Have a listen to this piece from a recent segment on CBC’s current affairs show “The Current.” It is a discussion about Canada’s commitment (or lack of it) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In it you will hear Keith Stewart from Greenpeace (Disclaimer: an old friend, by the way) arguing for a policy and fiscal framework that helps Canada make the transition from fossil fuels to renewables. You will hear him discussing the issue with Ron Liepert, who comes from the petroleum sector in Alberta and was the former Alberta Energy Minister. And who is running for the Conservatives in the next federal election, after defeating the Conservative Party’s most loony MP in recent years, Rob Anders.
The conversation is, in the parlance of my teenage kids, a shitshow. The first sentence out of Liepert’s mouth is full of accusations, unsubstantiated claims and he uses the word “extremist” to characterize Keith’s points and his character. Keith is one of the smartest energy policy minds I know and I daresay he has been at this work longer than Liepert has and for more honest reasons. What was going to be an interesting conversation quickly becomes sidelined by Annamaria Tremonti’s inquiry about Liepert’s terms. Liepert is campaigning for election. Keith is trying to get a conversation going.
That sideline was not helpful to my understanding of how we are going to need to use fossil fuels to create the new renewable energy system for the planet. There is a very important conversation here about policy, economic incentives and transformation and there are people in the fossil fuel industry who are capable of having that conversation. Liepert was a ridiculous and buffoonish choice to represent the status quo. He clearly doesn’t take the challenge seriously. I’m much more interested to see petroleum producers who do, and I know they exist because over the years I have encountered them. They work in the long term strategic planning units in the oil companies, and they are realistic about how to position their companies as energy companies who need to develop and active interest in creating and owning significant stakes in renewable energy if they are to survive and service the debt they will have incurred for a century or more of development of a resource that runs out, or becomes too pricey to use.
This is a conversation we need to have. Keith is inviting a 100 year view of how we are going to do this. There is no oil company out there that is not thinking about this issue too, and although they are also happy to have shills like Liepert doing their dirty work, they KNOW that we need to come off fossil fuels in this century. Scarcity, pricing and climate change will ensure this. Whether we can make this transition well will be the determinant of the quality of life humans will have on this planet when my kids are old people. Avoiding the conversation by these silly short term election tactics costs us all.
Yesterday in a webinar for the Art of Hosting Applied Practice cohort I threw out a set of ideas around harvesting that were prompted a bit by experience and a bit by the questions that participants were asking. This is a list kind of banged out on the fly. What do you think?
Meetings are fundamentally productive. They produce results. But without planning for these results, we can get meetings that are unclear in their purpose or unclear in their function and the results are alos unclear. Ask yourself with every meeting “What are we producing?” The act of paying attention to that is called “harvesting.”
Harvesting planning needs a coherent scheme to structure the work and it is important to focus on all kinds of different outputs and outcomes from a process. To spur thinking, try working with these polarities:
Intangible/tangible. What are the intangible results we want from the work we are doing? Examples might include community, possibility, connection, belonging, clarity or inspiration. And what are the tangible things we want to have in hand? A report, a video, a mural, a decision? these are things we can point to and say “we accomplished this.”
Harvesting that serves the process and harvesting that extends after the process. In process harvesting includes ways in which the group uses it’s information to deepen or clarify the work it is doing. In almost every meeting, having a flip chart where we record ideas, or a table top sheet in a world cafe, or a book of proceedings in Open Space, means that the group has generated information that it can use to work with inside of the process. We also need to harvest things for afterwards, including reports for bosses or communities, decisions to implement, designs to create, prototypes to run. Think about what is useful in the meeting and what is useful afterwards. Anything you produce for later needs to have some context around it so people understand where it came from, how it was made and why it is useful.
Participant done/facilitator done. This is a balance. In dialogic participatory processes, we want harvesting to be done as much as possible by the participants themselves. But we have to be good with their time and effort and not distract them from engaging and participating in conversation either. So yes it might be important nfor participants to generate a number of insights around a question but it might be prudent if a smaller group does the pattern finding. The caveat here is that you have to be very very conscious of who is making meaning. It is so easy to bias a meaning making scheme. Try this experiment: next time you are clustering ideas for a group process, have a group of participants come up with a categorization scheme and then have the hosting teams come up with their own scheme. Whenever I have done this, I have been surprised by how different the schemes are. Meaning making is context dependant, so if you have a consultant walking away with an armful of flipcharts at the end of the day and writing a report, make sure that some small group of the participants checks the work for accuracy and bias.
Artifact/channel. What are the actual physical artifacts we will have in hand as a result of this process? Reports, videos, manuals…physical things. And what are the channels we need to create in order for those artifacts to be used? Without a channel for action, a report will sit on the shelf, or worse, it will be 300 pages long where it only needed to be 10 pages because only a certain amount of information matters to get things done. be precise with the artifacts you produce and ensure you have a way to use them right away or they will find their way to a shelf.
Intentional/emergent. When a hunter/gatherer goes out into the woods she goes looking for specific things: mushrooms, berries, roots, animals. But while she is out there she notices things, important patterns that help her decide on how she will go out into the forest in the future. This is what it is like when you go into a process with an intentional desired result AND what happens when you pay attention to what happens because you have undertaken the work. For example, one of the principles I try to operate by when facilitating meetings is “leave more community than you found.” We might initiate a process to do some strategic planning, but the emergent harvest could also be community and perhaps participants gaining new insights into each other’s leadership or perspective.
Personal/collective. Conferences are fabulous places for personal harvesting. In every learning situation a personal harvest is possible as well as a collective harvest. Make space for both. Build in reflection so that people can integrate their own learning with the group’s
I’ve had a couple of requests to share the exercise that helps people understand Cynefin physically. I’m happy to do so here.
I enjoy designing these kinds of exercises, as it gives people a number of ways of understanding the framework and I find that it actually helps the penny drop for folks who otherwise have a hard time groking the nature of the different domains. I am continuing to develop this exercise but here’s how I do it now:
1. Begin by having the group stand and clear a large space so that everyone can move around comfortably. To do this well, you need a large open space with lots of room for people to move. As you give directions, just give folks a simple instruction and don’t allow questions. They have to figure the rest out themselves. At the end of each mini exercise take a little conversation to reflect on questions such as “how did you do this?, what is happening here?, how did you gather data? How did you evaluate your efforts?” Use questions that are relevant to the applications of Cynefin you are dealing with.
2. Exploring the obvious. Have people divide into four groups (they don’t have to be even numbers). Instruction: “Organize yourselves by height.” Things to note: this can happen quickly, top-down leadership works well, it can be evaluated objectively. You can constrain the exercise further by instructing people to complete the task in 15 seconds. It is unlikely you will be surprised by the results of this exercise.
3. Exploring the complicated. Have people divide into four new groups. Instruction: “Organize yourselves by birth month and year.” Notes: there are many ways to do this, each can be objective;y verified. It requires getting hidden data that is easily discovered and top-down leadership still works well. You will find some surprising solutions for this problem.
4. Exploring the complex. Have everyone stand in a circle and introduce “The Systems Game” (I learned this version from Joanna Macy’s work). In this well known game, individuals must identify two other people and move to a place equidistant from each of them. You cannot let your “targets” know you are connected to them. It helps to demand that people try to achieve a high degree of accuracy in this triangulation. Done well, and with lots of space in the room, the group should be set into a pattern of constant motion. Notes: small rules initiate constant complex motion. You will see times when a group is clumped up and other times when it is spread out. Notice how some folks are naturally influential in the group – tall men wearing bright clothes seem often to have a higher number of connections to themselves. Notice how it feels to be constantly moving and adjusting. If people stop moving ask why (usually they are tired of the game, a fact of life that translates into dealing with real world complexity). Leadership is participatory and top-down leadership cannot help. When the group gets tired of the exercise, invite some probes to see what happens when certain people move. You will start to see the patterns of connection better that way. This is a good introduction to developmental evaluation. Once the system is at rest, it’s difficult to evaluate the connections. Probes (inviting certain people to move to a very different place, for example) gives us lots of information. Have the group devise their own probes to illuminate more of the situation.
5. Exploring chaos. Have people start “milling.” Milling is a practice from theatre training where participants are instructed to walk into space, rather than walk in a circle. Keep the speed medium pace, and ask them to listen to your instructions. Instructions proceed as follows:
- “When I say stop, stop. When I say go, go.” Do this for a while, giving commands to the group.
- “When I say clap, clap,. When I say jump, jump.” Do this for a while mixing up commands to stop, go, jump and clap.
- “When I say go, stop and when I say stop, go” Instroducing this kind of disruption starts making following directions difficult.
- “When I say bow, bow, when I say whoopee, shout whoopee! When I say clap, jump, when I say jump, clap.” Continue and increase the pace of your commands.
- “When I say shhh say shhh, when I say thigh, slap your thigh. Whoopee, bow; bow, whoppee…” We add one more pair of commands and continue disrupting people’s experiences.
- Continue to flip commands. It will get very chaotic.
Notes: “leadership” is increasingly difficult. Any strategy you develop for keeping the commands straight will be disrupted by randomized instructions. It takes a lot of attention to keep going, and eventually a breakdown is going to happen. Some will simply follow instructions as best the can, rendering the exercise simple. Others will try to devise coping strategies; others will give up and do their own thing. You could notice the tip from a simple exercise to a chaotic one and how difficult it is to cope as a group when you enter into chaos this way.
6. Exploring disorder. Have people divide the group into four groups. Invite people to organize themselves by a word that is both a verb and a noun. Pick one from this list. Words like this are sufficiently ambiguous that the groups have to figure out what is meant by the word before they can do the exercise. Any word will do. Notes: the group will become keenly aware of the difference between chaos and disorder. Have people reflect on their initial reaction to hearing the word. It is likely that each person instantly developed a strategy to address the challenge. you could slow the exercise down and have everyone take a minute to write down their strategy and then share them with the group. People will be surprised at the variety. This is a good lesson in what happens when a groups makes a decision without getting clear on what the problem is.
After the exercises I then give my own standard teaching of the framework, which can take from 30 minutes to an hour depending on how much discussion we have.
Hope this helps. Leave me a comment if you try the exercise so we can all learn from your experience.
It has been a long day of travel. I left Asheville at 7:15am eastern, headed to Atlanta, spent three hours there and then was all set to leave when a woman on our flight got sick on medication and had to be taken off the plane. That set us back an hour and half and I missed my connection from Salt Lake City to Vancouver.
Impressed though with Delta Airlines. While we were in the air their “Irregular Operations Team” was hard at work getting everyone rebooked on different flights (and in some cases different carriers.) the captain came back twice to reassure us that no one had Ebola and that all our connections would be taken care of. In flight wifi meant that we could check our new itineraries en route. When I arrived in Salt Lake, it was a simple matter to print out new boarding passes and I even caught a first class upgrade to Seattle. Now I’m at SEA-TAC, sated with some salmon and a bitter northwest IPA at the tail end of my second three hour layover awaiting the final leg home to Vancouver. Once I get there it will be a train downtown and a car2go out to Horseshoe Bay to meet the 1230 water taxi. I should be home by 1am, which will mark 21 hours of travel today, about two hours longer than the last time I went to Australia.
I have managed to get through a third of Bruce Cockburn’s new memoir, several saved up Instapaper articles, some Radiolab and Tapestry podcasts and some ideas for future inquiries about things. So not a bad day. Just a long one. Four hours to go.
For the past few weeks I have been trying an interesting experiment in civic dialogue.
Here on Bowen Island we are in the midst of local elections. We are a small community of 3500 living on a liece of land about the same size as Vancouver, with fairly limited resources in terms of being able to fund local services. It is a beautiful and inspiring place to live, a place that almost wills one to dream about it. It inspires people to move here, to build, to steward, to preserve, to write. Folks run for election because deep down they love this place and they want to do something about that.
We are close to each other on Bowen. We are a pretty homogenous place. We live close to the land and the sea, and close to each other’s dreams and frustrations. The major difference between us is our opinions of the way the world should be. And, ike most small communities, I think we suffer from what Freud once called the narcissism of small differences. We project a lot on to each other and it surprises me that some of the vitriol that is produced at keyboards and published online and in print does not translate into real life all that often. I have seen neighbours who seem to be at war with each other online greet each other cordially in the street. Relationship seems, in most cases, to trump things.
This anger and frustration is not surprising. Even in a country like Canada there is an increasing dissociation between citizenship and government. There are massive global entities that operate beyond the influence of many of us, massive blobal issues that affect our daily lives that we have no say over and our democratic governments don’t give us many effective ways to be heard, although we can still cast a vote for them. We seem to be subjected to arbitrary decisions all the time, whether it is what is poured into our land and air and sea or what time the ferry runs. It doesn’t seem to matter what we think.
In that sense, local politics feels like the last place we can actually make a difference. And when it feels like the only way to make a difference is to shout, that’s what we do. We shout at each other. We lose ourselves in the thought that our enemies have to be defeated, that ideas have to be extinguished, that worldviews and ways of seeing and being held by other people are invalid. And maybe by extension that others are invalid. It’s just a little to easy, when you live on an island, to suggest that other people love it or leave it.
And I have been as guilty as others in the past, so I’m nothing special. And I facilitate dialogue for a living. Being human is hard.
So I wondered if this election cycle would be different, because in the past 10 years or so we have had some unbelievably bad civic conversation about major real estate developments, amenities, by-laws and community plans, ferry marshalling, village planning, a proposal to establish a National Park, and suspicions of conspiracies, conflicts of interest and nefarious motives of our neighbours. I wondered if this cycle was to be different. And I wondered if we could do anything to make it different.
For me, when voting for people, I’m not interested in their position. Anyone can write down a list of things that are good and true and ask if others agree with them. What I want to see is how you think about stuff that is not so easy to reduce into a yes/no polarity. I want to see how you confront complexity and how you work with others to figure stuff out. I saw glimpses early on between a few rookie candidates running for office who started engaging in an online discussion about transportation options for our island. I saw people doing two things well: admitting that they didn’t know something and sharing information with each other. It was fascinating. It gave me a glimpse into how these people might act if they were elected to serve with one another.
I wanted to see more, and regretted that I hadn’t set up a forum for this very function, until one of the candidates on his own set up a facebook page and invited me to moderate it. And so I stepped in. Here are the guidelines I posted (if you are on facebook you can see the forum):
1. If you want the candidates to consider a question, either have one of them post it here, or send it by facebook message to me.
2. If your question is a yes/no question, and you send it to me I’m going to ask you to rephrase it because the world is more complicated than that, and dialogue is encouraged by asking questions we don’t know answers to. If you want to see the candidates’ POSITIONS on things, go to their pages. If you want to see them DISCUSSING things together, hang around here. Candidates: please feel free to engage with each other. It’s more interesting to see you discussing things than it is just to read a statement.
3. I’m not sure if we have the setting right, but the intention here is to only have candidates post and respond in the comments. I’m not going to go around deleting comments, but if you are not a candidate and you want your say head over to the Bowen Online Forum. Feel free to “like” things. This space is primarily intended for us to watch candidates working together to figure stuff out.
4. Candidates are allowed to and enouraged to say things like “I don’t know” and “what do you think?” and other admissions of vulnerability, humility and discernment.
5. As things become busier, I’ll prioritize questions from those that haven’t asked any yet. It’s always better to send one great question to get the candidates talking than it is to send a bunch in all at once.
6. Nobody’s perfect. Let these guidelines be good enough to get things going. Message me if this doesn’t work for you.
7. And yes, not everyone is on facebook and there is no way to share this page if you’re not signed on. Perhaps next time we’ll choose a better forum for this conversation. in the meantime, you can certainly cut and paste what you are reading here and email it to others.
Smile. Democracy is more than just voting.
I have to say that it has been a great experience and it has stood in contrast to the Bowen island Forum which is where the rest of the citizenry works out its opinions of one another with a lot of vigour, spontaneity and sometimes quite hurtful attacks. It gives me a clue to what is possible when we change the way we frame conversation in the public sphere. Here’s what I learned:
1. The hardest policy questions do not have yes and no answers and we are not served by reducing them to a binary resolution.
2. We need a public conversation that allows us to be wrong or unsure and allows us to share information with each other to make skillful decisions.
3. Everyone needs help to ask good questions and to get away from “gotcha” politics. (It is interesting how a few people have told me that the facebook page is for “softball” questions because the conversation there has been civil, nuanced and searching. I have responded that this is because we were trying to deal with real issues rather than gather future ammunition for “i told you so” campaigns. There is no shortage of material for those searching for conspiracies and nefarious motives, if that is how you choose to view people.)
4. Radically different opinions can actually add nuance and value to a decision if we are able to see the differences and not dismiss people out of hand. In fact we need this difference. But learning to live WITH this difference is what qualifies you to a position of stewardship in a community. Demanding the elimination of difference either by saying that “we should all get along” or “you are fundamentally wrong” erodes community.
5. Facilitating this middle ground requires a commitment to a process, to principle and to boundaries and it requires working with people kindly and respectfully to help them ask the questions they want answers to in a way that opens them for the possibility that they might not get the simple answer they are looking for. People have responded positively to my private chats with them as we have added more nuance to questions. We all need help to participate well in the public sphere.
6. Local governance is hard. We do well as citizens to remember this. Those who will get elected on Saturday are about to take on a job that is many pay grades above what they are going to earn doing it and they will all be confronting novel situations, problems and ideas and will be required to navigate in a good way through difficult waters. No one knows how to do this perfectly, and I think we owe a little grace and latitude to those who will be entrusted with our future. And I say that even as I have had significant differences in the past with some of the people likely to be elected.
I have a lot of respect for the candidates that were able to show up in the forum over the last couple of weeks and I have enjoyed the process of putting my money where my mouth is. It feels to me like I can trust the folks who WILL get elected to carry this tenor of collaboration across and with differences into their four year terms on Council and I hope we have chances to continue to have these kinds of civic conversations face to face. I am willing to continue exploring forums for better civic dialogue and participating as I can to host and encourage this kind of exploration and collaboration to continue.
Good luck to all on Saturday.
Powerful day yesterday in our Art of Learning Together training in Asheville.
One of the ways I teach the Cynefin framework these days is by using a series of exercise to illustrate what it is like to be in each of the five domains. The exercise I use for the disorder domain is to ask people to organize themselves according to a word that is both a verb and a noun. This causes a bit of confusion especially if people start moving to organize themselves according to what they think I told them. This is exactly the way the disorder domain functions in Cynefin – as the domain of problems one hasn’t thought about, resulting in addressing them with strategies one also hasn’t thought about. That is what makes it different from chaos. Usually it is a short exercise that easily drives home the point.
I forgot the word I was going to use to prompt the exercise. Instead the word that came to mind was “economically.” Okay it’s an adverb, but it has multiple meanings and I thought it would serve. “Organize yourselves economically,” I said. I mostly thought that people would just get stuck in trying to define the word and then have their insights about what “disorder” means.
Instead the conversation got real. Fast.
You have to understand that this is a very mixed group of people, and economics is one of the ways in which this group exhibits tremendous diversity, and especially diversity that is hidden to the eye. Economics, money and wealth has a very sharp edge.
The group began feeling it’s way around the topic. All the domains came to life. One person offered the SIMPLE suggestion that we just stay in a circle as this is the most economical and efficient way to organize ourselves. Someone else saw this as COMPLICATED but solvable and began to offer insights on the nature of an economy, concluding that we could organize ourselves according to our net worth (and later, feelings of abundance, access to cash, actually cash in our pockets and other criteria). Soon we discovered the COMPLEX features of the problem. People had different relative wealths, they participated in all kinds of different economies and there was no static way to organize themselves. One person suggested that the little dynamic systems exercise we had done earlier was in fact the was to organize ourselves like an economy and still someone else suggested we break into groups and try and come up with a bunch of different solutions.
All this time the conversation became more and more fraught with emotion, with issues of visibility and invisibility, with privilege and possibility. There was a full range of emotions expressed including anger sadness, joy, frustration, impatience, relief, curiosity and indifference. This eventually became a chaotic conversation with everyone offering perspectives without any organizing scheme and several people offering solutions which were undermined by perspectives that made them unworkable (yes we could just throw a number into the middle to see how much wealth we collectively had access too, but there is no way I will betray my partner’s financial situation that way).
Eventually, after a couple of proposals made with half formed decision making processes, we passed a piece and had one round of circle that allowed for people to share their perspectives. and feel complete with the exercise.
It was powerful because the conversation exposed the differences in the group in a spontaneous way. We had lots of time built into our agenda so the hour or so we spent on the exercise could actually be accommodated and in the end it generated a lot of learning. It was an incredible illustration of how fraught the disorder domain is and why it is absolutely an essential element of the Cynefin framework. Here lie dragons. And it was a perfect illustration of the need to skillfully identify and deal with the ontological nature of the problems we face, because just addressing problems with knowledge can be undermined all the time with who and how people actually are, how they see the world and how they are oriented to their contexts.
Asheville, North Carolina
We are about to begin three days of learning together, Ashley Cooper, Dana Pearlman and me. And 27 other folks who are coming to something we called “the Art of Learning Together.”
One of the core inquiries of the Art of Hosting, since it’s beginning has been “what if learning together was the form of leadership we needed now?” It’s not that other forms of leadership AREN’T important, but that ihis particular form is not well supported. We think of learning as something you are doing before you become a leader. Something to do before you ramp up to the next level of leadership.
But of course there are situations in the world – complexity, confusion, innovation, disruption – that require us to learn, sometimes almost too fast, usually only until we can make the next move “well enough.” We need tools, heuristics (my new favourite word, meaning experience based guidelines or basic principles based on previous experience) and ways of quickly understanding our experience so we can be open to possibilities that are invisible when we take a narrow view of change.
Over this three days we will teach and learn about frameworks for personal and collective leadership, including Cynefin, The Lotus, and principles of improvisiation. We will use dialogue methods of World Cafe, Pro-Action Cafe, Open Space, Circle practice and other things. We will use movement, improvisation, music and art. And we will employ walks in the neighbourhood, silence, reflection and raid prototyping. We are alos going to be diving into the art of working with core teams and understanding the dynamics of power, identity and relationships as they unfold in a context that is disruptive, changing and complex.
And we are doing it in a sweet space called The Hub in Asheville, which, if you don’t know it, is the most amazing, creative, and moldable space in an amazing, creative and moldable city. You can follow along online if you like at our weebly.
Thirty years ago today as a 16 year old, my life changed. On October 20 1984 I participated in a massive anti-nuclear weapons march in Toronto. It was an eye opener for me. i met hundreds of people who had come together across the mostly left side of the political spectrum to march for peace. I had never been exposed to social justice and action coalitions before, and became almost overwhelmed by the leaflets and pamphlets that I collected that day on issues like Kurdish independence, sanctions against South Africa, cruise missile testing, Central American civil wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua, native issues such as logging at Temagami and weapons testing in Labrador…the list went on and on. Acronyms from that time seem like distant memories: FMLN, FSLN, IRA, CND, ANC, ACT…
I was involved in peace and social justice issues through my church, St. James-Bond United Church, which had a very active social justice program. Our associate minister, John Lawson (who ran for the Green Party in Kitchener in the last federal election) was really active in challenging us young people nto engage with the world and not accept the standard narrative of upper middle class Toronto; money was everything, social justice and peace were communist-loving sympathies and solidarity was for naive idealists. (Years later, after touring the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, I felt extremely vindicated for having held on to the principles i cultivated in those days).
On that day, John took some of us downtown to march. Later that day he leant me two books that changed my life: a collection of Franz Kafka’s aphorisms and short stories and the first volume of Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s “The Political Economy of Human Rights Vol. 1.” I devoured both of these works. i think the Chomsky book was actually not even legal in Canada at the time.
That day was indelibly marked into my memory as the day in which my love and interest in serious literature and progressive politics emerged. My world opened up, my eyes opened up and almost every part of my life’s work that has been important to me got an acceleration on that fall afternoon with 100,000 other people and one mentor on University Avenue in Toronto.
in this video, Organizational practices applied by Tim Merry he talks about an organization that adopts basic practices to restore humanity to its structures. Predicated on the idea that the quality of results are directly dependant on the quality of relationship in the organization, he describes using circle practice as a simply way to activate relational capacities in a team.
The link between relationship and results is well established. It is the basis of relational theory and is a core assumption underlying a whole world of organizational development thinking and practice, including the Art of Hosting.
Good relationships are fundamental but not completely exclusive to getting great results. It is also important that people in the organization are skilled for the work they are doing and that there is a clarity about what we are trying to achieve. Skills include the technical skills needed to do the job as well as adaptive skills needed to be able to respond to changing conditions. Clarity includes personal and collective clarity of purpose.
i find that many organizations excel in a technical skills focus and spend a lot of time on clarifying organizational purpose through strategic plans and the operational plans that are meant to connect everyone in an organization to the central purpose.
And what passes for good management is this technical axis of organizational life. It is privileged by using terms like “hard skills” and when push comes to shove the “softer side” of organizational life is often sacrificed in favour of strict accountability to the plan.
Restoring relational skills is often the first step to stabilizing a team that has lost its way. I have worked with highly skilled team – for example in university professional faculties – where there is no shortage of extremely talented individuals and an audacious but achievable drive to be the best of their kind in their market. But very often highly skilled and committed people get into tough disputes with one another as egos clash and personal purposes become more important tha organizational ones. Over time toxic environments can appear that, when combined with the unskillful use of power and authority, can create pain and trauma in organizations. Almost everyone I know has a story of this. It is absolutely rife in organizational life as we seek to balance self-fulfillment with collective strategic direction.
What Tim points to, and what we cover in the Art of Hosting, including in our offering on Beyond the Basics, is that a restorative approach to human relationships can steady the ship. This means taking time away from strictly strategic objectives in order to attend to relationships. And it is not simply a thing that happens in offsite meetings to deal with organizational conflict. It is about instituting practices – such as week-starting and week-ending circles – to discuss strategic objectives, and to do so in a way that honours and deals with the struggles that naturally occur as we try to do things we’ve never done before.
A weekly practice of PeerSpirit Circle for example becomes a strategic leverage point for better organizational life and more humane working environments. It doesn’t replace technical skills or organizational goals, but it ties those things to personal aspirations and provides a rich ground for creativity, adaptability, cohesion and sustainability
Inspiring action in a time of despair.
Our work and the work of every person who loves this world—this one—is to make one small deflection in complacency, a small obstruction to profits, a blockage to business-as-usual, then another, and another, to change the energy of the flood. As it swirls around these snags and subversions, the current will slow, lose power, eddy in new directions, and create new systems and structures that change its course forever. On these small islands, new ideas will grow, creating thickets of living things and life-ways we haven’t yet imagined.
This is the work of disruption. This is the work of radical imagination. This is the work of witness. This is the steadfast, conscientious refusal to let a hell-bent economy force us to row its boat. This is much better than stewing in the night.