The Art of Stewarding

Anyone who has ever wanted to call an Art of Hosting training has, in all likelihood, been told how important it is to have seasoned hosts – or stewards – as part of the hosting team. What does it mean to steward and why is this role so important in the Art of Hosting community and in individual training offerings?

I wanted to ground the word steward with a definition but none of the ones I found resonated until I came across this on Wikipedia:  it is desirable to increase capacity within an organizational system.  The Art of Hosting is a system – an interconnected, self-organizing global network – and since it began almost two decades ago, it has been increasing capacity in the network, within and across organizations, within and across systems and within and across individuals.

Even before there was such a thing as the name Art of Hosting, conversations were being hosted in many places around the world using different dialogic processes, including World Cafe, Open Space Technology, Circle Practice, Appreciative Inquiry  (and still are being hosted by people who have not heard of the Art of Hosting). Those who have become known as Art of Hosting Practitioners were intuitively and intentionally sensing into questions like: what is underneath this process, what are the patterns we can make visible, why do these processes or this way of convening a meeting produce different results?  They were deeply curious about the answers to these questions and the more evocative questions that were often provoked through the conversations stimulated by these questions.

Stewards sense and hold the deeper patterns in the field.  They don’t just hold this particular piece of client work or this particular training, they sense the patterns of the larger field and bring those patterns into the specific work and conversations they are involved in.

They have skill, wisdom and expertise in holding space, creating the conditions for powerful work (setting the container) and in working with emergence by paying attention to what is wanting and ready to happen in an individual, group, organization, or community or with a pattern.

They practice self-leadership or self-hosting and bring with them a presence often forged through the many fires of chaos, disruption and intensity they have found their way through which often enables them to keep their centre or ground in the most challenging of situations.

They have no need to hold centre stage although they find themselves there because of their willingness to share knowledge and learning while hosting fields where people are hungry to learn.  They bring clarity without doing the work of others or disempowering them or disconnecting them from their own sources of clarity, wisdom and knowledge.  They witness growth and ignite even more growth – within themselves and others.  They are flexible and diverse, growing the depth of field through co-learning with others.  It is precisely this co-learning, co-creating and collaborating on the edges of what they do not know that makes them most excited  – more so than presenting their expertise.

My awareness of stewarding has heightened over the last year or so as I have found myself in many stewarding conversations with good friends in the Art of Hosting, World Cafe and Circle Practice networks (most recently at ALIA in Columbus) and as I have the privilege to co-host with other seasoned practitioners in a variety of situations where the ability to draw on accumulated wisdom and knowledge has been powerfully beneficial to other hosting team members including apprentices hungry to learn as well as the full group involved in the training.

What do I know through some of my experiences? Stewards are able to check perceptions with each other to sense more fully into the field in which they are working, arriving at more informed choices of action, often to surface tension, move through groan zones, understand when divergence or convergence or some other intervention or process is needed.  They are comfortable with silence and with chaos, have no need to rush in and they can weave with each other through and across the field.  This does not mean there is never any tension but it does mean they have the capacity to work it through without detrimentally impacting the group or the overall experience.  In how they work together, they are often living, breathing examples of the beauty and power of co-creation.

I have had the opportunity to work more extensively with youth in the last year – in Canada, the US and Brazil – and see how sharing experience, asking good questions and holding space expands the depth of field in any given place and creates the opportunity for individual and collective expansion – by holding the space of curiosity with the space of experience.

In One Art of Hosting Does Not A Practitioner Make, I wrote that each Art of Hosting has its own flavour influenced by the hosting team, the calling questions, the people who show up, whatever is emergent in the field, whatever we choose to call the training and the place in which it is hosted.  It’s like seeing only a slice of the bigger picture.  One reason why stewards are necessary to these trainings is that they carry with them the depth of the patterns from across many trainings and client consulting work and they can help illuminate these patterns and this depth through how they hold the space and the questions they ask.

In any given training we will often say it is not about the methodologies – although when we use them we want to use them well.  It is about the purpose and intention of what we are about, what we want to achieve and how to create the conditions to meet purpose and intention and make more things possible.

Stewards illuminate the connections between people, places, trainings, theories, processes and patterns.  They bring the weave of the whole network into the space and disturb the training ground in subtle and overt ways, based on the imprints of their many experiences, helping shift the shape of the experience, enabling individuals to shift their own shape and ultimately influencing the shifting shape of the world.

This work is not for the feint of heart or lone wolves.  It is for those who are willing to show up more fully in the relational field, ask for help when they need it, offer what they can and sink into their own learning.  Stewards want to learn from each other and the more we work with each other, the deeper the relational field, the deeper the friendships and the richer the space we hold for others.

Victimhood, Survivorship – Two Sides of the Same Hook

Me In My Meditation Tree

This morning, on my run, I had a revelation.  I wasn’t particularly looking for a revelation – it just showed up.  The power of it could have knocked me over – except it fully formed when I was sitting in my meditation tree in my back yard after my run – and it definitely brought tears flowing as I felt release from a long held story.  The revelation? The story of survivorship is inextricably tethered to the story of victimhood.

I haven’t thought much about being a survivor over the last year as I have mostly felt joy in this new phase of my life.  On my run, I was feeling joy and inspiration, alive and vibrant, connecting to nature in the unseen ways that nature is also alive and vibrant.  Feeling really good.  Reflecting on events of the last week and a half that had me off my ground and my centre and then the three conversations/events that brought me back to my centre and a feeling of being myself.

One of my friends offered me, very bluntly, an acknowledgement of the victim threads buried in the story I wrote to her.  It highlighted it so brilliantly at first I was startled and then I laughed to see the truth of it.  And seeing the truth of it released it.

As I reflected on this experience this morning I realized I have lived into a story of survivorship probably most of my life, even before I was old enough to be consciously aware that that’s what I did.  I survived the story of my birth (a story for another time), growing up in a small town (only half a joke), two divorces, an ectopic pregnancy, job loss under crazy and difficult circumstances, starting a company, merging businesses, separating businesses, difficult and challenging personal and work relationships.   After all, the other choice was to be a victim.  And God forbid that I would ever be a victim.  I will always rise up and overcome whatever challenge shows up on my path.  I am a survivor.  I am strong.  I am resilient.  And this is all good.

Except, of course, for my little revelation this morning.  In order for the survivor story to be alive and well in me, the victim story is also alive and well but buried deep.  Victim and survivor are contrasting sides the same story – two sides of the same hook.  If it is only a choice between these two things, then of course, I want to be a survivor.  But if the survivor story is alive and well in me, even if I have lost conscious awareness of it, then in order to be a survivor, I must attract circumstances and challenges to myself so I can continue to live into the story of being a survivor.

The core of the revelation: without those challenges I am neither victim or survivor.  There are not just two choices.  There are a myriad of choices.  I can live into my life, path and purpose with freedom, joy, love, eagerness and enthusiasm.  I can still attract growth and contrast to my life, but they don’t need to be challenges.  They can be offerings from which I can choose the path that path serves the joyful, delightful core that is calling me.  I can accept, allow, receive.  How much more powerful is that than choosing only between victim and survivor but to release that hook and choose a completely different story and unfolding of my life as this new phase is just getting started.

Deeply grateful to friends, to nudges along the path and the beautiful shifting shape of my life, relationships and work that has only just begun.  Hungry for more.  Ready for more.

Prototyping Collaborative Leadership at Capital Health – Infusion

In March 2007 Capital District Health Authority (CDHA) in Halifax, Nova Scotia took on a planning process called Strategic Quest.  A significant component of Strategic Quest included public participation in an unprecedented way, shifting the shape of awareness and thinking at Capital Health.  The results were revealing and the impact continues to reverberate throughout the organization today, strongly influencing ongoing public participation in a number of areas and inviting collaborative leadership as a strategy to accomplish many of its goals.

One initiative I was involved with where Collaborative Leadership was an essential part of the process was Infusion: a gathering in November 2008 of 70 leaders from across North America, in our local community and within Capital Health, convened to inform what bold and unique leadership development within Capital Health could look like.

The planning process for Infusion, championed by Lea Bryden and led by Shape Shift Strategies, invited and modeled collaboration, shared leadership and shared responsibility.  A diverse group of people from across Capital Health were invited into the planning process.  Many identified the planning process itself as a leadership development opportunity as they experienced collaborative leadership in new ways, stretching beyond their original assumptions about how and what they could each contribute to this unusual event.

Achieving clarity of purpose was the first task.  It required a significant investment of time – several meetings.  It was a difficult task because there were multiple overlapping components all alive and unfolding as we were in this planning process.  We stayed in the conversation until sharp clarity was achieved and then rest of the planning process unfolded rapidly because it was guided by this clarity of purpose.  We also actively worked with Theory U in the planning process and for the event itself.

The planning process always had a forward momentum, even when people missed meetings.  As they came back in, they found their place in the process and continued to contribute constructively.  They could step into and out of the flow of the process without having to back track and rehash decisions made when they were not present.

The two day Infusion event drew on the talents of everyone on the planning team.  Invited guests: leaders from a vast array of backgrounds, many of whom were leadership consultants, were asked to bring their knowledge and expertise in a participatory way.  It was at times a challenging field to hold.  The team was able to hold its ground as we went through the fire of chaos, adjusting design in the moment and holding space for some anger and frustration that unexpectedly arose within the group because of the collaborative leadership we had been growing throughout the planning process.

Infusion did not end in a nice tidy wrapped up bundle and Lea Bryden, myself and the team were good to leave it that way while taking away the gems that guided the development of My Leadership – a truly unique leadership development initiative inside of Capital Health with a bold vision and goals that has since had 500 leaders complete and won a number of regional and national awards.

 

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.

H1N1 and the Untold Stories

There is a new phenomenon in our world called H1N1.  The news stories are all around the vaccine: availability of the vaccine,  getting vaccinated, vaccination clinics, who has priority in being vaccinated, reactions to the vaccine, H1N1 assessment clinics, how many people have been hospitalized, how many have died, the cost of delivery, the pandemic nature of this flu.

There is an untold and evolving story around H1N1.  It is the story of innovation, breaking down silos, working across departments, flattening of decision making structures, team engagement, people rolling up their sleeves and doing what needs to be done regardless of job description and everyone pulling together to face down the issues created by what is being called a pandemic – at least here in Canada.

Being around a lot of health care folx because of my work and being in frequent conversations about engagement, we began to muse about the level of engagement of health care folx, in particular, in the pandemic planning and the delivery of the vaccine.  We came back to a familiar question: What is it about a crisis that brings out a sense of community, the power and clarity of a common goal, necessary resource allocation and alleviates common arguments, bickering or turf protection around role and resources?

How can we create these conditions in times when there is no crisis is often asked?  We are operating from the premise that it is possible to create the same conditions without a crisis.   During this particular conversation I began to entertain the question, what if it isn’t possible to fully recreate the conditions of crisis?  For instance, the province of Nova Scotia has made available millions of dollars for the roll out of the H1N1 vaccine.  Without the compelling argument of needing to control a pandemic outbreak of illness, as a for instance, what else other than crisis would so easily and readily garner financial and human resources.  One of the reasons there is normally turf protection is because when we don’t have crisis the experience is that we have more limited resources and people have to advocate for their share of budget.

My question changed.  Given that responding to the H1N1 crisis has temporarily transformed the relational field of how people are working together, what would it take to maintain some of the shift that has occurred and embed it in the organizational culture instead of allowing things to drift back – or spring back – to the way things have always been done – which is likely what will happen when the H1N1 pressure is off?  How do we capitalize on the shifted shape of the relational field to allow operation along this chaordic edge or chaordic path all or most of the time?

There is an interesting opportunity here.  As the pressure of crisis eases, will the lessons learned include new new ways of working together and the minimalization of structures and processes to support that?

Work and the Sacred – Distinct and Separate or Whole and Integrated?

The birth of Shape Shift Strategies Inc. has been truly inspired.  In the midst of this transition in my life and work, it became clear to me that I would be letting go of Chrysalis and of Co-Creating Futures and leaving them with my business partner and that this was absolutely the right thing to do.

As I let this go, the name Shape Shift came, unbidden, with ease, on a flight to Colorado on my way to an Art of Hosting training and a vision quest.  Both the company name and the look for the company have been universally well received as I speak them or hand out business cards.  It resonates with people and it reverberates as people carry it away and contemplate it.

Shape Shift has a practical quality – how do we want to intentionally shift the shape of our own world rather than be a passive recipient.  The shape of individuals, teams and organizations literally shifts as people bring intentionality and purpose to everything they do.  Some would argue intentionality and purpose border on the spiritual.

I know Shape Shift also has a spiritual quality.  It has its own essence beyond anything that I personally bring to it.  Every now and then I feel that I glimpse a bit of its possible future and I am surprised by the potentiality that exists.

It also has a spiritual quality because it is born out of my own spiritual journey – a journey that has dominated my life path in the last couple of years.  Some would say I am a Shape Shifter.  Some days I might even say that.

The largest question I have been sitting with the last few months is how to bring my spiritual path and my work path together…. and still have credibility, and still make a livelihood … as if they are two separate and distinct things and that acknowledging the sacred will somehow be an impediment in some of the client work I do.  Then a good friend thoughtfully said to me, “I think you are making a distinction where none exists.”

Hmmmm.  Powerful.  Nice pause.  Deep breath.  You are making a distinction where none exists!

I have brought this thought, this awareness into quite a few conversations over the last two months.  I am beginning to speak these things out loud, publicly.  I am in a community of practice with people who are also exploring this question and beginning to speak it out loud – or just to practice it by showing up in the sacredness of who they are and the magic they bring to people, places and things.

What if the essence of who we are, the work we do in the world and the sacred are not all separate things but that we have been making distinctions where none exist?  Imagine if we intentionally bring a sense of seamlessness and integration around work and the sacred EVERYWHERE, all the time, and people understood it to be normal rather than an edgy conversation!  Imagine the sense of harmony and ease we would bring into all the places we touch.  Every time we do this, we bring a bit more healing to ourselves and others.

What does the world need right now?  Healing.  Where do we start – or where am I starting?  With what I used to think of as an edgy topic in some settings – by intentionally bringing the sacred – and magic – into everything I do and every place I go.  Will you join me?