A stump in a forest hosts life in a living system
Photo by alastairb
* NOTE: I changed the title of this post to better reflect the both/and nature of this conversation, rather than the unhelpful either/or way I originally wrote it.
At the Art of Hosting last weekend, it finally came to me – the simple description of the different between facilitation and hosting as I understand it. So here are a few simple metaphors and a more detailed meditation.
At the simplest level, you can think of a party. A facilitator is like a party planner, or a wedding organizer, running around taking care of details, scripting the event and staying outside of the experience. A party host, by contrast, is inside the experience, invested in the outcome, bringing energy to conversations, not only form, and both affecting and being affected by the experience.
For the sports minded is the difference between a coach and a captain, the difference between being on a football team and an ultimate team. For musicians it is the difference between what happens when a conductor conducts an orchestra and how a string quartet hosts itself.
Scaled up to another level, facilitation and hosting can be seen as complimentary forms of leadership for two different systems. Facilitation comes from a mechanistic view of organizations, that they are machines that can be fixed. Facilitators typically take a neutral stand, bring their tools and tool kits to help things run easier. The facilitator is the mechanic and the group is the machine.
Hosting, on the other hand, is a practice of leading from within a living system. It’s like entering the machine, becoming a part of it and changing it by being there. In a living system you cannot enter the field without affecting the field. So the host enters the field with all of the resources and assets he or she has and offers what they can to the centre of the work. When I am working explicilty as a host (which is my practice most of the time now) I am actively involved in what is going on. Sometimes it loks like facilitation if I may be called to offer an outsider’s view, but I do that from INSIDE the field in which we are working. I bring my whole self to the work and host conversations that invite us to co-create the tools and forms and processes we need to move. Hosting is leading from the field, and it is a very different path from “facilitation” and it operates out of a very different worldview about the kinds of systems in which we live. Anyone can do it, and in fact it works better when there is more “hosting consciousness” in a group. That way the power of a traditional facilitator is not needed, and the group’s capacity to take itself to the next level is increased.
From a complexity stand point, facilitation is seen as a reductionist activity, reducing complexity to simple problems with simple outcomes and a simple path for getting there. Facilitators help groups to seek answers and end states. Hosting from within the field however is more aligned with the nature of complex systems, where there are no answers, but instead only choices to make around the next question, and the paths where those questions lead us. There are no end states. The idea of a healthy community is a vector, not a point. It is a direction to move, not something that can be acheived and then crossed off the list.
For me the critical need for hosting is in the fact that traditional approaches to systems problems are not working. The systemic problems themselves are now understood to be so interconnected and embedded in each other that they are impossible to disentangle. The mechanical world view is fading and the living systems world view is arising. We are in a period of transition in the world between these two ways of seeing things and I think the core capacity of groups, organizations, communities and nations to find sustainable futures lies in their ability to host themselves to their next level of responsibility and action. Consulting in the mode of the mechanic that fixes things is over. Hosting in living systems is here.