioners?  How do we create fertile conditions in our organizations or our communities to shift the shape of our future, the way we work and even the work we do?

In March 2011, I co-hosted the Art of Collaborative Leadership in Nova Scotia with good friend and colleague, Jerry Nagel from the Meadowlark Institute in Minnesota.  He shared a model he and Chris Corrigan have been using in Minnesota as a means of thinking about and being in a Community of Practice (CoP).  I refer to it often now as it reminds me and the groups I work with of key elements that contribute to learning, growth and shifting the way we work and are with each other.

Work alone can be drudgery.  Learning alone can be a great intellectual pursuit and might lead to some shift within you as an individual but does little to generate collective learning.  Building good relationships is a good skill to have but in and of itself, you might as well be in a social club.  It is where and how work, learning and relationship intersect that creates the potential for a rich and relevant community of practice.


The intersection of work and co-learning is where innovation happens as people think about the context of their collective or co-learning in relation to work.  Ideas are generated and possibilities emerge.  Without relationship though, there is often no traction or sustainability to the innovative ideas that emerge – they simply dissipate into thin air because there is no impetus to work with them on an ongoing basis.

It is at the intersection of work and relationship that sustainability happens.  And not just any relationship will do.  The relationship needs to be of good quality, filled with respect, trust and deep caring for each other – the quality of field that enables divergent points of view to be expressed, where passion for the conversation, the work, the future and friends is welcomed.  Friendships we will fight for and support.  We don’t necessarily start there but how beautiful when we tend to the relational field with such care and intentionality that so much more can spark without risk of offending anyone, without having to tiptoe around the conversations that are most necessary in our learning, relationship and work.  These are friends with whom we will venture into unexpected places, uncertainty, emergent fields and creative explorations as well as nurture and cultivate the innovations that most spark our  passion and curioisty.  When these people call us because they need something, we respond.   Sometimes we drop everything else and respond.

Powerful friendship, kinship or mates is fostered in the place between relationship and co-learning because part of what we are learning is how to be together in new ways that break old patterns that have defined relationships, at work, home or in other places where we make contributions and commitments – patterns like hierarchy and culture,  old ways of moving work along,old ways of meeting and of thinking about meeting agendas, conferences or programming.

One of the key reasons we want to shift our relationships, aside from the experience of feeling better, working more effectively and enjoying showing up at work and projects is to focus them on achieving something meaningful and relevant in the world – maybe systemic change, maybe some smaller initiative. Otherwise, nothing happens.   We are at such a pivotal time in our human evolution on this planet, a Community of Practice will be most meaningful when we bring our relationships and collective learning  to bear on the shift we are wanting to create rather than putting up with the shift that just shows up.

Having now been in several conversations about community of practice, most recently with emerging leaders in Halifax – none of whom are following conventional career paths,  this model becomes extremely helpful in focusing on the purpose of a community of practice, especially as conversations tend to veer to one component or the other.  The power in the model is that it reminds us that each of these elements is fundamentally important to shifting patterns of work, organizations and communities, as well as individual patterns of relationship.

Communities of Practice could and will be many things – defined by the people who gather in them.  There is some core that attracts people into them – it could be creating an active practice ground in a community or organization for new skills, a safe haven in an environment that seems resistant to new work and new ways of working, an opportunity to grow individual and collective capacity.

The ones I’ve been part of seem to have an energy and magnetic attraction of their own that keep people showing up, an ease of flow and relationship, shared leadership and shared responsibility.  Nobody has to make them happen, they almost seem to make themselves happen.  They are fun.  People who show up really want to see each other, be with each other and dive into deep places within themselves and with each other.  There is some intentionality applied and the CoP is able to follow the path of emergence that points to what needs and wants to happen next to be most meaningful to work, relationships and learning.  Many of these CoPs don’t just know that something different is possible, they are beginning to demand it and showing up together, cultivating deep relationships and imagining what is possible that none of us individually might have imagined on our own while growing skills to support what we are envisioning is one way of creating movement, maybe even creating a movement.

Becoming an AoH Practitioner

One of the things that stands out from my Envision Halifax days when a team of us co-designed and co-delivered a nine month leadership program, meeting with the group once a month for either a retreat or a learning day, is how often people talked about getting their Envision “fix” – essentially being able to step out of the craziness of their workplaces into a deep breath of a different kind of space, where we often began with check-in circles and always entered into a conscious, intentional practice field of learning focused on self-leadership, team learning and community reflection and engagement.

The desire and need for this “fix” is directly related to how challenging people find it to bring their learning about new ways of interacting with people, creating the conditions for different conversations that lead to different results back into their work environments – and it is also what I hear from people who have just stepped out of their first Art of Hosting training ground.  “It is okay to do this here, but back at work, well, that’s another story.”

At the risk of stating the obvious, becoming a practitioner of anything takes…. well… practice.  And, I am aware of how risky it feels to try out new group processes or new ways of inviting conversation at work.  How many times we hear things like, “I could never use a talking piece at work.”  “I could never get our group to agree to use World Cafe.”  “People I work with would find this language strange and it may turn them off of even trying something new.”  Yes, all true AND there are always ways to begin practice.

People feel their credibility and reputation are most at risk trying something new with the people they work with all the time.   So one of the simplest possibilities is to look for other places to practice – with another team or department, in a volunteer capacity, with someone else who also wants to practice.

When we just begin to know the many and varied practices that are available through the Art of Hosting field and have little experience with them, we have less confidence in and knowledge of how the processes work and how people can be well and fully engaged in them.  Our own lack of confidence and fear can influence how the process unfolds.  For example, if the group has never participated in an Open Space before, it  may take a few minutes for them to warm up to inviting their own conversations when we open the space for their questions.  With experience, we know to be easy in that pause.  Without experience, it ignites our fears and then we want to jump in to make it happen, often over facilitating the space or the process, sometimes resulting in less than hoped for outcomes.  As grow our own experience and confidence in the impact of the process, we relax more which invites more flow and synchronicity into the space.

As for language, if it will be a barrier, don’t use it.  Rather than talking about circle practice, you could just say, “I would like to make sure we hear from every voice.  Maybe we could just go around the table and as each person speaks, the rest of us could just listen well to what they have to say.” Or, of course, whatever language suits you best.

Begin your practice in little ways.  Take little risks.  Change how you listen and see what difference shows up.  Use more questions, powerful questions, that invite people to respond differently.  Bring more curiousity to the conversations you have in the work you do.

Find places to practice the skills you want to develop more.  Find people to practice with.  Look for like minded people inside your organization with whom you can have conversations of discovery and potentially opportunities for practice.  Think of how you can intentionally shift the shape of your world.

Look for places outside of work to practice.  Take yourself back to another Art of Hosting training to deepen your understanding and skills and grow your courage.  Share success stories, small and large, so you and others can see the impact of making even small shifts.  Maybe you have an opportunity to be part of a calling team for an Art of Hosting in your organization or community.  You could look for an opportunity to apprentice in an Art of Hosting training with experienced practitioners and stewards so you learn to pay attention to and look for the nuances that can influence design, hosting and results.

Grow your confidence through practice and your practice will grow.  Don’t be discouraged easily.  Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunity, openings and invitations.  If you look for them, you will be delightfully surprised at how often they show up.

Join a community of practice.  If there isn’t one in your area, start one – even if it is just with a few people.  Join the on-line conversations and communities.  Observe and contribute when and as you are ready.

Whenever and however you can practice, do so.  Grow your courage through small victories and those victories will also grow.  You didn’t show up at an Art of Hosting training because you are risk averse.  You came because something called you.  My guess is, this work will continue to call you and you will continue to respond.  And there is a global field of practice that responds with you.  Be intentional, thoughtful and mindful and practice well.  Before you know it, you will recognize the Art of Hosting practitioner that is you.