Dynamic Leadership Arising out of Chaordic Confidence

When interactively teaching the Chaordic Path and inviting people to reflect on what highly chaotic or highly controlled environments look like and how people act and react in those environments, it is common for participants to address the down side of each of these – with quite a bit of energy and zeal.  Then, at some point, someone will make a comment about the benefit of being in that kind of environment.  For chaos they will often say something about creativity, for control they will often say something about predictability – the upside of each of these dynamic forces.

Then the key question we ask is, “What is the difference between control and order?” It always causes a pause as people reflect on what is different between these two. They speak about guidance rather than rigid rules, the opportunity for individuals to bring discretion to decision making within a framework, greater responsiveness, common understanding or collective clarity as hallmarks of the force of order.  The space for an individual to bring everything they have to their role with enough clarity to know the scope of their authority, leadership and responsibility.    When people don’t have clarity they ask for structure – it is a default. Clarity might mean structure and it might not – it might simply mean clarity which could be achieved through conversation or other means before creating structure which might not even bring more clarity.

There is a time and place for each of these forces (chaos, order and control) depending on context and whether the focus is on process, structure or human dynamics.  Trying to address human dynamics issues through structure often increases the human dynamics issues.  Yet clear structure and process is essential to many manufacturing processes.  When getting on a plane, you want to know that the environment is controlled with good structure, process and procedure in order to get to your destination safely. And, if your house is burning down, you don’t want the firefighters standing around making collective decisions about what to do next – you want clear direct leadership, even as the firefighters have no idea of the chaos they are facing.

Knowing what state an organization, group or team is in can illuminate the leadership strategy that is most helpful to the task at hand.  Sometimes the leadership being called for is to help people stay in the chaos a little longer rather than ease the pain, frustration or discomfort of being there, until clarity and the natural order begins to emerge.  If things feel too habituated, stuck or stale, it might be exactly the time to introduce a bit of chaos through a well placed question, a suggestion to shake things up a bit or the introduction of a new initiative.  In environments where control is pervasive, the opportunity might be to imagine how to care for the human dynamics or the relational field in a way that people can navigate with and through regulations, policies and procedures that were intended for clarity and consistency but have overreached into what we commonly call “red tape” or “jumping through the hoops”.

 

Chaordic Path with infinity loop_000001

There is an upside and a downside to each of these experiences as represented by the infinity loop in the above diagram and inspired by Polarity Mapping. If we only focus on one or the other we either have an enamoured (upside) or jaded (downside) view of that particular force that then makes us less likely to be able to exercise the dynamic leadership that grows chaordic confidence. It is the interplay or movement through each of the polarities and an understanding of what is in each of the upsides and downsides that enables us to discern wise action.  I certainly have a bias – that the place we are being asked to play and lead to address complex and entrenched problems is in the chaordic path.  It is the skills AoH has been designed to foster and grow and it is an invitation into new patterns and practices of leadership.  Being aware of the upside and the downside of each pattern enables a more complete picture with a greater variety of choices and options available to all.

 

The Chaordic Path: The Dynamic Inter-relationship between Chaos and Order

One of the fundamental patterns used in Art of Hosting offerings – which for many of us includes our consulting practices or as practitioners in-house work environments – is the Chaordic Field or Chaordic Path. Like many of the patterns offered in AoH it is a helpful way to understand what is happening in the world, in our communities and organizations and within each of us individually. It gives us a lens through which to understand the increasing complexity in our environments and a pattern to work with to evoke collective learning and the real-time innovation necessary in a world and in times that are neither predictable nor stable and call for more flexibility as “more of the same” solutions are not addressing the challenges.

Originating with the work of Dee Hock in the development and evolution of Visa to an international network of financial institutions offering “one” credit card, Hock identified the patterns and forces of chaos, order and control that were at play in an animated process that came to the brink of failure at many points along the way.  It was clearly experienced that the greatest breakthroughs and emergent ideas came at the intersection of chaos and order, in a system that was more commonly situated in the realm of control.

Chaordic Path

Just when things seem the craziest is often when new ideas spark, bridges are built, aha’s become apparent and a way out of chaos naturally appears.  These patterns are evident in living systems, where a natural order exists, life cycles are vibrant and the greatest innovations happen at the edges.  While not static, living systems can be stable – or be in order – for long periods of time until disruption comes in some form of chaos – destructive weather patterns or fires – destabilizing the system for a time before new order emerges.

While the chaordic path is the story of our natural world – form arising out of nonlinear, complex, diverse systems – it can also be the story of how our teams, organizations and communities pay attention to human dynamics and function.   In our organizational systems, there is a tendency to want to meet chaos with control, to try to fix the situation or provide a ready made solution.  Many of us as leaders and managers have been educated, trained and promoted to do just this. But increasing complexity means control, particularly as it relates to the human dynamics of a situation, does not often enough lead to a resolution of the problem and may, in fact, exacerbate the situation. Solutions and ways forward are more likely to arise out of accessing the collective intelligence and collective wisdom of everyone, which can, at times, be a “messy” process until new insight and clarity emerges.

When facing new challenges that cannot be met with the same way we are currently working – cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them – new ways of leading and operating need to be learned and utilized to shift the shape of our experience with intentionality. It is during these times of uncertainty and increased complexity, where results cannot be predicted, that wise leaders invite others to share their collective and diverse knowledge to discover new purpose and strategy and decide a way forward.

It is in the phase of not knowing, before we reach new clarity, that the temptation to rush for certainty or grab for control is strongest. We are all called to walk this path with open minds and some confidence if we want to reach something wholly new.

“At the edge of chaos” is where life innovates — where things are not hard wired, but are flexible enough for new connections and solutions to occur.  To lead teams, organizations and communities on the chaordic path, leaders need “chaordic confidence,” to have the courage to stay in the dance of order and chaos long enough to support generative emergence that allows new, collective intelligence and wiser action to occur.

This can be a beautifully dynamic process.  To be in it with awareness and intentionality also means to take care of value judgments or beliefs often brought that one of these modes of being or operating – chaos, order or control – is  better or more valuable than the others. There is a place, a role and a time for each. A subsequent post will explore the upside and downside of each, recognizing that a flow and dynamic movement between each of these modes of being may be the leadership discernment needed for long term success.

Long Term Impasse at a Manufacturing Company Resolved With Two Hour World Cafe

Alanna Kennedy turned heads in our opening circle at the March 2014 Art of Hosting offering in St. Paul, Minnesota when she said she had recently hosted a World Café with welders at Emerson, the manufacturing company where she is a production manager. It was so successful she then did one with shippers.  A true life long learner (see about Alanna at the end of this post) and a third generation in manufacturing, she is not looking for what can’t be done, she is looking for how results can be achieved and success rates improved.  And in both of the Cafés she hosted, the outcome had immediate impact.

world cafe Fredericton 2013

In the case of the welders, there was a long term debate surrounding the criteria by which to measure and know if an individual welder was working within and meeting quality guidelines.  Everyone had a different idea.  In a way, the welders and the supervisors and engineers were speaking different languages with different worldviews. They were not able to hear each other across the worldviews and across assumptions of what they thought they knew about the other. The World Café method was an invitation into letting go of what they thought they knew and into becoming curious about what might be possible.

The original debate was about one measurement only – quality errors.  Welders resisted, speaking also about the individual signature of each welder and in some instances unclear written processes. There was a limiting belief, common in many places with many different work groups, that the welders, if left to their own devices, might want to negotiate for the greatest flexibility possible.  Welders know, like many trades and professions, that the quality of work of any one individual reflects on the quality of the whole.  They want high standards.

Alanna, being on the lookout for what works, sees opportunity in many processes and programs intended to address improving quality and operational standards.  Some forecast the failure of rate of programs like Lean and Lean-Six Sigma to develop lasting cultures of continuous improvement to be as high as 60%.  She calls this “fake lean”.   Overall, she says these programs are great at addressing the structure and technology questions for continuous improvement. However, they are lacking in the methods and tools to support the cultural and social development, or people questions, required to develop and sustain, through time, cultures of continuous improvement.  Alanna believes all change starts with social interaction. Change happens and work gets done through people, through the social systems. Enter the Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter, which she found through Action Learning, with an emphasis on working with human systems, recognizing that the wisdom is in the room with the group most directly affected by the proposed change and that there are a few processes specifically intended to elicit the collective intelligence.

After attending a World Café workshop offered by Jerry Nagel of the Meadowlark Institute in Minneapolis, Amy Lenzo of the World Cafe Community and others, Alanna brought fifteen welders from across the three shifts together for two hours in a world café process. They were paid for their time even if they were off duty during the World Café and they were invited into a series of conversations about criteria for assessing a welder’s work.  For this particular Café, managers were present but supervisors and engineers were not invited.  What emerged in two hours was a resolution to the long impasse and a structure that never would have emerged without this café conversation process.

The welders identified three distinct categories of standards: welding skills, manufacturing processes and the individual signature of the welder.  This is a more comprehensive structure than what was proposed by supervisors and engineers and a structure welders were willing to hold themselves and each other accountable to because they want their counterparts to uphold a certain level of professionalism on behalf of the whole.  The results were captured in a document that reflected the conversations and that document was approved by HR and executive managers.  The end result was the resolution of a long term impasse with a better quality of result than had been previously considered possible.

Alanna then did a World Café with shippers who needed new work stations.  Others in the organization had been trying to design a new work station for the shippers but many of the shippers hadn’t been included in the initial planning and they were obviously stalling.  They did not like the proposed design.  Alanna rounded up shippers from all three shifts for a two hour World Café process. There were three tables of five people. The shippers changed tables, circling around design ideas, sharing what would and would not work until three new work bench designs that they believed would support their needs were developed.  In the harvesting, the shippers were able to share their ideas and the reasoning behind their designs with the engineers.  The shippers had the opportunity to engage in a different type of dialogue.  Again, a resolution to an impasse was obtained within a couple of hours by using the world café process.

Was it worth paying the shippers and the welders for their time?  Was it worth a two hour investment of time to call upon the collective intelligence of the group most directly affected by the changes? Was it worth the risk of bringing social technologies to a manufacturing organization?  The results speak for themselves.

Many people who have attended an AoH training or are aware of the methodologies like world café, open space technology, circle practice, appreciative inquiry will often say, “That’s really great, but it will never fly where I work.”  That’s why Alanna turned heads when she said she worked in manufacturing.

When asked how she might respond to people who say, “It will never work here”, she offered, “You have to careful.  I used it where we were stuck and had been working on an issue. In preparation, I bought each of my colleagues a set of books – circle, open space, world café and action learning – and put them on their desks.  I talked to them.  I first gained the support of my peers.”

She was strategic in her approach. The need, purpose and intention for the café were clear.  She knew who she needed to have in the room, and who not to have. She knew the result she was after in each case – eye on the outcomes – and she understood the conditions that would lead to the generative conversations necessary for success.  She had the confidence to take, what for some people, is a risk.  “A critical piece to understand is that all change is facilitated and begins with human interaction.  If you don’t address that, you won’t get the desired results, no matter how good the plan or the technology.”

Why does AoH work? “Because it is not about mimicking what some other company or some other people did to achieve success.  It is about adaptive solutions generated from the people and systems most affected.”

About Alanna Kennedy

Alanna Kennedy

Alanna Kennedy

Alanna loves the manufacturing world.  She describes it as “a unique social laboratory” which is why she deliberately returned to this world after completing her PhD.  She is a “hands on” manufacturing professional formally trained and experienced in operations and materials management with an active interest in the research and development of social systems within organizations as they pertain to the development and sustainability of cultures of continuous improvement.

Her 2011 doctorate in Organizational Development with an emphasis on successful cultures of continuous improvement with a focus on the facilitation and implementation of Lean, Six Sigma, and SEAM (Socio-Economic Assessment of Management) methods is from the University of St. Thomas, MN, where she also completed her MBA in 1990 with a concentration in operations and systems excellence including the use of lean methods.  Her undergrad BA is from the Indiana University Bloomington in Cultural Anthropology and Psychology (1980) with a concentration in social systems and the application of macro economic theory in non-western societies.

She is certified in lean methods by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.  She is CPIM certified by the APICS organization in production scheduling and inventory management, and is a licenced instructor for the global quality standards of electronics with the IPC Association.  She is also a licenced Brain Gym instructor, a kinesiology based program which uses physical movement to improve focus, learning and over all performance, combining it with Action Learning and Brain Gym and observing amazing, accelerated results for people working with stress and goal setting.

She will continue to pursue her curiosity about the integration of AoH practices and patterns with continuous improvement philosophies by doing a deeper dive into some of the individual methods and identifying opportunities for application in industrial environments.

Worldview, Practice and Action – Taking Whole – Guest Blogger Jerry Nagel

Authored by Jerry Nagel (originally published at Growing Hosting Artistry on January 12, 2014)

 In Art of Hosting trainings, several of my colleagues and I have been offering a short teaching on worldviews and the importance for each of us to understand what our own worldview is. I often link it to elements in the Art of Hosting workbooks that I feel are an expression of an AoH worldview such as seeing the world as a complex living system and not a machine.

The simple teaching has two components – an explanation of worldview impact using the Ladder of Inference from systems thinking and an explanation of worldviews in The Rules of Victory: How to Transform Chaos and Conflict – Strategies from the “Art of War”. (Gimian & Boyce, 2008) The text known as the Sun Tzu and more popularly as The Art of War offers a framework for action that contains three components – View, Practice and Action. Central to view is the idea that the world is an interconnected whole. Seeing the world this way informs one’s Actions in the world and the Practices used to manifest (act) the View of interconnectedness. In the Sun Tzu this idea is referred to as ‘taking whole’.

The diagrams below show how our worldviews impact the actions we take in the world and, that as we act in the world, our worldviews are impacted and potentially changed; that patterns and practices like those offered by the Art of Hosting are the tools or methods we use to bring our worldviews to action; and that as we act in the world what we learn impacts the methods we choose to manifest our worldview. If the methods we choose to manifest our worldview are not congruent with that worldview, then our actions will not ring true with people. They will see us as not acting in a way that reflects the worldviews we claim to hold. This simple explanation has proved quite thought provoking for AoH participants.

Worldview Influences Action

Our Actions Influence our Worldview

A worldview can also limit us, because it could close us off to new knowledge if we only see the world through our existing knowledge and assumptions. (Jenkins, 1999) Importantly for many of us, our worldview offers us a way to understand the world that gives us “a feeling of being home” and that reassures us that our interpretations of reality are right. (Heibert, 1997)

Ladder of Influence

One tool from systems thinking that helps visualize how easy it is to get trapped in one (world) view and close off the possibility of seeing other perspectives is the Ladder of Inference. The process depicted follows a flow from the bottom of the ladder up to the top. We ‘see’ data in the world and go through a process of sense-making that then informs the actions we take. What the Ladder of Inference shows us is that the beliefs (worldviews) we adopt can influence what data we see. The result is that we begin “seeing only what we want to see.”

If we are in a time in the Western world of co-creating a new narrative of wholeness, then as hosts it becomes important for us to not only clearly know what our worldview is, but to understand that within our own contexts and within other contexts there could be greatly different worldviews. (Shire, 2009) In other words, given the depth of invitation to step into dialogue (discourse) that we are asking of people, we should remember that our worldview could be much different than someone else’s within our community or local cultural context. And, that people we are working with that are from other local contexts may have differing worldviews within that shared construct.

In thinking about our world today it is fair to say that, “The presence of a multitude of alternative worldviews is a defining characteristic of contemporary culture. Ours is, indeed, a multicultural, pluralistic age.” (Naugle, 2002) Thus, as we practice dialogue in our world in order to find ways forward, we must develop the capabilities to work in the multi-varied and rich system of many worldviews. To do so, however, requires skill and practice and the capacity to hold paradoxes or multiple truths all at the same time.

Learning to effectively communicate (host/facilitate) in a different or new cultural milieu is a deep-level process.  It involves connecting at more than an intellectual level with the ‘host’ culture. It involves connecting at a heart and spiritual level. If worldviews are a matter of the heart, then to enter into effective communications within a different or new culture means opening up one’s heart as a host/facilitator to a space/place that connects heart to heart. This involves capacities to be vulnerable, to respect difference, to be curious and to sit in the space of the unknown or unknowing (i.e. nonjudgment), and to be self reflexive regarding one’s own thoughts, reactions, and carried in thinking about another culture. It also involves recognizing the limiting role our language can play when hosting, which will help each of us as hosts to hold our own and invite others to hold their opinions about another’s worldview much more lightly. This is a core part of the artistry of hosting.

References

Hiebert, P. (1997) Conversion and Worldview Transformation. International Journal of Frontier Missions. 14(2)

Jenkins, O.B. (1999) Worldview Perspectiveshttp://orvillejenkins.com

Shire, J. (2009) The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog. Nottingham, UK: Inter-Varsity Press.

Naugle, D. (2002) Worldview: The History of the Concept. Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Explaining Art of Hosting for Beginner’s Wanting to Know What It Is

Every place we go has its own tone, texture and timing.  It is part of what makes Art of Hosting – or in the case of California in August 2012, the Art of Participatory Leadership and Social Innovation – so hard to define. “We” being whatever configuration of hosting and calling team has coalesced around an identified need or opportunity.  Every training is different because every place is different, every group that responds to the call is unique.

People who are just coming across Art of Hosting want to know, what is it?  One way to think of it is, at its core, a set of patterns and practices that help us be successful in complex circumstances.  Developing skill in using these patterns and practices is particularly helpful now at a time when long term strategic planning doesn’t work anymore (if it ever did) because we don’t know and can’t predict what ten, five or even two years down the road will look like.  One thing many of us have a growing awareness of is that what has worked in the past – strategies, practices, principles – doesn’t seem to work anymore – if it ever did.

The world is providing us with increasing complexity – in the environments in which we operate, our communities and in our organizations, especially as things seem to move faster and faster.  Social innovation is a response to this increasing complexity.  Rigid protocols have limited application in complexity.  Complexity calls for a different set of leadership skills – skills that tune in and are responsive to emergent circumstances.  Complex systems share behaviours that cannot be explained by their parts.  This requires a different set of frameworks to see and understand it.  In the Art of Participatory Leadership we draw on world view, chaordic path, divergence/convergence, the 2 loops of systems change, theory U and other frameworks as lenses through which to think about complexity and social innovation.  Social innovation looks for an alignment of circumstances that makes action possible – the relationship among elements.

One of the names we use for this type of experiential learning is the Art of Participatory Leadership because it also calls forth a new set of leadership skills required to deal with complexity and social innovation, quite different from how we think about traditional leadership.  Participatory leadership focuses on participation and engagement strategies, knowing from experience there is wisdom and knowledge that exists within a group, a team, an organization, a system.  When we make it visible in a group, it moves into the realm of collective wisdom, knowledge and understanding leading to a different kind of action and ultimately different results.

Participatory leadership  connects well in high pressure situations. Some of its core characteristics are curiosity or non-judgement, staying in the space of not knowing, generosity or openness, a belief that conversations matter and that good conversation leads to wise action.

It is not a quick fix or a magic bullet for problems that have existed and have been evolving over long periods of time.  However, there are often very immediate results for individuals as they examine and reflect on their own leadership practices.  This is also why we encourage teams to participate so they have a new common language and are more able to hold each other accountable to create a path of behaviour change and organization practices that will be sustainable.

A core element of the Art of Participatory Leadership is for each of us to deepen our own capacity to effect transformation – in ourselves and in a complex world.

Where have these practices and patterns been used? In community, private sector, academia, healthcare, and educational settings as well as social change efforts around the world.  The stories are only just beginning to be documented because many of us have been deep in the work rather than the writing about the work.  Stories are alive in Nova Scotia, Ohio, Minnesota, Europe and Brazil and many, many more places.

Art of Hosting is also a global self-organizing community of practitioners who use these integrated participative change processes, methods, maps, and planning tools (like circle practice, appreciative inquiry, world cafe and open space technology) to engage groups and teams in meaningful conversation, deliberate collaboration, and group-supported action for the common good.

The hosting and calling team for this first Art of Participatory Leadership and Social Innovation in California: myself, Jerry Nagel, Ann Badillo, Sherri CannonDana Pearlman and Mia Pond will weave stories of where this work is alive in the world into these three days of co-created emergent design and process – a little taste of what we do in the world and what is possible.

Innovators and Pioneers in Systems Change

In Utah for Healthier Health Care Systems Now (January 11-13, 2012), we used the 2 Loops Model of Systems Change as one of the framing references for why we were gathered. It is a tool and a framing to understand the work we are individually and collectively in that shifts the shape of health care.  The two loops model looks like this:

 

The first loop represents the old system, the one we often name as the dying system.  The second loop represents the new system, the one we keep claiming we want, the one we think cannot emerge by fiddling with the old, the one we believe is needed to bring our current systems out of crisis.

The problem is, when we begin to think about the complexity of something like health care, where there are so many jurisdictions, so many players, so many interlocking systems,  trying to imagine what this new system or systems could be becomes paralyzing.  The conversation often becomes philosophical and theoretical.  It largely comes from an intellectual and cognitive place focused on all the things that need to shift that are outside our circle of influence.

Some of the frustration in being innovators inside of systems is that the systems begin to push back on the work in small and large ways, leading to the exhaustion, frustration and disillusionment so many leaders in health care experience.  This is all part of the old narrative.  Of course this showed up in our conversations in Utah to greater and lesser degrees depending on the questions, depending on who was in the conversation at any given time.  Any time we were in that conversation, thinking about the new system, it didn’t feel like a new conversation.

So, how could we be in conversation about Healthier Health Care Systems Now without  focusing on the second loop or the new system?  Well, by remembering who we are – pioneers and innovators in health systems – working under the first loop – in the in-between spaces – championing the new or being championed.  We began to focus in on and explore new questions: Where are the edges of my work?  What is the new territory I could begin to walk when I go home?  How can I draw on the resources in the room to expand my thinking, even turn it upside down and on its head – like the person who relies on gift economy in her practice, for her livelihood?  What more becomes possible in generative spaces with other innovators?  This was a different conversation, in tone, texture and energy.  This one did not come from the head. It was embodied in a whole new way – the beginnings of a new narrative of health.

The awareness of the old narrative and of the stuck places infiltrated us in the best of ways at the end of the first day of our three day gathering.   Someone suggested what we needed to do was create a vision of the new.  Ordinarily I might agree.  In this case though, that didn’t feel right.  It felt like it would take us further off track given that our roomful of people were geographically stretched from coast to coast across two countries with countless “systems”?

So, without taking our eye off the intention of shifting the narrative of health, we refocused on innovating and pioneering and guerrilla tactics of  hosting, collaborating and co-creating, engaging those around us in this journey that is health.  We didn’t leave with a specified vision of the new system.  We left heartened in our respective journeys, knowing the way to the future is through new processes, deeper conversations and finding our way with as many of our friends and colleagues as we can attract, engage and embolden along the way.

As we continue to shine the light on the experiments already underway, the successes, the challenges and the “failures”, and tap into the individual and collective resilience that is fighting to emerge, we can remember it is a journey that will shift and change as we go.  We remember life actually wants to help and it wants to heal. If we focus on how to expand our individual systems of influence and share those stories with our friends, our collective system of influence automatically begins to expand.  What seems like isolated work informs pockets of work elsewhere and we grow an energetic field that is part of the new, part of the second loop and is fueled by everyone stepping into innovative, courageous and pioneering ideas and projects.

I still can’t see what that second loop is for health care – other than it is about health and it is healthier.  I’m not sure anyone who showed up for this conversation can see the second loop either.  But I am absolutely sure that the innovators and pioneers are already prototyping what’s possible, what’s new, and in this work more and more of the new and the new narrative will show up.  I am reinvigorated by what’s possible, by the people who continue to explore these questions, who challenge the status quo, despite possible personal risks in doing so and know that there are better and more healthy ways to engage health care.

I and my hosting mates are committed to convening more of these conversations with people compelled to be in them to grow the field.  We envision large gatherings of people convening in new ways, continuing to innovate our way into the new system(s) so that maybe one day we will wake up and see in front of our eyes what we once thought impossible – a new generative system of health resilient enough and healthy enough to be sustainable in unexpected and beautiful ways.   If we take our eyes off the urgent need for something that feels impossible and put it in the places where possibility thrives… well, what more is there to imagine or say?

Steve Ryman, Tenneson Woolf, Kathy Jourdain, Marc Parnes

 

 

2 loops of systems change

Healthier Health Care – Now! A Little Taste of What’s Cooking

We wondered what would happen if we invited friends from across North America to convene in Salt Lake City, Utah around the question of Healthier Health Care Systems Now?  We were amazed.  We began by sharing who we are – the innovator and pioneer in us that  compelled us to come to this conversation.  Then we shared the exciting work we are engaged in.  We talked about the “system” and discovered “it” was never A system and “it” was not about health.  We moved from talking about systemic issues that felt as philosophical as we know they are real and moved into embodying the conversation, coming from a place of deep connection to ourselves, each other and the work that continues to call us in the worlds we work and travel in.  The insights, themes and cool learning are just beginning to percolate for each of us.  More, much more, is cooking.

It was beginning to cook before we even arrived in Salt Lake City.   We discovered healthier health care was such a compelling question people went to great lengths to get there.  Some initially said no and then found a way to come.  Others felt the question so urgently they used vacation days and airmiles to get there.  One person even crowd funded her flight.

Twenty-six of us arrived on January 11, 2012 – physicians, naturopaths, other practitioners, administrators and consultants from heath, public health, dentistry, acute and long term care from Nova Scotia, Ontario, Alberta, Ohio, Minnesota, Winsconsin, Illinois, Texas, Oregan, Washington and Utah.  Everyone an innovator or pioneer already working diligently on shifting the shape of health care within their spheres of influence.  We all brought stories of change and deep and compelling questions. We made instant connections that inspire us to go deeper and to keep at it.

This will continue to simmer and cook for quite some time to come.  I will have more to share here about this conversation at the beginning of 2012, curious to see how it might grow as we convene a community of practice for those who were there, those who wanted to be and couldn’t make it and those who begin to find their way to this particular conversation in their own way.

You can find snippets of harvest on Twitter by searching #HHSUtah.  Thanks to Amanda Fenton, who was with us from afar, for stepping in and compiling our tweets @Storify.

I offer here a little taste of a quick and fun harvest at the end of day 2 as we went around our circle and each of us added a line to the unfolding story of our journey together. I didn’t catch every word, but it will give you some small essence of the experience, recognizing some references are very specific to our experience, and it will have to tide you over til the next post.

“There were a bunch of hooligans in a house by the mountain.  They thought of themselves as pioneers, radically re-engineering, brought together by living systems that taught them how to transfer what they are learning and experiencing into what they are doing now – open to possibility.  In sharing, they saw new connections and unique opportunities.  They described them as opportunities to change and blow shit up.  These hooligans had so much to think about, they sat in circle, played, visualized and created on many levels a new vision of what they were yearning for – simplicity, wellness, with open heart toward the future to bring this new narrative to everyone.  Envisioning systems that bring forth vision and health, letting go of the old to release into timeless universe.  They pondered next action.  In the middle, they went deep into the cellar to share unique fonts and forms of creativity.  They came together to discuss the topic but it was more than the sum of its parts – human nature – own beauty, higher power and purpose run in each of them and each other with gratitude, although we do fear discovering in horror on FB the shaking moments, with brains exploding in chaos, guerrilla gardening and permaculture parties.  But then, a pause for reflection and even more to emerge.  Finished.  No shame.  Amazing thing, working hard to create something different.. but in the end, they were different, a community – and in their differences they found their common humanity from which to go back to the places they came renewed, reinvigorated, inspired to innovate on!”

With gratitude to all who were there, all who held the rim of this gathering from afar and specifically to my fellow hosts Tenneson Woolf, Steve Ryman and Marc Parnes for an experience that will be long remembered, in a gathering where the new narrative of health was activated, the field of innovation in health care where we meet was amplified and shifting the shape of health care in our spheres of influence has been accelerated.

Exceptional is not an Extension of Good

“There is a fundamental discontinuity between good and great,” was one of the assertions Ray Ivany, President and Vice-Chancellor of Acadia University, made during a talk at a recent Knightsbridge Robertson Surrette event.  He was invited to speak on the topic of being the best and his talk was an insightful blend of the human dynamics and structural components necessary for exceptional performance.

“Exceptional is not an extension of good but it’s in a completely different place,” he said as he shared the following diagram with us.  Imagine that organizational effort is represented by a helium balloon that is attached to a stake in the ground by an elastic tether.  It manages to rise to the expectations of good performance without too much effort.  And, with some effort and exertion, it can stretch into the category of great.  However, it takes sustained effort to keep it there and as soon as the pressure is taken off, the elastic tether immediately yanks that balloon back into the category of good.

Great is not on the same continuum as Good

In order to allow it to stay in the zone of great, you actually need to sever the tether that holds it in place.   If you believe that great is discontinuous from good, the organizational and human strategies needed to move to and stay in great or exceptional performance are fundamentally different.

In looking at this diagram, it occurred to me that not only is good the enemy of great, it is probably the enemy of itself as well.  As soon as we think we are onto something good, we want to institutionalize it by creating standards and policies to maintain it.  This standardization means we often prevent the organization from conceptualizing the strategies that lead to great.  On the other side, the more we insist on standardization without the ability to continually adapt, the greater the likelihood we actually unintentionally shift our organization from good to mediocre by insisting on standards that often lose their meaning and relevance over time.

From this place of mediocrity, leaders still try to aim their people for excellence without any hope of getting there and the people are often frustrated in their efforts to shift organizational thinking and performance and no one really understands why.

We only shift the shape of our organizations from good to great, and stay there, when we build in the systems and the capacity to take different risks – one of those risks being failure.

Looking at this diagram and the capacities necessary to shift into a whole new category of performance reminded me of the Chaordic Path where one of the key questions is: “what is the minimum amount of elegant structure required to enable us to act in purposeful ways that lead to wise action and meaningful results?”  This is also the amount of structure that allows an organization to stay nimble and responsive to its environment, creating the conditions for chaos to emerge into its own sense of order and cultivating the adaptive and collaborative leadership that is also a strategy for exceptional performance.

Ray’s comments were entirely consistent with many of the steams of thought that show up in the Art of Hosting community and body of knowledge, providing a beautiful avenue of reflection for me.  The next entry will focus on some of the human dynamics elements that comprised the other main thread of this thought provoking talk.

Prototyping Collaborative Leadership at Capital Health – Citizen Engagement and Accountability

Citizen Engagement and Accountability Portfolio

In May 2009, the creation of a portfolio within Capital Health with the title of “Citizen Engagement & Accountability” presented a rare opportunity to create something that had no precedent.  The portfolio was launched in response to the strategic stream of Citizen Engagement that came out of the Strategic Quest work in 2007.

Lea Bryden was tasked with bringing together three functional areas under this new portfolio: Marketing and Communications, Community Health Boards and Patient Representatives.  In looking across the country, they found themselves virtually alone as there were no models to inform the portfolio development.

In January 2010, Kathy Jourdain and Tony Case, through Shape Shift Strategies Inc., were contracted to assist in shifting the shape of this portfolio.  The intent was to truly create a new portfolio with collective purpose, principles and streams of work and not just perpetuate the three existing functional areas under a new name.  Some of the functional work would be the same and new work would emerge through the process but all of it would be informed by the collective purpose.

This work was given context and framing by the following pre-existing pieces of work:

  • Our Promise
  • Declaration of Health
  • My Leadership: Being, Caring, Doing
  • Citizen Engagement Strategic Stream
  • 2013 Milestones

In addition to wanting to honour CEO Chris Power’s intention in asking the question: “What kind of future could we create if the vision of Our Promise and belief in our Declaration of Health showed up at each of our touch points in the course of our day?”, Lea also wanted to uncover the unique gifts and contribution of each member of the portfolio and understand how they came together as a collective.  And, it was  very much a mechanism to create a cultural shift to even greater transparency and accountability.

This process invited a design team to co-design the process.  There was initially a very specific invitation to a member of each of the three functional areas. As the process unfolded participation in the design process was completely open and transparent and those with the greatest interest and passion continued to participate in the process.  Some people showed up in the beginning because they thought they should and then kept showing up because they saw how their contribution directly influenced the design of each session.

This work took place over a period of four or five months to establish collective purpose, principles, priorities, and strategies.   It took into account other work that was underway in the organization, incorporating things like the budget planning process or the response to Capital Health’s community engagement recommendations right into the process so the portfolio could learn how and when to respond as a portfolio to other moving parts of the organization.

We knew we were making headway when we hit the groan zone.  The collective purpose and principles were articulated and we began to hear, “Oh good.  We have what we need.  Can we be done?  Can we get back to our regular work now?”  This was a signal to push back.  Lea did this by asking a simple question, “Where are we seeing evidence of our collective intention at work?”  The responses were amazing, informative and represented a turning point.

A philosophy of our work as consultants was to transfer collaborative leadership skills into the portfolio so it could flourish once our involvement came to an end.  The portfolio created a transition team to continue to guide the work and this team is also working collaboratively.

A key contributor to the success of this initiative was Lea’s willingness to foster collaborative leadership and her openness to growing her own awareness and skills in the process.

Like all significant culture shift initiatives, there are certainly bumps along the way.  But there is lasting change in the way this portfolio views itself, understands its work and engages with the public.

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.