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.

The Gift of Shadow

I have been intrigued by the notion of shadow ever since I came across Debbie Ford‘s book, The Secret of the Shadow, years ago as I began the more conscious part of my journey.  The idea that it is everywhere, in everyone of us and in our group dynamics was a revelation at the time.  The fact that there are real gifts in it when we develop enough courage to dive in was illuminating.

Shadow is not a bad thing.  It just is.  It exists. Where there is light there is also shadow.  We can really live into the light when we are ready to acknowledge shadow.

For some reason, we have made that acknowledgment really difficult in the world we live and operate in today.  We have made it “bad” through our fear of facing it, surfacing it or acknowledging it and so we try to pretend, individually and collectively, that it isn’t there.  We tiptoe around it, we dance around it, we grow frustrated by it and still it often remains a challenge to name.  We think it only exists in some places, but it actually can and does show up in all kinds of places and even in the groups and organizations that are doing amazing and, do I dare say, enlightened work.

My good friend Christina Baldwin, author of The Circle Way and Calling the Circle, and, along with her partner Ann Linnea, keeper and steward of circle practice for over twenty years (long before it became more fashionable as an effective and powerful meeting practice) defines shadow as: “the things that cannot be said or, if they are said, are said at great peril to the speaker”.

This great peril is often that the speaker is ostracized.  As the speaker is shut down, so are others who will not now venture to name the unspoken things and then any avenues for the naming of shadow are also shut down.   Unproductive group patterns and dynamics become entrenched in the group and members of the group pretend to each other that all is well.  And yet in this scenario, it means that people no longer feel invited to show up as full human beings.  They feel the need to leave a part of themselves parked at the door and this is often the part that would most wonderfully, fully and impactfully engage them in the work ahead.

Anytime things cannot be spoken, they surface in actions and interactions in a group.  They show up as frustration with process or lack of progress and as blame: “if only that one person (or that group) would get their act together, we’d all be fine.”  The impact of shadow shows up in lack of engagement by some members of the group and by side conversations that happen outside of meetings that do not serve the health and well being of the group.

It is not unusual that someone who has been perceived as the problem can leave the group and yet the actual problem persists.  It is now acted out by someone else.  The longer the patterns persist, the harder they are to surface and to break.

Aside from fear of being ostracized, the other reason people do not name shadow is because they are afraid of hurting other people in the group.  They do not have language or process around how to do this well and it is a skill that can be developed.

One of the tenets of Circle Practice is understanding there is a centre to the circle – or the work or the group – and if we focus on the centre it enables us to transcend two way debate,  personal attack and interpersonal dynamics and speak to the underlying patterns – that are often showing up in very overt ways.  To be able to name tension in a group or situation is one very simple way of relieving the tension.  “Yes, we’ve noticed and are aware that it is here.  How will we choose to move through it now?”

The simple act of naming can, quite remarkably,  diffuse a lot of tension and shadow.  How would the shape of our world shift, the shape of our meetings and the shape of our relationships shift if we could honour the fact that shadow exists, it shows up – instead of pretending it’s not there?   If we understand this, it frees us up to look for the gifts inherent in shadow and use those gifts to build our effectiveness, connection and cohesion as a group and as community.

Shadow is not something we deal with once and it is gone.  It will show up again.  But if we stay tuned to it, name it when it is present and work through it, more light will shine into our lives and the work we do.

Social Media Changing Social Norms

Had a fascinating conversation with a small group of people at #PodCampHfx last Sunday about the role of social media in shifting the shape of the world.  I was particularly interested in its influence along the chaordic path – that place between chaos and order we seem to be navigating more and more frequently in the world right now.

The Chaordic Path

The Chaordic Field

I wanted to understand more the influence of social media on the chaordic path and  what the opportunity is to influence it more strategically or with greater intentionality.  I also shared the stepping stones of the Chaordic Path: need, purpose, principles, people, concept, limiting beliefs, structure and processes, and practice.

Social media facilitates networks or webs of people in making interconnected relationships more visible.  Partly because of this it is also driving greater transparency in today’s world.  Buzz spreads rapidly through Facebook or Twitter and it is a lot harder to hide information, indiscretions, faux pas’ or worse.  Even with privacy settings, you cannot control what someone else posts.

There was a time that technology was isolating for people.  It was easier to sit at home emailing people half way around the world than it was to go knock on the door of the next door neighbour.  The rise of social technology though is enabling people to connect and reconnect with each other in ways that also generates in person contact.  Friends in a city will find each other through social technology – on the web and in person.  There are examples of how Twitter friends, who may or may not have actually met each other,  arrive at conferences and then set up the opportunity to meet face-to-face.

What was most interesting in our chat at #podcampHFX was how often the word community popped up.  I have noticed that people are yearning for community and sense of connection and social media seems to have created pathways to community in surprising ways.  And the most intriguing thought: social media is transforming our social norms, changing the parameters of acceptable and non-acceptable behaviour, doing this broadly and maybe more swiftly than any other social norm shift in the history of civilized society.

I’m still reflecting on how social media is shifting the shape of our world and contributing to the regeneration of community.

Training together for clarity, love and courage in 2010

This New Year’s Eve posting has been evoked by my friend Chris Corrigan.  He said: “Let’s let this next decade be one where we train together in clarity and love. The fierce love of courage and maturity that it takes to bring peace in the world, in our collective and individual realms.”

The shape of the world is shifting and never more so than right now.  We all bear witness to it.  Some of us focus on the doom, gloom and fear of it.  Some of us focus on the hope inspired by passionate, creative people of all ages who are awake or waking up to the notion that we are all connected and that what I do as an individual, no matter how small or localized, really does make a difference.

If we inspire one other person by the way we live our life, by our optimism, by our hope, by our actions, that will have been enough.  But the hidden, still yet to be fully discovered story in all of this is what Paul Hawkins speaks of in Blessed Unrest.

We are part of a movement that is greater and deeper than we know or can know.  This movement is flying under the radar of the media and mass culture so far.  It is a shared understanding arising spontaneously – everywhere and across all boundaries all at the same time.  It is a civil rights movement, a human rights movement, a democracy movement, a social and environmental movement.  It is marked by kinship, community and symbiosis. It has no center and no one spokesperson. It is humanity’s immune response and it continues to grow.

As it grows it is beginning to see itself more.  People from around the world are beginning to connect in both the obvious and the strangest places – Copenhagen, list serves, FaceBook – in person and through social media.  There is a heightened sense of it coming out of Copenhagen as more and more people become aware of the need to take responsibility and act – rather than let our fate wait in political speak and negotiations.

I think the characteristics of this movement are exactly what Chris said – The fierce love of courage and maturity that it takes to bring peace in the world, in our collective and individual realms.

We all need to be warriors in this training ground of clarity, love and courage.  This is my call to action for 2010.  I’ll be there.  Will you?

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