Youth Engagement Impeded by Pressure of Elder Legacy Need?

It is a freshly minted question for me.  Is youth engagement impeded by the pressure of older adults wanting to leave a legacy or the need to get it right?

The question began fermenting for me during the Art of Community Building training for African Nova Scotian facilitators in June of this year (2013).  It was an Open Space question posed by the (now) late Rocky Jones: how to engage the youth?  I used the Law of Two Feet to find my way to that conversation and listened in for a few minutes, trying to understand more about a question that is asked all the time in all kinds of situations.

I wondered out loud, if they really knew what the youth wanted?  That’s what they were trying to find out, they told me. You know those moments when you feel that vague stirring in your soul because something is not connecting but you’re not sure what or why?  I was in one of those moments, feeling that there was a point that was wanting to emerge – in my own mind anyway – but none of us in the conversation were hitting on it.  It was a vague sense of somehow missing the mark and it kept stirring for me.

Later at dinner, the hosting team and a few others of us continued the conversation.  Rocky and Roshanda Cummings, a young leader and apprentice host on our team who came from San Francisco to co-host with us,  got into a beautifully intense conversation about the role of elders, about Roe wondering where her elders were, with Rocky listening intently as she poured her heart out about what it was like to be a young black woman in the places she lived and traveled.

I thought about how Roe had been invited into this work – not with the question of “how do I engage you” but with the open hearted invitation of “what can we do together and I would LOVE you to come to Nova Scotia to do this work with me!”

Stillheart Roe and Kathy

I began to wonder how many conversations around youth engagement (or engagement generally) come from a place (unintentionally of course) of fear, regret, reproach or judgment.  Reproach and judgment because youth are not meeting some standard of engagement or community participation that may no longer even be relevant or of interest to youth.  Fear and regret that elders may have let youth down, let themselves down in the process, worried about what kind of legacy they are leaving youth and community.

And then I wondered, “What if a conversation with youth about how to engage them had a totally different starting point?”  Inspired by Mary Oliver, for instance, and her great question: “Tell me what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life!”  What if a question like that was the invitation to a conversation where we really listened to each other instead of suppositioned?  What if everything about the conversation said, “I care about you and what you care about,” if engagement came from the place of how do I support you in that which calls you from the soul, and what could we do together and learn together if we jumped into engagement from that point?

Just sensing into these two approaches, the energy shifts shape from one of burden and how do I get someone else, in this case youth, to do something they don’t seem to be particularly interested in doing to one of curiosity and eagerness as I anticipate listening in to what makes someone else come alive and imagining with them how they could do more of that!  And maybe I could do it with them!

Women, Leadership and Power

Will feminine principles rule the future?  John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio posit this in their book, The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future, and I like to think they are right.  More than like to think it, I am actively inviting it, through the work I do and the way I do it – collaboratively, with others doing good work in the world using the practices and patterns of the Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter.  This doesn’t mean I think masculine principles are bad, just that they are overused and a rebalancing of the energies could spark the next evolution of leadership and power in life, work, play and community.

We are living now in the space between narratives as my friend and frequent co-host Jerry Nagel likes to say.  The old story of power and control, described as masculine attributes, that many of us around the world are reportedly dissatisfied with is the story that has been operational for centuries now.  The new story of consensus building, collaboration and co-creation, described as feminine attributes, is what many are longing for, even when they do not have the words to articulate it.  People I encounter in the work I do and the places I travel want to show up and be seen as full human beings rather than as the distinct parts that are “acceptable” in different circumstances – logic and rationality at work, nurturing and caring in private. When we are invited as full human beings a new essence of aliveness and creativity also shows up.

The characteristics we are yearning for now are exactly the characteristics that have been dismissed and squelched as not being effective, as too soft, as the antithesis of leadership; the characteristics of feminine principles.

The principles of masculine and feminine are being confused with gender, feminine principles have been diminished and, by extension, women have been too.  Women wanting to be successful in business and politics in the past have had to become more like men in the drive for power and authority. Even Cheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In is really asking women to to step up to their male colleagues in the way of the old narrative.  I love that her book is sparking conversation in many places about masculine and feminine principles, and I love that she is successful as a powerful woman leader.

What does it take to shift to a new narrative about women, leadership and power? It is hard to shift to new narratives.  The grip of the old story is engrained in us in ways we do not even know.  Even as we step into doing things differently, the pull of the old narrative, embedded in culture which is designed to perpetuate itself, is strong.  It takes intentionality, vulnerability and the willingness to be in good inquiry and co-learning with each other.  It takes a re-valuing of the feminine in all that it has to offer and a new understanding of what it means to be powerful. It takes the willingness to let go of control to step into patterns and practices that invite the best of our thinking, leadership and accountability to show up, the spaces were emergence lives.

It takes men embracing principles of the feminine and it takes women seeing and stepping into the strength of these principles in ways that show how powerfully they can shift the shape of the narrative we are living into now.  It means bringing for the best of the masculine principles into this rebalancing dynamic and acting with curiosity, generosity and compassion.

This inquiry is one I am excited to be exploring at a one day forum in San Francisco on June 7, 2013, which is an invitation to be in a deep dialogue together with other women about women and power, the next evolution of leadership.  There we will be exploring questions like:

1) What is the new definition of success we need to create so women can truly thrive in their personal and professional lives?

2) How do we gain the confidence and courage we need to express ourselves more authentically as professional women?

3) How do we more fully step into our leadership to vision and co-create new, more powerful systems and patterns in the worlds we live and work in?

4) What are the feminine qualities, when we as women express them more fully, make us more powerful leaders?

5) What becomes possible when we as women elevate each other and what is required to support or grow this over time?

6) What is the desired impact we want to have in our organizations and in the world?

7) What are the prejudices and stereotypes women hold which, if they shifted, would create better opportunities for women to thrive?

I am curious to see what will emerge from the inquiry and how we might set in motion, or accelerate what is already in motion, supportive leadership practices that invite the best of who we are as human beings to show up, individually and collectively.

Gossip – Harmful or Helpful?

The stories we tell shape our experiences as much and more than the experiences themselves.  For anything we experience, there are a myriad of ways the story of it can be told.  How the story is told illuminates a lot about us as individuals and about the culture of the organizations we work for.  Many of the stories told are not done so with thoughtfulness or intentionality and this makes them very revealing for anyone paying attention and even for people not so tuned in.  You want to know about a culture of an organization, pay attention to the stories told by those who work there and interact with them.

Recently I’ve been working with an organization that is struggling with morale, trust and relationships, sparked by many challenges the organization has experienced over the last few years.  The topic of gossip is a central theme and it has us all curious.  It is not the first time I have come across this in teams or organizations that are challenged or even labeled as dysfunctional.

gossip

There are many questions and assumptions in this group that are not unique to it.  How do you know when it’s gossip?  Is all gossip bad?  How do we share information?  How is gossip different than information sharing?  It’s how we decompress.  We deal with such pressing issues, it’s only natural we would gossip.

It is not “only natural” that we would gossip.  There are lots of choices around how to share information and even whether to share.  Gossip is a form of information sharing that goes beyond the facts and beyond the attempt to understand someone or something.  It has an edge.  It is often malicious.  It has the potential to impact other’s reputations in destructive ways.  Generally when gossip is a pattern in an organization or team individuals know they are just as likely to be gossiped about next as the current focus of the gossip.  And, they do it anyway.

Gossip is one way of creating alliances.  These alliances are often formed to keep others out or to target individuals in pejorative and harmful ways.  It shows up in win/lose cultures and is way of trying to win – at all costs.

It is mobile as things do not remain confidential but spread rapidly.  When gossip is rampant it often has truth, half truth and complete untruth in it and it is hard to distinguish which is which. It focuses on private and personal affairs, attributes, assumptions and insinuations about others.  There is an energy to gossip which feels conspiratorial, sucks people in but also leaves people feeling bad about themselves – sometimes without knowing why.  Sometimes it traverses into bullying.

In the organization I was working with recently, some wondered why I would focus on gossip when the pressing issues were clearly laid out in a mind map of patterns and themes distilled from employee responses to a survey.  Some named leadership and accountability as the two most significant issues.  I agreed.  I also named gossip, role clarity, boundaries as a few others and I kept coming back to gossip, much to the disbelief of some.  Patterns of gossip are also about control and power.  This comes out of the formation of alliances, being able to shut people down and pushing agendas that are of interest to a few but maybe not unilaterally to everyone.  If we can shift the pattern of gossip in an organization, it becomes possible to shift other patterns as well.  Gossip detracts us from what more is possible.  It is energy and time consuming.

As we wrapped up our day I asked two questions for the closing circle: what is your commitment to changing the conversation here and what is the intentional story you want others to know about this organization?

Some of the comments about gossip were particularly illuminating.

“I gossip when I am afraid to go to someone directly.”

“I know it’s gossip when I am eager to contribute something to the conversation.”

“I gossip when I don’t think I am as good as someone else.”

“I feel awful when I gossip.  It’s yucky.  I will not do it anymore.”

“I do not like the person I am when I gossip and I do not want to end my career at this organization in this way.”

A lack of respect for others, is a lack of respect for self.  Our outer world is a reflection of our inner world. What we say about others says far more about us than about them.

We stop gossip when we decide to stop participating in it.  When we become curious instead of playing in the judgment which characterizes so much gossip.  When we become compassionate about the situation and the people involved.  When we refuse to send gossip on.  When we hold ourselves accountable to stop and when we hold others accountable by refusing to gossip with them, when we invite them into an inquiry about what is the purpose of the information they are sharing and are they inviting a conversation about how to strategize having conversations that matter with the people involved instead of about them.

collaboration

 

When we stop filling the space between us with gossip we have the opportunity to fill that space with generosity, curiosity and compassion, with conversations that are meaningful and relevant and to focus on successes and the things we appreciate about each other and what we do.  When we cultivate this kind of foundation, we create the base from which to have the conversations we’ve been avoiding through gossip – conversations about leadership, accountability and the deep purpose of the work we are in.

Gossip is only helpful in seeing culture and identifying challenges.  It is not conducive to healthy workplaces or healthy relationships. When we replace gossip with intentional, appreciative conversations, we begin to create the conditions for more of what is possible, more of how we can serve the needs we have identified and a bonus is that we feel better about who we are and what we do.  This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in the best of ways.

Seeing and Being Seen, Having Voice

St. Cloud is a small city in Minnesota known euphemistically as “White Cloud” because of its reputation as a racist town.  Some residents of this community have decided this is a reputation that needs to shift.  They are taking action in the form of Conversations that Matter.

Mayuli Bales became aware of the Art of Hosting a couple of years ago through one of the early trainings in Minnesota.  She began to dream of what might be possible in her home town and the seeds of the multi-cultural community gathering for conversation began to take shape, seeds just harvested mid-November 2012.

It was the first gathering in St. Cloud about race and culture convened by people of colour.  Mayuli pulled together a local calling team despite not being able to explain clearly what the Art of Hosting is and they got to work, supported by InCommons and the Meadowlark Institute.

Some of the most passionate discussions in the hosting team were about seeing and being seen, having voice that is acknowledged and recognized. The experience of so many people of color is that they are invisible, not seen, not heard. Heartbreaking. For them. For those of us on the hosting team too.  For me.

The dream was to Color the Cloud. The purpose for our gathering co-evolved by the hosting team the day before was:

Discovering together our community, to build the future by:

  • Seeing each other
  • Contributing all of our voices
  • Getting skillful at being in conversations that matter to us
  • Co-creating the evolving story

So much anticipation.  So much hope.  So much anxiety. Could it really happen? The three day design that emerged used the themes in the purpose as themes for each day.  Day 1 was Discovering Community: Seeing and Being Seen.  Day 2 was Building Community: Getting skillful together. Day 3 was Practicing Community: Co-creating the evolving story.  The design included the usual interweave of patterns, practices and teaches.

Drummers who opened the community conversations in St. Cloud

We were welcomed into our space by drummers – three members of a family with Aztec heritage, a father, mother and their three year old son who took up his place as a drummer.  The father shared with us, “You’ve been told in school and in your museums that Aztec’s are extinct.  But here we are, my wife, my son and me.  We are not extinct.  Neither is our culture.”  Culture must adapt to survive while cherishing those elements which make the culture distinctive.

He shared with us the story of the drum – as a grandfather, as a heartbeat, as part of community voice with its own message for each of us.  We were all invited to drum.  All of us.  Latinos, Somali’s, Oromo, African Americans, White Americans (and Canadians too) – broad categories of culture which do not do justice to the full multiplicity of culture in the room.  One world where many worlds fit.  Could fit.  Could be invited to fit.

The container was set, to be strengthened over the next few days. The invitation to see.  To see who else is in the room.  Who else cares enough about coloring the cloud to show up – for a morning, an afternoon, a meal, for three days. To be seen.  To contribute voice.  All voices.  Welcoming the languages present to be spoken aloud for all to hear.  Slowly at first but building so that by our check out circle, people were freely speaking their language, interpreted for the English speaking among us to comprehend, to see, to witness.

We became aware, as a hosting team, that these people, showing up day after day, did not need to hear our voices introducing teaches into the room.  They needed to hear each other’s voices, each other’s stories.  In ways and on a scale that had not yet happened in this community.  They needed and wanted to become skillful in practicing conversation with each other.  And to use conversation to support each other in initiatives and projects called out during the proaction café.  So we let the teaches of frameworks go and we focused on processes, ways and means of continually inviting them into conversation with each other.

The story of the new began to emerge during Open Space, Collective Storytelling, World Café, Proaction Café and smaller deep check in circles.  Surveying the small groups at any given time or in any given process, it was easy to see the diversity in each circle.  It was heartwarming.

Two of many stories to share here.

The first is of a member of our hosting team, a beautiful Somali woman dressed in the full traditional garb of her culture and often in the most brilliant of colours.  At the end of Day 1 she is part of the check out team.  Sensing the energy is low, she has a plan.  She looks down at her dress, begins to pull up the top layer of it, tying it in a knot, exposing the next layer of dress which still goes down to the floor.  Just this is so unexpected she has our full attention.  Then, she invites all of us to imagine with her that we are cats, to get down on the floor moving around on all fours, meowing.  Amidst gales of laughter, all who were able in the room, get down on all fours and move through the room with varying degrees of gracefulness and hilarity.  Be prepared to be surprised!  How many stereotypes did she smash through with this simple gesture of fun and delight?

The second story is of a self-proclaimed native son of St. Cloud, an older and retired white man.  He was asked to share his story in the collective story harvest and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure how it would unfold.  He offered his story, not only as his story, but as the story of his mother and his grandparents too.  Among the people in his group were three young Somali women.  Later in the collective harvest, one of these young women stood up and said, “We are always asked about my culture and what it’s like to live here. I have realized that we don’t stop to ask the people who have always lived here about their culture and what it’s like for them to live here.”

Later, when we reconvened in our full circle, someone pointed out to me that this man was now sitting in the middle of these Somali women.  Still later, when I thanked him for bringing his story to the group, he thanked me for the opportunity.  He told me he had arranged for these women to meet his mother and hear her story directly.  Delight all around.

These are just two small examples of how we the purpose of our gathering gained life and vibrancy.  People were beginning to see each other and to feel seen by each other, to give voice and be heard.  It is a beginning for a town that is coloring the cloud, shifting the shape of its reputation and sending out the message that the future is being co-created by people who care about where they live and about each other.

The Field Beyond Difference

Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing,

there is a field.
I will meet you there.

Rumi

Rumi’s words, with a slight variation, encapsulate the experience of an amazingly culturally and age diverse group of participants, apprentices and hosts who gathered September 11-14, 2012 in the middle of the Phillips Community of South Minneapolis where all of us discovered there is a field beyond difference and we are willing to meet each other there.

Image

There was a tremble in our fourteen member hosting team as we prepared to welcome over seventy Somalis, Native Americans, African Americans, Anglo Americans, Latinos, people from Liberia, Ethiopia, Malaysia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Columbia and more, together with two translators: one for Somali and one for Spanish.  We were not sure how many would come, how many would stay or how many would come back the next day.

This Art of Hosting training, supported by the Bush Foundation’s InCommons in partnership with the Meadowlark Institute, was called by Amina Saleh a co-founder of the Native American Somali Friendship Committee, in the hopes that bridges could be formed across the  multiplicity of cultures that have come to reside in the Phillips residential area of South Minneapolis.  The original residents of this community were primarily African Americans, Native Americans and Anglo Americans.  In the 1990s immigrants and refugees began moving into the area in search of affordable housing.  Over the years, the cultures clashed, tensions rose and violence across the cultures, particularly between the Native Americans and Somali communities, occurred.

Amina found herself at an Art of Hosting training in March 2012 and became curious about what might be possible if a training was hosted right in the middle of her community, in the community centre, where the children congregate after school.  Well, we found out!

We started with a beautiful Lakota sage ceremony offered by Lemoine Lapointe from our hosting team, to open the space, to cleanse ourselves, open our minds and, even more so, our hearts.  An offering from one of the cultures present in the room, inviting others to also offer in a right moment or opportunity.

Lemoine Lapointe

Each one of us was then invited to bring our voices into the circle by responding to: my name is…, I live…, I’m from…, my ancestors are from… and I speak …. languages. As we listened, we became aware, beyond the diversity of skin colour already visible in the room, of the richness and multiplicity of cultures and languages represented in the space, the richness that showed up sometimes in a single individual as well as in our field.  It took our breath away and opened our curiosity.

The purpose that emerged for the four day training was: Hosting meaningful conversations as a way of giving life, (1) inviting in our full selves and each other, (2) sharing language and frameworks, (3) staying in it – together and (4) building “whole” community. The phrases in the purpose statement framed each of our four days; scheduled to begin around 9:00 with a hard stop at 3:00, because this is when the children arrived in the community centre we were in and when some of the single moms in attendance also needed to be home to greet their children.

Beautiful visual depiction of our 4 day flow by Nou Ka Yang

Our first afternoon was a caféWhat is in your heart that brought you here today? What is in your heart for your community? What would you like to give life to here for your neighbourhood?  Powerful, surprising questions, giving pause like unexpected questions do.  Silence at the first café round while people let the question sink in, then decided how fully they wanted to bring themselves into the room, into the conversation, into the others also at their table. Cautiously, at first. What is in your heart? Not, why are you here? Not, what’s in you mind?  What is in your heart? Are you willing to go there yourself, let alone speak it into the centre of the table?

By the third round there was a beautiful buzz in the room as people began to relax into the invitation to bring their full selves.   In the harvest, one man offered, “Unlike Vegas where what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, what happens in this room should not stay in this room. We all need to take it back out into our communities.”  This became a mantra for participants for our full time together.

People were ready and willing to offer their rituals, ceremonies and stories into our collective space.  In addition to the opening sage ceremony, we experienced a Somali coffee ceremony, an Aztek ceremony and a Hmong ritual and an African American dramatic story telling: Sojourner Truth, in addition to Native American ceremony, song and round dance from the Dakota and Lakota cultures. We gifted each other with prayers and blessings.

Sometimes it was a bit uncomfortable with the varying perspectives and cultural norms around touch, song, dance and partaking in another culture’s ceremony; but only just in that moment before understanding blossomed and more ease entered with the witnessing of things precious.  Graciousness, curiosity and respect filled the space and the conversations. Deepening our individual and collective listening skills invited us all to show up even more fully.

The realization that issues, concerns and passions arc across cultures invited people into bridge building. Education, children, community housing, racism, racial profiling, relationship with police, healing, well being.  Learning to navigate the dominant culture and stand up, both for what is right and for rights of an individual no matter each person’s roots or ancestral history.  Awareness of commonality in the diversity. People care about many of the same things even if their way of approaching them or their cultural norms may be different.

Invitation to Open Space

As we gathered in our check out team: Amina Saleh, Kadra Ahdi, Lemoine Lapointe, Molly Matheson Gruen, Susan Phillips, Bob-e Epps, Anne Gomez, Lori Lindgren Voit, Nou Ka Yang, Marcela Sotela, Jerry Nagel, Tuesday Ryan-Hart, Ginny Belden Charles and me, there were tears.  Tears of hopes realized, connections made, community strengthened, deep sense of belonging.

Our work began in the hosting team itself on our prep day.  It was the first time many of us had met in person as is common in these trainings.  There was a great variety of experience and understanding of the Art of Hosting in the team, from lots to little to almost none, with people eager to deepen their skill, grow their capacity.  The team quickly became strong and cohesive with each person stepping in, contributing, supporting as one fluid movement, offering what we each could, asking for what we needed. We formed community.

We became a field to welcome the larger field of community activists and organizers from across cultures who showed up.  And came back. Day after day.  For four days. They sensed something different. Became engaged in possibility in new ways. They made plans for next steps on very specific projects. Co-creating a new hope for the future. Giving life to community from a different place.  Stepping into courage, transcending fear, reaching out, seeing the human face of diversity and knowing that shifting the shape of the communities they live in and touch is possible to ever greater degrees.  Humbled, touched, delighted to be in this work that matters so deeply.

Slowing Down to Go Fast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hosting Lessons from the Field – Part 2

How many of us have had the opportunity to enter into hosting a day or a training (Art of Hosting style) without any design for the day, completely sensing into what is needed in the moment and fluidly dancing with five other hosts with offerings to meet what was emerging in the field moment by moment?  How would you meet that invitation?  Excitement? Trepidation? Both and anything in between?

It is one thing to do this on your own or with one other person as Bob Wing and I did last summer in work we’d been invited into that turned into Hosting Ceremony.  It is a whole other thing to do it with a new hosting team  constellation of six of us on the third and last day of working together – in this case for the first Warrior of the Heart training completed in Brazil in January 2012.

Warrior of the Heart is the work of Toke Moeller and Bob Wing coming out of many opportunities they had to jam together combining Art of Hosting and Aikido practices and principles.  Playing together they imagined Warrior of the Heart training into being.  I’d participated in a couple of Warrior of the Heart trainings – on Bowen Island in August 2010 and then at Windhorse Farm in Nova Scotia just this last October, 2011 with my 9 year old son.  I’d also had the chance to work with Bob where Warrior of the Heart became a component of the Art of Hosting training we were delivering.

In September 2011, after the Art of Hosting training in Porto Alegre, Brazil that I’d been co-hosting, Thomas Ufer, Najara Thamiz and I sat down with Jose Bueno and crafted an invitation to Bob and Toke to bring Warrior of the Heart to Brazil for the first time to seed the field for more and build the ground for the amazing expansion of the Art of Hosting and social change movements happening there.

Working with a larger hosting team for a training the two of them were used to offering on their own invited Bob and Toke to some new learning edges. They invited the rest of us to go there right along with them.  There was already a huge reservoir of trust in our hosting field even before we began. We built on it during our preparation and hosting time together.  On our last day, it was Toke who invited us into the dance of hosting together without an agreed to advance plan.

I felt in me my own skepticism at the invitation which arrived after morning practice, before breakfast, where we had actually invoked this flow already.  I really wasn’t sure how it would work and whether we would all find our own place to play in this day – but I was willing to step into the challenge – because with this team there was nothing to lose and lots to gain.

As the six of us stood in a tight circle on the stone patio outside the training building, a staff was in the centre with the challenge of who would take it first and offer something to the group to begin our day.  Silence.  A deep collective breath or two.  I could feel the tremble in me.  Another breath and then I reached for the staff.

I had been preparing during our time together to do a teach with the sword – in this case the wooden representation of the sword – a bokken.  Bob had been coaching me.  Perhaps because I was preparing to step into the challenge of a teach on something I was still very much learning myself, I had taken Bob’s feedback and coaching in in a whole new way, embodying the teaching and the sword movements with more fluidity and confidence than I ever remembered feeling.  I had been preparing for a teach and this was apparently the moment it would be offered.

I started the teach – the four directions – and forgot how to do the step to turn from one direction to another.  Without being hard on myself, I asked Bob to step in and help — and he did because he had my back.  All six of us had each other’s backs and none of us needed to shine or take up too much space and yet we were all invited to offer our brilliance when we felt the call.

It was the beginning of a rich dance that included all six of us throughout the day.  The experience was playful and fun and ended with a touching and powerful ceremony.

Raising the Sword in the Warrior of the Heart (Brazil 2012) Closing Circle

The willingness to let go of control and design flowed into the Brazil Stewards Gathering that followed the Warrior of the Heart – in its own way and to its own degree because, of course, the team and the circumstances were different.  But the fluidity of the dance was just as hesitant and joyful in its own way.

I’ve been reflecting on what makes this kind of dance possible?  One is definitely trust in the individuals and the collective of the team – knowing that each individual is there to serve the good of the whole and with no need to shine on an individual basis – although, as I mentioned above, of course each person does shine because of the gifts they have to offer in service of the whole.

A sense of knowing when what I have to offer as an individual is exactly what is needed now.  This is a complete dance with the subtle energies, with intuitive capacity.  The courage to offer it when it is called.  A certain level of trust or confidence in my own skills and abilities.  A willingness to let other people shine in their mastery or even in their apprenticeship.

It takes a certain level of maturity in each individual, the team and even in the field.

Would I want to completely free flow it every time?  I don’t think so.  Every situation requires us to be tuned into what is wanting and needing to happen.  Different situations will call out different things. And many situations invite a free flowing of design and offerings to different degrees.  I and we are already practiced with working with emergence.   Practicing to this degree honed my skill and my sensing capacity and invited me into new levels of mastery.  It is embodied in a new way.  It will always be with me – and with each of us.

Having had the opportunity to host immediately after this experience, I know it’s in me in a new way and for that I am grateful.  Looking forward to the next opportunity to dance in the ultimate emergent design – and to all the other variations of that that will show up along the way.  Thanks Toke for the invitation and to Thomas, Narjara, Jose and Bob for being willing to dance the beautiful dance that shifted the shape of my hosting experience to new depth.

 

Interrelationship of Circle-Triangle-Square

Many people are so frustrated working within hierarchy and bureaucracy that when they are introduced to beautiful engagement processes like World Cafe, Circle Practice and Open Space, a new love affair begins.  These methodologies are powerful in re-igniting passion, hearing every voice, creating mindful and thoughtful conversational spaces that take individuals and groups into new territory.

The love affair becomes a bit jaded when people begin to say, “Conversation is great, but what about doing something?  Where is the action in these methods?  Where does decision making rest?”  As if creating meaningful and relevant conversational space and decision making or action are mutually exclusive.  In many cases though, people haven’t figured out how to make them work well together.  It is not either/or.  It is and. What is the leadership and understanding necessary to find the balance that invites both broad based engagement and effective decision making leading to wise action and movement on initiatives, especially social change initiatives inside organizations and systems?  What does it take to truly shift the shape of the world we live and work in?

Recent conversation with with Toke Moeller and Bob Wing in Brazil has sparked my curiosity and reflection on the relationship between the circle, triangle and square that we often reference in the Art of Hosting.

The circle represents the social technologies that engage people in deeper, more inclusive ways, tapping into human longing for connection and meaning.  Circle is an ancient and universal symbol of unity, wholeness, infinity, the goddess, and feminine power. It represents the sacred.

The triangle represents  hierarchy and structure within which so much work happens and decision making takes place. When the triangle points upwards, it symbolizes fire, male power and the masculine archetype.  The energy of doing and of action.

The square represents the physical world in contrast to the sacred.  In relationship with the circle and triangle, the square represents new forms of governance, stewardship or strategic thinking partnerships.

Power of Circle-Triangle-Square Interrelationships

Much of the intention behind or underneath circle or engagement strategies is to share leadership and responsibility more broadly.  We are not always clear on what that means. Sharing it doesn’t mean foregoing it as sometimes happens as people begin to experiment and play with engagement strategies.  A point is often reached where things feel stalled because we are not always clear where decision making fits or how to do it well.

Sometimes change processes fail because leaders are not clear on how decisions will be made in conjunction with engagement methodologies. They then “take back” decision making which seems to disempower the move toward shared leadership and shared responsibility.

Yet, very little gets done without decisions being made.  Clarity around decision making allows for stronger relationships and more powerful work processes.  Understanding the need for and how the circle and the triangle work together creates the space for more intentionality in processes and relationships.

There is not just one form of decision making that should always be used.  Sometimes consensus decision making is the most appropriate decision mechanism.  Other times decision making will be vested in an individual or a team that sits elsewhere in the organizational structure.  The lack of clarity around who makes what decisions when and how information flows is more likely to lead to problems more than the type of decision making structure.  The degree of trust inside of the relationships also has an impact.  In organizations or systems where the trust is high, decisions are trusted and respected no matter who makes them.  In organizations or systems where the trust is low, of course decisions are questioned and sometimes disrespected.  Quality of relationship can be improved through the circle, thus supporting the triangle better.  Clear decision making processes improve quality of relationship.

The circle and triangle  are nested inside of the square.  If the square is equated to stewarding or governance, the role of the square is about holding space and perspective from a strategic, bigger picture point of view.  Not so active in the decision making structures or in the conversational space but bringing the awareness of deeper patterns that relate to or underly any given process, initiative or movement, providing insight and perspective that then feeds back into the engagement (circle) and decision making (triangle) processes.

The danger lies not in any of these specific shapes. It is in becoming enamoured with any one of them to the exclusion of the others or disenchanted with one to the point of not wanting to engage it at all.  As I consider the work in front of me now, I will bring this deeper curiousity about the interrelationship between the circle, triangle and square into my process and coaching considerations, particularly as it relates to new leadership competencies required in a rapidly changing world.

Shaping Questions for Powerful Check-in and Check-out Processes

Check-in and check-out processes are not just frivolous time wasters in our meetings.  If they feel that way, something is probably  missing.

Wicked questions help shape powerful processes. The shaping of questions in a thoughtful, purposeful and intentional manner increases the likelihood of them being powerful. This is the second post on powerful questions, the first one contained  general thoughts about shaping powerful questions.  This post focuses on check-in and check-out – processes, so fundamental to the work we engage in and setting context for what we do.

The greater clarity we have about the purpose and intention of the overall work and the process we are choosing to use, the greater the likelihood of crafting a question that does exactly the work we intend it to do.  Check-in and check-out processes are used very intentionally and in all kinds of settings.

People who come to an Art of Hosting training are often introduced to check-in and check-out for the first time. There are many forms of check-in and check-out.   If we’ve done our work well, these processes will have been experienced in a variety of ways – through the use of words, body, music and using varying lengths of time from a couple of hours or more to a 10-15 minute process.

Many people leave a training seeing the possibility of bringing a check-in process to their team or meetings but wondering exactly how to do that well.  Using the same question all the time eventually wears out its appeal so it becomes important to hold attention and keep things meaningful and relevant to bring new questions at least periodically.  It keeps things fresh.  Which brings it all back to purpose and intention.

The Use of Check-In  in Trainings

In an Art of Hosting training, we use a check-in process as we arrive and settle in together.  Usually this is planned as a  longer process, wanting to dive  deep together as we set the context and container for the whole three or four days we are gathered.  We intend to begin well as we arrive, meet each other and understand individual and collective intention for this training.

Not only do we use good questions for this initial check-in, many of us also engage in the fundamentals of good circle practice so we set our container well and with depth.  A little teach on circle, the use and power of a talking piece and the agreements of circle set the stage well for the work we want to do with each other.  Our greatest and best resources on good circle practice come from our friends Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea at Peer Spirit.  When we do this well, it is common for unexpected and beautiful things to arrive in our centre from the hearts, minds and souls of participants.

Often times check-ins on other mornings are simply to bring us into the space together.  Sometimes we don’t even use words but invite a physical movement or embodiment check-in.  Sometimes it is music.  It is whatever fits well with the overall theme and flow of the day and brings us fully into the space.

Check-ins also do not need to be done with the full circle.  Sometimes we use dyad or triad interviews or conversations to allow the time for people to go deeper in small groups.  Sometimes we might invite people into a walk with each other.

The Use of Check-Out in Trainings

Just like we use check-in to bring people into the space, we use check-out to bring some closure or convergence to a day or a multi-day process.  Doing a check-out doesn’t necessarily mean bringing everything to a nice tidy close but it could.  Check-out provides an opportunity for good reflection.  Where are we at, individually and collectively?  What is alive and present in the room?  Is there anything in particular we need to be paying attention to as we revisit our design for what’s next?  What is resonating for people?  Are we in a groan zone?  Are we eager and excited for what’s next?  Was there cool learning that took place that we want to provide people the opportunity to reflect on more deeply?

In a check-out we may want to presume in a certain direction, plant a seed – “What is shifting for you as a result of your experiences in this day?” “What spark are you carrying forward?”  Or we may want to take a little pulse – “What’s alive for you now?” “What one thing has your attention?”

And, like the check-in process, sometimes we are not wanting to use words.  Sometimes we use dance, embodiment, other physical movement, a series of claps or other imaginative ways to close our conversation or our day.

A good thing to remember, please don’t confuse depth with length of time of a process.  I’ve been part of many processes where there was not a lot of time available, but depth was achieved because of the care that went into thinking about purpose and intention and crafting a wicked question to guide the process.

What About the “Real World”?

This is one of my favourite questions – how to practically apply what’s been learned about check-in and check-out to “real world” situations, like my two hour staff meeting, my three hour partners meeting, my team that only wants to get right down to business, with a group of high powered individuals, senior leadership in an organization or in government?  Especially for folx who say, “that dance check-out was really nice but I could never do that with my group.”  And, of course, you wouldn’t want to go back to your organization and use some of those things that seem a bit too out on the edge.  But when you first try to use these processes, sometimes the very notion of a check-in or a talking piece is “out on the edge”.

Look for openings and invitations and step into practice in the places where greatest opportunities exist to try even some little new thing.  Sometimes bringing a check-in and check-out process to your meetings or your team is the simplest way to begin to practice on an ongoing basis and it can be done without great fanfare.

The Use of Check-In  in Ongoing Practice

It can be a relatively simple thing to begin a check-in process with your team.  “We spend a lot of time in meetings.  It would be great if we all felt these meetings were a relevant and meaningful use of our time and I’m not sure we all feel that way right now.  I would love to hear us each speak to this question: If we used our meetings really well, what would it look like and what is the difference it would make to us as a team and our work?” 

“The purpose of our meeting is….  Before we dive into the agenda, it would be great to hear a bit of what you are observing in your world that relates to our topic this morning.” Or, pay attention to what is the best question that can refocus your team or your meeting on what is important and link people’s passion or interest with the topic at hand.  It is amazing how a few minutes doing that can shift the entire feel of a meeting as people pay more attention.

Work the question you want to start with.  Will it generate the kind of thoughtfulness you are hoping for?  If not, how can it be nuanced – or sometimes completely thrown out in favour of a better question – to do the work you intend it to do?

How much time do you have for your check-in?  With a long time frame of meeting – a day or more, you have more time to begin well.  With a shorter meeting – as little as an hour or two – you can still begin well, just be conscious of the nature of the question you are asking.  The better you begin, the better the quality of the meeting, usually with better results in a shorter time frame.

The Use of Check-Out  in Ongoing Practice

Short and sweet often works for check-outs, particularly when you are in a short meeting. Once you get used to using check-in and check-out, meetings somehow don’t feel complete until you do a short round of check out.  Simple questions targeted at what you are looking for at the end of the meeting.  Curious about what is sitting with people now?  Ask.  Curious about what people are taking away?  Ask.  Curiosus about what is percolating?  Ask.  Noticing that things or people feel a bit unsettled.  Invite.  Not everything needs to be wrapped up with a nice tidy bow.  If you invite the rumblings that you sense, thank people for sharing.  “Thank you.  Good to know where we all are.  And not unexpected, given what we discussed/where we are in our process.  Thanks for sharing.  It is appreciated and important.”

Bringing in a Talking Piece

While I’m sure there could be an entire post on using a talking piece, there are some simple ways to bring one into your meeting.  For groups that are not familiar with this process and for whom it doesn’t feel quite right to do the full blown teach just yet, I will often say something like, “I want to hear from everyone in the room and to do that offer out this item (something I have with me, something in the room, something symbolic for the group, sometimes a bracelet I take off my arm, a pen in my hand, whatever is readily available) as a little talking piece.  This is just so we make sure we hear everyone’s voice.  The beauty of it is that when we have it, it is our turn to talk. When we pause, it is truly a pause and not an invitation for someone else to jump in.  It means we can think about whether we are truly finished or if we have a bit more to say.  When we don’t have the talking piece, that is our invitation to listen and listen well.  Because you know when you get the talking piece you can take a minute to think about what you want to say.  I find it changes the quality of the listening and changing the quality of the listening changes the quality of the conversation.”

I know from my own experience, that when the talking piece is not used often their are people who choose to stay quiet even when you invite all voices and then it is harder to re-invite their voice.  And it is amazing at how appreciative people become around using a talking piece.

Conference Calls

Yes we can, and do, use check-in, check-out and virtual talking pieces in our conference calls.  And, yes, it works well there too – shifting attention and quality of our experience.

The main points are the same across these different categories: purpose and intention, a question related to purpose and intention that you’ve worked a bit to make it wicked and powerful because you’ve sat with it to sense into whether it will do the work you want it to do.

Where are your openings and invitations?  The more you find them and accept them, the more you will find yourself in a practice that no longer feels risky but now feels fundamental for powerful process. The more the shape of your world will have shifted and before long you may find yourself not just an experimenter but a practitioner.

Shaping Powerful Questions

One of the most asked questions at, and after, any Art of Hosting training is about the questions.  Developing powerful questions is a crucial element to creating the conversational space we are seeking.  People are hungry for greater understanding of how to create questions, especially after they’ve tried a check-in, check-out or cafe experience that didn’t quite have the intended result or impact.

Sometimes powerful questions appear, almost like magic.  We know they are powerful because we feel them.  But usually they are developed and shaped with great care – and often co-created with others.  It is not unusual for a whole planning meeting (and sometimes more) to focus just on question development for a process – which may seem a bit crazy until you’ve had the experience of well formulated questions in comparison to sessions where questions have not been shaped with the same care.

This post contains general thoughts on the shaping of powerful questions.  Later posts will focus on specific processes where questions are used, like check-in and check-out, World Cafe, Open Space, Appreciative Inquiry, Dyad and Triad Conversations and Deep Sensing Interviews.

Three Dimensions of Questions

In an Art of Hosting training in South Dakota this past July, I had the privilege of hearing Tuesday Ryan-Hart share three dimensions of powerful questions, coming from World Cafe work and community of practice.  The three dimensions are: scope or scale of the questions, assumptions in the questions and construction of the questions.

What is the scope of the question you want to ask?  If the scope is too big it may shut down conversation (how do we create world peace?) but you might want your question inspirational enough to allow people to gaze higher than they might otherwise (how have you created peaceful moments for yourself/your team/work/family? How could you do that more often or in a different setting?)

People tend to rise to the assumptions made in the questions so it is good to both notice the assumptions being made in the question and also to be intentional about them so the work is more appreciative and aspirational in service of purpose and intention and the greater work being tended to.

In considering how we construct questions, there is a continuum that flows from less powerful to more powerful.  The less powerful questions are ones that can be answered with a yes or no.  Moving along the continuum, more powerful questions begin with when or who.  The next level are questions that begin with how or what and even more powerful questions sometimes begin with why. I say sometimes, because sometimes the why questions also entrench people in their point of view if asked in such a way they invoke defensiveness.  Ask why questions in ways they evoke curiosity and then you’re onto something.

There is a timeliness we generate when we put the word “now” in our question.  “What you noticing now?”  “What has your attention now?”

Purpose and Intention

A key factor in question development is what is the purpose and intention – of your gathering, your meeting, the particular process the question is intended to shape or provide context for, the question itself?  What is the work you want the question to do and then what is the simplist way to ask the question? Purpose and intention is so central to question development that we go back to it again and again.

Language and Shaping

I like to use as much present and active language as possible.  Instead of asking, “What did you learn from that experience?” you might ask, “What are you learning from that experience?”  There is a supposition built into the question – that the learning is active and ongoing. If that fits the purpose and intention of the space you are wanting to create that’s great.  If not, a question targeted to the learning and conversation you want to encourage would be better.

If you are wanting to move in a certain direction, then create questions that presume in the direction you want to go.  “What is the shift you imagine will happen once you leave here and begin to apply what you’ve learned?” This question presume you want a shift and that you will put something into practice post the training.  For some it will inspire their imagination. When it doesn’t inspire someone, they will usually say so without detrimentally affecting the responses of others who are feeling inspired.

It is also okay to take a pulse of what’s happening in a group or process without assuming a direction.  This is particularly helpful when you want to sense into where a group is at, what you need to pay attention to or what might be simmering under the surface.  It is good to have people in a group name their experience sometimes without trying to shift into a particular direction.  The information that surfaces is then helpful in shaping design or process informed by what is present in the room or group, tracking always toward the purpose or intention of why you are in this conversation or work.  Sometimes diversions are necessary to ensure we get to where we ultimately want to go. You could ask a question like “What’s sitting with you now?”, “What question’s are percolating?”  Sometimes I might even ask, “What tension is arising in you at the moment?” but only if I am really sensing tension in the room, wanting to surface what’s there but not create it if it isn’t there to begin with.

Nuances in Question Development

Slight nuances in a question can lead to very different conversations. This is why we often sit with the questions we have drafted and imagine the kinds of responses a question might evoke, noticing how changing the question slightly could generate a different conversation.  Some examples: “What are you noticing in your environment right now?” compared to “What are you noticing in your environment that relates to this project?”  or “How have you been since we last gathered?” compared to ” How has the last gathering impacted you and your work?”  The first version of these questions is far more open ended while the second version is more targeted to purpose and intention.

Co-Creating Questions

It is hard to create really powerful questions all by yourself.  It is much more fun and generative to co-create with others what the questions could be.  Then when a nuance is discovered that makes the question more powerful, the whole group feels it, not just one person.  Collectively we know we’ve gone to a new level of depth.  When we co-create the questions we can start in the ball park of what we want to do and, through the conversation, discover what those nuances are that increase the the capacity of the conversations we are inviting to be meaningful and relevant to the participants we have engaged and the purpose for which we have engaged them.

Powerful questions can shift the shape of an individual and their pattern of thought, a team and its dynamics, an organization and its usual ways of thinking about things.  Imagining they can even shift the shape of the world….