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.

One AoH Training Does Not a Practitioner Make

From the last few Art of Hosting trainings I have co-hosted there are two things that I am increasingly aware of: what it means to be a practitioner of the Art of Hosting and the value and contribution of stewarding to the field and the learning and growth of all.

People come to Art of Hosting trainings hungry for any number of things: to learn more about the methodologies and practices, to connect into a sense of community, to find refuge from the craziness of the worlds they live and work in, to deepen their own self leadership, to find new ways to be in the world, to discover mates they can work and play with in the world, because they have been part of a process somewhere that has drawn from Art of Hosting and they want to learn more and many more reasons I’m sure.  And they go away refreshed, curious, hungry for more and a bit hesitant around how they can bring this back to their life and work.

Two things I am aware of: to really be a practitioner of an Art requires practice and one Art of Hosting training does not a practitioner make.

The Art of Hosting field is incredibly rich and diverse and linked to so many other fields: World Cafe, Circle Practice, Open Space Technology, the Chaordic Field, Theory U, Appreciative Inquiry and more.  When we call a three for four day training, the breadth and scope of the days is shaped by the intended purpose and the people who show up – responsive to the collective need of the group, no matter whether it is a public or client offering.  There is no such thing as a set agenda.  It is a fluid process that the host team and the participants all contribute to.  It also means that the host team is having to pick and choose among the vast array of possible offerings that could flow into the training.  It is not possible to do them all.

All of these things – the hosting team, the purpose, the participants, the choices made within a training ground – contribute to the look, feel and shape of each training, while some underlying things always remain – paying attention to the field, holding space for co-creation and emergence, recognizing the interplay between the dynamics in the field and the learning needs of the group, between self hosting and collective hosting.  No two offerings are ever exactly the same, even if the same hosting team is in place – because the hosting team is also in its own learning individually and collectively and because of the responsiveness to each new training ground.

One Art of Hosting training offers a slice of the Art of Hosting field, even if it is a large slice.  Another Art of Hosting training will show different nuances, different strengths, different emphases and be just as relevant and meaningful as a reflection of the field.  If we leave an AoH training believing this is the way it is – and the only way – we will have missed something fundamentally important – that a key underlying principle is responsiveness to need, co-creation which influences the flow of any training or practice ground, paying attention to what’s in the space and what’s wanting to happen.

It really does take a number of trainings to have a more fulsome understanding and experience of AoH and what’s possible and really understand how AoH contributes to the shifting shape of the world.  We become practitioners when we practice and learn from what we practice.  The next post will explore some ways that practice shows up and how to ask for and offer support in the practice and a future post will look at the questions and observations that have been occurring to me about the role and importance of stewarding.

A 1500 Day Collaborative Journey

In November 2006, the Council of the College of Registered Nurses of Nova Scotia (CRNNS) embarked on a 1500 day collaborative journey, the likes of which they could hardly imagine was possible at the time.  What was clear was that the College had a vision and a mandate to grow inter-professional collaborative practice (IPCP) from pockets here and there across the province to a more widespread practice as one of the responses to a health care system in need of shifting the way services were delivered.

They knew this was not a mandate that could be achieved alone and they weren’t quite sure how to invite other professions into the conversation.  They contacted an Art of Hosting colleague of mine who invited me into the process and we worked with a team from the College to begin to clarify the work.

Early on we identified that this would likely be a long term process that would use Theory U to define the journey and Art of Hosting as the operating system. Before the journey could even begin, others needed to be invited into the conversation so that other people and organizations could identify what contribution and what level of support or commitment they were willing and able to offer.

The College hosted its first assembly in November 2006 to announce its mandate, speak what they were hearing in the system and being called to do, invite a broad array of health care professionals into conversations using processes like Appreciative Inquiry, World Café and circle which many participants experienced for the first time ever that day.

Out of this assembly a core team of about twenty-five people and financial support from a broad range of health organizations self identified to commit to a multi-year process that included two Art of Hosting retreats (one a sensing retreat and one a presencing retreat) to train the core team, deepen their understanding of the purpose and principles of the work and identify a strategy to move this mandate forward.  We called on Art of Hosting colleagues doing similar work in Ohio and in England to come and also support this initiative, bringing with them a wealth of experience and weaving in the stories from other places that increased the anticipation of successfully shifting the shape of collaborative health care in Nova Scotia.

The collaborators included: Annapolis Valley Health, Capital Health, College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Nova Scotia, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia, Dalhousie University, IWK Health Centre, Nova Scotia Association of Health Organizations (now Health Association of Nova Scotia), Nova Scotia Department of Health, Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia, Registered Nurses Professional Development Centre and the Pictou County Health Authority.  The team included people from many of these organizations and was itself inter-disciplinary.

In between the two retreats, the core team embarked on a series of sensing strategies to broaden their own understanding of the health care system in Nova Scotia, identifying challenges and opportunities without assuming they already knew all the answers.  One purpose in this was to also engage a more stakeholders and learn from them what would capture their support, interest and imagination.  Seven group interviews and thirty five individual interviews were conducted, designed to elicit their private voice more than their public voice.  It is in the private voice that deep despair and incredible hope both reside.

The information that came back from these interviews was powerful.  So powerful it was used to invite back a large assembly of stakeholders in May of 2008 to hear the results and, most importantly, to hear the voices of the system spoken back into the room.  In response, somebody said, “What we are seeing is a crisis of the soul.”

We asked people: “What would you do that you’ve never done or dreamed of doing to change the future of healthcare?” They responded:

  • Change the way we deliver health care
  • Change the focus of health care
  • Change education of practitioners
  • Change what we say to communities
  • Change governance of health care
  • Change relationships and how we work together

We asked, “What should the purpose of the health care system be?”  To which they responded:

To create and maintain holistic, accessible support and care so that Nova Scotians may live well in a place they call home.

 

To facilitate and empower the individual and the community to create and maintain

optimum health as defined by the individual.

 

The purpose of the healthcare system is evidence based, person-focused, preventative, holistic, and uses a collaborative approach to optimize the health, safety, wellbeing and environment of people within their communities.

People made commitments that day and the College made a commitment to check back in later with their last assembly to acknowledge and celebrate progress.  That day happened in June 2010.

Six champion collaborative practice teams currently providing services in Nova Scotia were invited to present at the Assembly, modeling the way and illuminating the steps to successful collaborative care in Nova Scotia.

Have all the ideas identified in May of 2008 been implemented?  No.  But in 2010, there was far more collaborative care in Nova Scotia than there was in 2006 when the College began its quest and invited in collaborators, retaining its willingness to be a champion of this work and, at the same time, “letting it go” so that it could be co-created throughout the whole journey with those who stepped forward to share the leadership and responsibility of this work in Nova Scotia.  Other initiatives focusing on Collaborative Care also emerged during this time helping to expand awareness and the field of practice and this does not lessen the impact of the Inter-Disciplinary Collaborative Practice initiative in generating impactful responses to a system in need of change.

Some things have fundamentally changed.  Some things are still to come.

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.

New Models of Organization and Work – Are We Ready?

The shape of the world is shifting, pretty dramatically and quickly, right now.  Are we ready?  Are organizations and systems ready? These questions have completely captured my attention fueled by the conversations and places I’ve been in lately.

I’m not sure we are ready and I’m not sure we will ever actually be ready for the shift that is emerging in the world right now.  Systems and organizations are designed to be self perpetuating.  Threat and opportunity are viewed through the lenses and structures of the system or organization – we usually believe that we only have a certain amount of scope within which to bring about change – we can only get certain people’s attention for brief periods of time, we need to work within the system, within the structures, because there are some things you cannot change, some things that will not work.  They may reflect current reality but they are also limiting beliefs and as long as enough people buy into them, radical change will be stalled.  Yet radical change may be what is lurking right around the corner, ready or not.

What gives me hope?  One is the conversations I’ve been in lately around the 2 Loops of Systems Change with my Berkana friends and beyond.  You can read a bit about it here and you can find my own hand drawing of the model here: 2 Loops of System Change

This model shows that in the peak and the beginning of the decline of the mature systems, there are alternatives already beginning to appear.  These alternatives need space to find their way.  Some will grow stronger and some will fail.  The ones that do grow stronger need to begin to connect with each other to grow collective and individual strength and capacity.  There are people in the mature system (stewards or sometimes called “toxic handlers”) who see and understand the importance of this work and who hold the space and clear the way for these alternatives to grow.

The alternatives do tend to fly under the radar and are often not widely known, but they are there.  Maybe they will be ready in the event of collapse of the old systems although it is hard for me to fully imagine what a collapse of the old systems will look like.  Maybe we are already seeing it but just not recognizing it for what it really is.

While existing organizations are entrenched in their structures and processes, newer, usually smaller organizations  have greater flexibility, resourcefulness and resilience and the greater capacity to totally rethink how they are structured, how they deliver their goods or services to the world.  They often can do this at less cost because they don’t have as much “bricks and mortar” in place as larger organizations and it feels less risky because they have “less to lose”, or so it might seem.

What has me excited is the possibility of new business models that can emerge now.  I have found myself sharing stories about networks – the Art of Hosting network, World Cafe, Berkana to name a few – because these networks recognize themselves as networks, organic and emergent.  They trust in the capacity of people to self-organize and are held together and flourish because purpose and principles are clear.  They have a minimum structure and sometimes struggle with how to live models of organization that are outside of traditional structures, particularly because in times of stress people push for what they already know and are comfortable with.    They are open source, openly sharing knowledge and new learning in recognition that this sharing grows the body and field of knowledge.

I share what I know about these ways of organizing with businesses and other organizations I am in conversation with, not because I think they should adopt the specific models, but because I think there is wisdom in these ways of organizing that could inform new business models – especially business models that see the value in operating from a place of openness and open heartedness – which I seem to be running into more often lately.

More than ever, I feel we are on the brink of unprecedented social change around the world and I have a greater awareness of just how connected we all are.  I can’t imagine what exactly it looks like but I continue to grow my comfort and skill working at the edges of my own not knowing – thanks to collaborative relationships with people I am privileged to call friends.

Are we ready?  I don’t think we really are.  Does it matter?  This shift will happen whether we are ready or not.  Our greatest path to readiness is to grow our own capacity for resilience, dealing with chaos, complexity, simplicity and not knowing.

My next posting will look at some of these new models of organization to see what we can learn from them and maybe, just maybe, grow our level of readiness even just a tiny bit.