I’ve just finished co-hosting the Art of Hosting training with my mates Tenneson Woolf, Teresa Posakony and Brenda Chaddock, We spent four days with 27 people learning the art of hosting and convening meaningful conversations. There is much that I learned in that, as I always do when I am teaching, but what seems most present for me this morning is Tenneson’s persistent quest to find the simplest way to host meaningful conversations.
As a facilitator, I believe strongly that we should meet only when there is a need. It is best to hold a meeting when you don’t know what to do. And when you are at that spot, a meeting serves to help you and your colleagues find the wisdom, however large or small, to make good decision and act smartly.
In the Art of Hosting we teach the “chaordic stepping stones,” essentially a collection of things to pay attention to as you think about designing meetings, projects or organizations. These include knowing the need, knowing the purpose of the meeting and knowing who should be there.
And then, once you are together, there are a few simple tools that come in handy:
1. Be present. Being present means simply turning off all of the distractions that take us away from the question at hand. If there is a more important place we need to be we should be there rather than in a meeting. And so, if this meeting is the most important place to be, be here in this meeting. This is a tough one to live in a world of cell phones, blackberries and wireless internet, but our best work requires us to be fully present to the task at hand.
2. Have a good question. It is harder than you think to find the most important question for the need. But a meeting that is called around a question that matters is a meeting that will work an be worthwhile. So even if it is a regular Monday morning staff meeting, drop a good question into it…”What is up for you this week?” “What challenge do you think we need to face together this week?” “How can we be a little smarter together?”
3. Use a listening piece. A listening piece is a physical object that helps slow down the conversation. When you hold the object, you speak, when you are finished speaking, you put the object down. For important conversations, there is a need to speak deliberately and listen deliberately. The listening piece focuses our attention on what is being said and causes us to speak wisely. I don’t use a listening piece all the time or even all the way through a meeting, but at least a meeting where we begin with it and end with seems to make the conversation that much more deliberate. And, if you find yourself getting off track in the middle when contention and struggle arises, return to the listening piece to slow it down so we can get back to the wisdom that is in the room.
4. Work with mates. It is always better if there is a friend working with you. Someone to hold your back, bounce ideas off and help to discern things. We are wiser when we are working together, not when we are striking out on our own. When we are stuck, having a team mate matters.
5. Harvest. Find a way to harvest what you are learning, Take notes, draw a mind map, make commitments, conclude with an agreement. Harvesting is an art in itself, but a good meeting is always judged by it’s ability to produce a good result, and harvesting, in it’s many forms, ensures that that will happen.
6. Be wise. Take wise decisions and act wisely. After all, the whole reason for meeting in the first place was to do things a little smarter and a little better, wasn’t it?
Yesterday, we were sitting in the forest, after the Art of Hosting was over and talking about this simple pattern and what it means to find a few simple practices to hone our skills. I had a strong insight about how one learns to do this. It’s quite simple really: practise. There are countless opportunities in a lifetime to meet people in formal and informal settings, in meetings, at work, on the bus, at parties, in families…If you really want to get better and better at facilitating and hosting conversations, practice the simplest tools everywhere. Next time you meet someone at a party get a little curious, and throw a question out there: “What do you do? Really? What is it like to do that in the world?”
Repeat as necessary.
[tags]artofhosting, Tennson Woolf, Brenda Chaddock, Teresa Posakony[/tags]