I was working with a group yesterday that was making a number of small decisions as they worked their way through an agenda. The meeting was semi-formal and my role as facilitator was mostly to hold space and draw attention to process where appropriate.
I let the group talk, asked questions from time to time and noted the decisions that they had made. As I was observing this group working, I noticed something interesting about their process.
Frequent readers will know that I use the diamond of participation often as a map to organize and design meeting processes. One feature of the diamond is the three phases that groups go through, from divergent thinking through emergent thinking to convergent thinking. There are noticiable transitions between these three phases, with groups becoming quiet when the hit the groan zone, and the energy becoming lighter when concrete proposals and decisions begin to emerge.
Yesterday I was watching the pattern of the conversations in the group and I noticed that the language changed. Participants began and ended each journey through the groan zone using lots of “I” language and while they were in the middle, there were lots of “we” statements. A typical agenda item began with one partcipant introducing it with a personal statement or a question. The group listened and then replied with further I statements. These responses were a combination of personal questions and personal responses to ideas. Typically I heard things like “What I\m wondering about is…”, “I don’t like that idea very much…” “I can see your point…”
As the conversation unfolded however, there was a shift to “we” and group members began exploring ideas that were in the best interests of the group. People seemed less preoccupied with their own ideas and began working on the emerging ideas that were capturing energy. There was the occasional drift back to “I” language but for the most part I heard things like “We could do it like this…” “We don’t have the time or resources for that…” or “How else could we do that?”
Finally, you could tell the conversation was coming to a close when people started discussing the personal implications of the emergent decision. “Okay, so I will make that change to the timetable…” “I like this choice…” and so on.
Not just a flow from I -> WE -> I, but I also noticed that the conversation went from curious to concrete, and that this map took the form of quadrants, similar to the ones I have worked with before. This observation is in line with Otto Scharmer’s Theory U, and this diagram above shows the path the conversation took also shaped like a U, with the group going from inquiry which opened up options to concrete decisions and implementation plans.
The cool thing about this map of patterns is that it gave me enough for to be able to hold very lightly the conversational space that the group was in. I watched them go through this process something like 15 times over the course of the day and only a couple of times did they get stuck. When they did, it was simply a matter of consulting the map to see what to do. I intervened at least one in each of these four quadrants, something like this:
- Asking for more clarity in personal introduction of agenda ites, and alos inviting the person introducing the item what they are curious about.
- Helping the group see emergent ideas as they were taking shape and asking about the nature of the ideas rather than people’s personal preferences or thoughts.
- Inviting people to concretize what they were hearing, and to explore the implications of one option over another.
- Inviting personal responsibility and ensuring that implementation plans were in place for each decision.
Simple, but this is value of having maps at your finger tips to help find your way through the wilderness of emergent conversation\
Update: Dave Pollard has built on this thought and redrawn the map and I like his thinking. I will say though tha tthis version of the map stops at decision making, and my interest is in seeing the way the individal comes back into the fold as implementation takes over. We’ll be talking more about this I think at the Art of Hosting this month here on Bowen Island. At any rate, here’s Dave’s map: