Sacred Hospitality

Sometimes we human beings seem to be remarkable at bringing people together to achieve something, and many times we are not remarkable.  Sometimes we are very clear on what we want to do together, on why we need each other, and how we will interact to have the impact we desire.  Most people describe these experiences as highly engaging.  Whether an afternoon in the country with some friends or landing a robot on Mars, we are capable of uniting our efforts in beautiful ways.  I have been sitting for years with the question of why these uniting, high impact resilience, energizing moments are less frequent than most people want.  If we prefer this experience, then why don’t we do this all of the time?  If we need to collaborate to achieve some of our larger societal goals, why don’t we more often?  One answer I have found has to do with how we treat ourselves and others.

Everyone I have met over the last two decades, in over a dozen countries, has told me that they have had the experience of being highly engaged, energized in human interactions.  As I ask about their experience, it seems that in all of their stories, they experience being well hosted.  They experience higher vibrancy in how they are hosting their own self, in their being hosted by and hosting of the other, of the group, by a creative process, where they experience being connected to a creative flow.  Eventually, my colleagues and I saw that they were expressing the experience of vibrancy in five primary relationships (self, other, group, nature, spirit).  What we also began to notice was the level of co-hosting in each of these relationships, the recognition that other people were also hosting with them and with the processes of nature and spirit.  A whole lot was happening in the interaction–it was being hosted simultaneously by many different people, processes, and structures.  We started calling this co-hosting.

Recently my colleagues and I have become more aware of the deeper capacities in excellent co-hosting, where people more consistently are able to co-host higher levels of vibrancy experienced in the five primary relationships.  We are experimenting with this “sacred hospitality,” co-hosting with greater intention and attention, with the clarity that one is inviting a harmonic.

As we put the art of sacred hospitality into practice in our fieldwork at the Institute for Strategic Clarity and at Vibrancy, we are learning more and more about what people do and experience in this deeper practice of co-hosting, as well as learning more about the much higher levels of impact resilience available through deeper co-hosting.  So far we have found the following practices to work reliably:

  1. Nature and Spirit — your experience of the creative process and source
    • Ask yourself, “What do I experience when I connect in the creative process?”  Since this exercise is with you by yourself, I invite you to be honest with what you actually experience.  This is where the learning comes.  Looking at what you actually experience, comparing that actual experience with what you want, and adjusting what you do, repeatedly.  This is also the art of resilience, the ability to learn and adjust.
    • Ask others what they experience.  Share with them what you experience.  Ask them about what they experience. Do you see any similarities? Any unique differences?
  2. Self — your experience of your sacred hospitality of your own self
    • Ask yourself, “How do I experience my own sacred hospitality of myself?”
    • Share with someone else.  Share what you see, with someone you trust.  In this sharing, look for: (1) what you see in yourself, when you hear yourself sharing; (2) what you see in yourself, when you look at the other person you are talking with; and (3) what they see in what you share.
  3. Other — your experience of your sacred hospitality of another.
    • Ask yourself, “How do I experience my sacred hospitality of another person?  Of the capacities they already bring, right now?  Of the potential I can see in them?”
    • Share with someone else.  What do you see about your co-hosting of another?  What do you see about how the other person co-hosts another?  When we see it in another person, we are seeing own selves in them, in capacities we also already have or in emergent capacities that we could develop further.
  4. Group — your experience of your sacred hospitality of a group, of a we
    • Ask yourself, “How do I experience my sacred hospitality of a group?”
    • Share with someone else.  What do you see in common with their experiences?

These practices seem to work everywhere, and they are very efficient.  The questions for yourself can start with 5-minute reflections.  The sharing with someone else can start with 20-minute conversations.  We find that starting this simply often leads to great insights.  That is a high return on co-investment, a few minutes of reflection and conversation leading to transformative insights.  These practices are part of a toolkit of collaboration basics that we are developing through our observations and fieldwork.

In essence, we start by getting clear that those of us involved in the process want better experiences and better outcomes, and that there is a deeper shared purpose that brings us together.  We then agree that the process starts with the self, with how I co-host myself.  I can only invite the levels of experience with others that I am willing to invite with myself first.  We then agree that we prefer the experience of abundance to that of scarcity, that we have choices in our agreements, and that we want to experience more deeply the co-hosting of the vibrancy available in each of the five primary relationships, at the same time.  Through a process of reflection, sharing, inquiry, and feedback, we are able to see what we want, what we actually experience, the difference between the two, adjust what we do, and repeat.  This is the process of tangibilizing the potential we see, through specific pathways to outcomes, which provides evidence about the potential and pathways we saw, adjusting, learning, and evolving.

Sacred hospitality.  Sacred comes from the PIE root *sak “to sanctify” to make holy, and holy comes from the PIE *kailo“whole, uninjured” or health.  Hospitality comes from the Latin hospitalitem for friendliness to guests.  So, sacred hospitality is how we invite greater health–better experiences and outcomes–through relationships, to the self, other, group, nature, and spirit.

We all want better experiences and results than we usually achieve, on a more consistent basis.  We like being well hosted, and we enjoy hosting others.  Whether or not people have been consciously capable of consistent sacred hospitality in the past, my colleagues and I find, across the world, the emerging capacity and desire in everyone to experience deeper levels of co-hosting.  It starts with each individual, taking on the sacred hospitality of their own creative expression, doing the same with others, and consciously choosing in the groups where they interact to co-host each other and the group.  The experience is far better, as are the results and the resilience of the impacts.  If we can do it, and if we prefer it, then maybe it is time to starting doing it.

Collaboration Basics: Essential Agreements

posted with Ruth Rominger, CHOICE Fellow and Garfield Foundation’s Director of Information and Network Design–Collaborative Networks

Those of us in the social sector hear a lot of talk about the value of collaboration. Why do so few actually do it? Because it is hard?  Because it takes too much time?  Or is it because we are operating out of old mindsets and assumptions?

Our research over the past three decades suggests that most people know how to collaborate and yet, they don’t. The evidence points to some common assumptions that get in the way, and a handful of key behaviors that show up in most authentic, effective collaborations. It is our observation that when you become aware of these assumptions and behaviors, you are poised for productive collaboration.  

What We See

People who collaborate effectively are actively engaged with others to co-create the time, space, and purpose for working together.  They share responsibility for hosting explicit processes to achieve desired outcomes. These include:  co-investment, integrated conversations, deep shared purpose, and uniting design.  We call this collaborative co-hosting. Here is a brief description of what these ideas mean:

Co-investment. People in effective collaboration come to the table with the attitude of a co-investor. Co-investors who take responsibility for process and outcomes, and want to bring all their available resources to the table. Collaborative co-investors look for opportunities to learn and grow, share their capacities, and see greater potential. It is possible to increase the effectiveness of any collaborative group by recognizing evidence of co-investment and reinforcing it.

Integrated Conversations. Collaboration is strongest if people who don’t typically interact with people in different sectors of a given system have small-group conversations that overlap with other small group conversations that build to whole group conversations, and continuously engage with each other through all phases of work. The behavior seems to maintain the flow of information throughout the system, which helps inform decisions at the core, in nodes (small groups), and at the periphery (with those people loosely involved, on the front lines, or highly impacted). And it makes it possible for decisions to be made at the most appropriate level, by informed and trusted individuals, pairs, or groups.  

Deep(er) Shared Purpose. There is nothing that motivates a diverse groups and individuals to collaborate more than identifying a deep shared purpose. Co-hosts create the opportunity to find and name a deeper shared purpose.  They welcome others who connect with that purpose.  They invite the contribution of each individual’s own purpose to the shared purpose, and the contribution of their unique capacities to the collaboration.

Uniting Design. Co-hosts design interactions and activities to unite, connect, reinforce, and reciprocate contributions of others sharing the deep shared purpose. They create the space to build trust, and see, with others, who their efforts can benefit. The collaboration focuses on learning together by seeing possibilities, testing them, and learning from the successes and failures.  More than looking for the one right answer to all of the problems, the focus is on continuously exploring the next step to generate common understanding of the subject.  And they contribute to others, to create a “whole greater than the sum of the parts.”

What We Do Instead

Even though most of us know how to co-host collaboration, we tend to overlook the potential, learning and growth, and unique capacities in ourselves, in others, and in whole groups.  Instead we focus on outcomes, attributing direct cause and claiming credit. What results did the work produce? Who gets acknowledged? The common practice—to directly associate an action to its outcome—tries to isolate one dimension, or one data point, at a time. At best, the use of logic models, good strategic planning, assessment, and evaluation of isolated data falls far short of what is needed to effectively change a complex system, and often lead to unintended consequences.

Instead of making explicit the group’s deep shared purpose and core values, we tend to focus on the values of one or a few key stakeholders, subordinating all others, often unconsciously.  We too often attribute value to a single success factor, a preferred group, or ultra-individualism in the name of freedom, to the exclusion of seeing and valuing the rest.

Why We Do This

Research shows two dominant reasons for why we continue to do this. We do not recognize scarcity-based assumptions that are embedded in the system and limit our ability to see other possibilities. We unconsciously accept that our world has scarce resources, and thus see scarcity in our life, at work, with strangers, friends, and family. This is just the way it is: there is not enough to go around, and we have to compete with others for what little there is.  Our research, based on an Agreements Health Check survey (https://surveys.isclarity.org) with responses from 124 countries, shows that people unconsciously accept and selectively see scarcity.

We also tend to accept that most of our environments are energy depleting. Research in sociology shows us that underlying agreements of how we treat each other are deeply embedded in our social systems, which makes them very hard to see.  For example, we tend to design our companies hierarchically for efficiency. We measure efficiency by the value of outputs earned from the cost of inputs. We seek efficiency to maximize profitability for shareholders.  And we accept maximizing shareholder values over other stakeholders, because the current system is designed for shareholders to decide who has access to their capital. We have accepted an agreement that capital is the most important resource, over all else. Most of us are not aware that these are only agreements, and these agreements and their consequences are embedded in the current system. They exist only because we have unconsciously accepted that this is the way it is, and by doing so, we miss the opportunity to create something different.  While most agreements that exist today simplified reality to so that we could achieve the great contributions to society of the past two centuries, these same, simplifying  agreements now limit the capacity of our society to make the next step many collaborative efforts seek.  With gratitude we acknowledge where we have been and step towards where we need to be.

We Can Build Other Agreements

We have the ability to shift our reality.  When we recognize the agreements underpinning current reality, we can shift them. For example, we can build new agreements about what types of resource and collective potential are available to work with. We can choose who makes decisions. We can choose what values we base our decisions on and how we enforce them.  We can choose how we interact with others.  

We can choose the benefits of co-hosting collaboration.  We can shift from old agreements to collaborative agreements.  Following is a guide we have developed, based on our experience to date, to  assess and strengthen strategic, systems-changing collaboration.

Assessing Collaborative Strength

Collaborators’ Basics

Value Is there evidence that collaborators… Evidence
1 Co-investment
  • Bring a variety of resources  to the table
  • Invest in their own development
  • Tap into their full potential
  • All collaborators co-invest
  • Co-investors bring full complement of their resources: their capacities, their learning, and their potential
  • Clear model of Return on co-investment, from greater impact and resilience, for each co-investor
2 Integrated conversations
  • Integrate the parts of the system through overlapping conversations, where representatives from one conversation are part of another
  • In and across the parts and phases of work
  • Information flows through their system, intentionally and fluidly informing decisions
  • Decisions are made at appropriate levels, by trusted individuals, pairs of individuals, or groups
  • Structure of integrated conversations directly related to the deeper shared purpose
  • Clear structures and processes for continuous information flow through integrated conversations
  • Clarity of what perspectives need to be in each conversation
  • Participants demonstrate 100% responsibility for being prepared and engaging in each conversation
  • Rapid learning and adaptation within and across integrated conversations
3 Deeper shared purpose
  • Identify the deeper purpose that motivates action
  • Invite others motivated by the purpose to contribute what is unique and specific for that purpose
  • Statement of deeper shared purpose that deeply motivates co-investors
  • Direct connection of each integrated conversation to the deeper shared purpose
  • Clarity in each integrated conversation of how it is connected to and furthering the deeper shared purpose
4 Uniting design
  • Design interactions and activities to unite
  • Design to reinforce unique contributions of each person towards the purpose
  • Clarity of specific, unique contributions needed for each integrated conversation
  • Each integrated conversation inquires into and brings out the best of needed  perspectives

4 Steps to Create Inefficient, Ineffective, Obsoleting, Disengaging, De-energizing Groups

It turns out that, as humanity, we have excelled at learning how to create inefficient, ineffective, obsoleting, disengaging, de-energizing human interactions.  We have it down to four simple steps.  First, focus only on outcomes.  Second, git-r-done.  Third, experience life elsewhere.  Fourth, stick with the process in “the book.”  That’s it.

Now, you might think that nobody does this.  Not really.  Evidence seems to indicate otherwise.  See the links above.

And, we have found lots and lots of groups, all around the world, that are doing the opposite.  They are evolving ways to create smart, cool, in-service-to-purpose, witnessing, inviting-engaging, energizing collaborative spaces.

So, it is not a given that we have to do not smart and not cool.  Many normal people have figured that out.  Let’s start doing smart and cool, like them, and stop doing not smart and not cool.

You Are Different AND Relevant: That Is Why I Need You

“In a community of knowledge, what matters more than having knowledge is having access to knowledge”…”The different bits of knowledge that different members of the community have must be compatible” (Sloman, S, and P. Fernbach. 2017. The Knowledge Illusion, New York: Riverhead Books, pp.124, 126).

To know what I need to know, I can either input everything I need to know into my brain and remember it, or I can know that it exists and where to access it when needed.  It turns out that our brains are leaky.  We forget most things that we see, and we remember wrong many things we think we remember.  And we are relatively good at finding out where to access knowledge, according to Professors Sloman and Fernabch, who I quoted above.

From the perspective of collaboration and co-hosting, the need to include others’ perspectives is the second step of the O Process for collaborative co-hosting.  The first step is to identify the deeper shared purpose that brings everyone together, uniting their will towards a common future.  The second step is to include those voices, those unique perspectives, that are required to generate the possibility of this deeper shared purpose.  Most things that bring people together, like K-12 education, medical care, or food systems require many different perspectives to come together, in a specific way.  The second step of the O Process invites in those different perspectives that we need.  We need them because they are different, because they see the world differently, and they contribute a different perspective.

While this second step seems obvious to everyone I work with–the need for differently-minded people–most do not act as if it were obvious.  Most who say they get this, then fill the room with like-minded people, not differently-minded people.  I also observe that most people in most meetings are not clear why their specific perspective is needed in the room, nor are they clear on why the voices or perspectives of the other people in the room are needed.  Not being clear on why I or others are in the room leads most people to not listen carefully, to not listen intently, and to not inquire into the differences someone else is seeing.  Conversely, when we are clear that we need other specific perspectives, then we are intent on understanding what they are seeing, what they are uniquely bringing to what we are seeing together.  Completely different processes, experiences, and outcomes.

When I combine this observation with the three levels of collaboration I have described before, I see three ways people relate to their own knowledge and accessing that of others.

  1. When the group process is designed for segregation, I am clear that “I need” something.  I am paying attention to what I need to give and get from any given situation, at most looking to see what I can get from others, if they are aligned with giving me what I need.
  2. When the group process is designed for flocking, I know that “I need others.”  I pay attention to what I need and what others need, as we move in the same space, sometimes working on our own and sometimes cooperating.
  3. When the group process is designed for uniting, I see that “I need specific others.”  I am clear about what we are collectively trying to achieve together, our deeper shared purpose, and the need for very specific perspectives to achieve that deeper shared purpose.  I pay attention to the deeper shared purpose, to each person’s perspective, and to how these perspectives shine light on what we want to achieve.  I need each person to be different, united in a deeper shared purpose, and committed to collaborating with each other on that purpose.

I need you, because you are different, and because you are relevant, like I am, to what we want to give our will to, to the future we want to achieve.

What Happens When We “Go It Alone” In Complex Systems?

While the need to collaborate seems obvious to many of us who play in the multi-stakeholder, complex-systems space, most people still do not–even many of the “systems thinkers” I have met.  Some say that collaboration is just too hard, while others say that they collaborate, when they don’t.  What they say might sound like collaboration, but when you look at the underlying agreements, you see that they are not.

So what?  Is collaboration just a “nice” thing to do?  Or is there a real “cost” to not collaborating?   Does collaboration bring possible benefits or does the lack of collaboration directly decrease the impact and resilience of large-scale efforts?  In 2016 professors from Stanford, Harvard, and UC Boulder published their study of the state of the science and practice of sustainable social-environmental systems in their book Pursuing Sustainability (2016 Princeton Univ Press).  They provide such an eloquent and brief survey of examples of the unintended consequences of not having a systemic understanding across space (multiple stakeholders) and time (multiple generation), that I quote it in full.

“The new ‘water closets’ of early nineteenth century London achieved their purpose of ridding houses and their adjoining alleys of foul-smelling human wastes.  But by conveying these untreated wastes into Thames River, they inadvertently poisoned the city’s principal source for drinking water.  The innovation of CFCs greatly enhanced society’s ability to provide safe refrigeration of food, but through a perversely complex chain of unforeseen connections it also put the world at risk by causing depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer.  With the introduction of modern technology into the headworks of Nepal’s irrigation system, it indeed worked better at controlling water.  However, because the system was under the control of new technology and nonlocal managers, the local farmers lost their incentive to cooperate with one another, which led to a decay of overall system productivity.  Numerous additional cases can be drawn from today’s headlines–for example, the unintended effects on food prices of government subsidies to promote biofuels over fossil fuels” (pp 63-64).

While we humans are not yet capable of perfectly modeling and predicting the behavior of complex systems or how to intervene in them, a practice of collaborative study, reflection, and purposeful experimentation is far superior to going it alone, and assuming that you know how everyone else will respond or that it does not matter.

We Don’t Collaborate Because It Is A “Nice” Thing To Do, Rather Because We Have To–What Science Tells Us

“The most important implication[s] of the complexity of social-environmental systems is that you can’t do just one thing (p 63) […and] fitting the pieces together..requires an ability to understand how changes in one..asset..are likely to interact with the other assets…Doing this perfectly is not within our reach.  But the revolutionary advances of the last decades understanding the dynamics of social-environmental systems provide a solid foundation on which to do it better” (p 51), according to Stanford’s Professor Matson, Harvard’s Clark, and UC Boulder’s Andersson in their recent framing of the emerging science and practices of social-environmental system resilience, in their book Pursuing Sustainability: A Guide to the Science and Practice (2016 Princeton Univ Press).

To do more than “merely one thing” is to realize that everything is connected to something else, and that each of those “something elses” belongs to someone, someone who makes decisions about it.  This level of understanding of how parts of the system interact, and how local decision structures influence them focuses on systemic decision structures.

While the complexity of dealing with many moving parts, which are each influenced by multiple, different stakeholders, can seem overwhelming at first glance, many of us in the fields of decision and systems sciences have spent many years finding efficient ways to integrate the best of human understanding and wisdom with robust technologies, increasing the strategic clarity a group of individuals can achieve together.  You can find many examples of strategic systems mappings of large-scale, complex systemic decision structures (here), as well as examples of groups mapping the underlying systemic agreement structures that influence the decisions made in the system (here).

“Without an integrated appreciation and understanding of the social-environmental systems in which decisions are being made, unintended and negative consequences will too often result” (p 53).

Scaling Impact — What We Are Learning from BUILD UPON Cambridge, Madrid, and Brussels

In this 4th of a series of 4 blogposts, we share what we are learning, as co-investors with BUILD UPON and the European Climate Foundation, about: (1) co-hosting collaboration; (2) realizing the deeper shared purpose; (3) measuring impact resilience; and (4) scaling impact.

SCALING IMPACT

In BUILD UPON, we are working regionally, as Europe, across 28 member states, and within each member state.  We have spent the last two years working with thousands of stakeholder groups who influence the building renovation, renewable energy, and energy efficiency industries, across geographic, economic, political, cultural, and social diversities.  To scale the impact of all of this local, national, and regional work, we saw that six steps were necessary.  

“What it means to renovate the entire building stock. It means comfort.  It means better housing, more energy security. It means engagement.  We need to get industry stakeholders, policy makers, finance, all together, and that needs to be sustained over time.”

Celine Carre, Saint-Gobain

First, we need to identify the one, unifying deeper shared purpose that would bring us together to collaborate across all of these diversities.  We achieved a next step towards this with our Common Vision, developed with 100+ stakeholder representatives in Madrid, described in the earlier blogpost “Realizing the Deeper Shared Purpose.”

BUILD UPON social network analysis, EU member states

Second, we need to gather the people together, around this deeper shared purpose.  People who are committed to shifting the economic, environmental, health, and social impacts of energy and buildings in Europe.  We have a critical mass of those people engaged in BUILD UPON, ready to move forward together.

Third, thousands of positive deviants are figuring out many of the parts of this, within their own specific cultures.  We need to identify them, study them, and showcase them, so that others at the local, national, and regional levels can learn from and with them about their technical and social innovations.

Fourth, we need to gather with each other and learn from each other, taking advantage of the many platforms for learning with and from each other that already exist, are gaining broad support, and are evolving and maturing.

Fifth, we are now clear that through collaboration, we can achieve far more together than we can alone or through simple cooperation—more, in the same places, at the same time, regionally, nationally, and locally.

Sixth, we have already begun to experience the very tangible impacts and greater resilience of co-hosting this collaboration together.

So, now we are focusing simultaneously on regional, national, and local-level efforts, highlighting what we are learning about (1) our best efforts everywhere, (2) local positive deviants, (3) how to share insights across professional, industrial, geographic, and linguistic cultures, and (4) coming across with a simple and effective measurement system that allows us to focus on the impacts we want to generate and to track the collective effort at the same time we capture feedback to improve local and national initiatives.  We have to, because we agree that it is important to achieve our social impacts, and to achieve them we see clearly that we must collaborate.

We thank our colleagues at the European Climate Foundation (ECF), the BUILD UPON team, the co-hosts (link to previous blog in series on “co-hosting collaboration), the Madrid participants, the Institute for Strategic Clarity, and Vibrancy—all co-investors in this process together.

Group Work ≠ Collaboration: 2 Ways to Make Dysfunctional Groups

A few recent stories in the mainstream press talk about how collaboration on teams is wasteful, therefore collaboration isn’t what we think it is. They’re right, mostly.

Our field research of the past decade in over 35 countries in the USA, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America, supported by our survey research in 98 countries, suggest that what people mean by collaboration varies greatly, along a continuum.  At one end of the continuum, we find groups organized to segregate people into similar general purposes, each acting only with their own perspective in mind.  At the other end of the continuum, we find groups organized to unite people into a larger whole that requires each individual’s unique contribution towards a shared deeper purpose, each keeping in mind their own perspective, that of the others in the group, and the group’s deeper purpose.  From focus on self with no conscious focus on the relationship with others to a conscious focus on self and the relationship with the other.  Somewhere in the middle, we find groups organized to work together, mostly aware of their own perspective, while aware that other groups have different perspectives that may combine or compete with their own, towards a common purpose.  Three very different ways of organizing human interactions in groups, two of them with their own dysfunctional form of group work.

Groups as segregating.  Focusing at the outcomes-noun level of perceived reality, these groups are structured to work with resource power only, depending completely on the existing capacities available.  To get work done, they tend to invest heavily in paying for lots of people to spend many hours sitting around many tables to which they make no contribution and gain no value.   People attend these meetings because they were told to, it was put in their calendar for them.  This is the phenomenon most of the “collaboration overload” criticism is rightly pointing at, where collaboration means sitting in the same room together, without clarity of a shared purpose or of the need for any of the specific people in the room.

Groups as flocking.  Focusing at the development and outcomes levels of perceived reality (verb and noun levels), these groups are structured to work with network power, leading them to invest in some people who are making many connections and bringing great creativity, while others are not.  They pay conscious attention to their own node and to the relationships with a set of nodes that influence them over time.  In these groups, people work together because this is where the action is, or where they need to be seen, where relationship is built.  Collaboration here often means lots of meetings, lots of learning conversation, and asking lots of the people into the room, especially the star contributors.

Groups as uniting.  Focusing across the potential, development, and outcomes levels of perceived reality (light, verb, and noun levels), these groups are structured to work with tangibilization power, seeing potential, pathways to manifest that potential, and rapid deployment to test that potential with specific outcomes along the way.  This leads these groups to invite the contributions of different perspectives to a deeper shared purpose that each individual is uniquely able to make. These people engage because this is how they can collaborate in service of something they deeply care about.  Collaboration in these groups requires each to bring their unique gifts, together, to be able to achieve the deeper purpose they share.

So collaboration meaning group activity might not work because of the underlying agreement about what we are working on, about who needs to be in the room to serve that purpose, and how we work together, not just because it is people coming together. Maybe collaboration is not equal to group work.

Deep Collaboration Requires Three Kinds of Listening, Twice

Sometimes we find that no matter how hard we work at something, we are not capable of achieving our goals.  Our own experience and efforts are insufficient to the task.  We realize that we need others.  Other perspectives, other experiences, other energy to get it done.  In these circumstances, we find that we need to collaborate.  We need to bring our best, unique contributions together in a way that releases great synergies.

My colleagues and I have found in our field research in dozens of countries that this deep collaboration is best supported by three kinds of listening, each done twice in a continuous process, a process that we have come to call the O Process.  These three kinds are intentional listening, relational listening, and imaginal listening.  While there are many technical expressions of each of these forms of listening, here I will describe them briefly, what they do, and what they look like in practice.

Intentional listening.  Listening for intent, for the deeper shared purpose, for the motivating will force common to the group that brings everyone together to achieve one bigger goal that requires all of us to participate.  Here we listen for the “why” we are coming together.  It is most useful when made explicit, and when everyone gets clear on what it is and whether it is important to them.  When this deeper shared purpose is clarified, amongst all in the group, you have a very strong motivating force that also provides a container, a set of guidelines, for what is to be worked on as a group.  As the group moves into working together, they now have a clear standard to check whether the group’s exploration serves this purpose or serves another purpose.

Relational listening.  Listening for connection, for why each other individual in the group both (1) connects to the deeper shared purpose, and (2) what their unique contribution is to that purpose–why they care and why they are needed.  Since you already listened for the deeper shared purpose, you are now listening for why you want to be deeply curious about and interested in what this person has to contribute to your ability to achieve the deeper shared purpose, after all their perspective is critical, which is why they are part of the group.

Imaginal listening.  Listening for what possibilities the other people see from their unique perspectives.  Since their contribution is unique to the group, it is different from yours.  They are seeing something different, which begins to highlight different dimensions of the challenge the group is working on.  Through your listening, you can begin to see an image of what they are seeing, you can begin to imagine it.

As we come to the top of the O Process, we have used three different kinds of listening, with clarity now on why the group has come together, why each person is needed and what they contribute, and now what they see.  We can now begin to materialize–to tangibilize–what we see together.  We can now use the same three kinds of listening again, to now tangibilize, to make tangible, the possibilities we saw together.

Imaginal listening, part 2.  At one moment in the creative process of seeing possibilities together, we reach a point where we begin to see the same reality, and the possibilities converge into a probability.  At this moment, we bring our imaginal listening to seeing what each unique perspective sees of the emerging probability.  This emerging probability, which begins to feel real, has many different dimensions to it, which the different perspectives we have can help us see.  What image can you begin to perceive, as you build up the different dimensions each person sees?

Relational listening, part 2.  With a clearer image of what we are collectively looking at, from multiple perspectives, we can now begin to make this ours, to bring it into what we can each commit to.  Since what we are now imagining is in service of the deeper shared purpose we started with, which part of what we are seeing is mine to take up?  What part is yours to take up?  This is where we again use relational listening, to listen for how we each relate to the emerging image, each from our own unique contribution.

Intentional listening, part 2.  Now that we know how each of us is relating to what we saw together, we now move towards what we are going to each do, how we are going to each engage our own will, our own intentional force, to begin to do something to move this image into a reality.  Here we use the intentional listening to hear what each of us is going to do, the actions that we need to take up, aligned with our new commitment to our unique contribution to the image we are realizing.  What energy will I give to moving closer to the image we saw in service of the deeper shared purpose?  What will you give?

In this process, we see why we are coming together to collaborate, what perspectives are needed, what they can see, what we can see together, what that begins to look like as we manifest it, what we can each commit to in realizing that image, and what we can each do.  A great step forward in collaboration, supported by three kinds of listening, each used twice.

A Glimpse at High Vibrancy Leadership — Recommended Reading

Pontefract, Dan, Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization. 2013, Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass.  

[You can see chapter 1 of Pontefract’s book here.]

With over 2,400 responses to the Vibrancy survey from 92 countries, we find that the quality of leadership in a group is highly correlated with the ability to sustain a specific level of experienced vibrancy in the group.  It is not clear whether leadership leads to the experience or the experience invites the leadership.  And, we do see that they are both present to the same degree.  Great experiences are accompanied by high quality leadership.  Many authors are now pointing at the attributes of this high quality leadership.  One of those authors that I really enjoyed was Dan Pontrefact in his recent book Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization.  I will pull a few quotes out of the book to show you what Dan has to say about the qualities of leadership that support more vibrant groups.

“DDI’s research indicates that ‘organizations with the highest quality leaders [are] thirteen times more likely to  outperform their competition in key bottom-line metrics such as financial performance, quality of products and services, employee engagement, and customer satisfaction.'” (Flat Army, p. 4, click text for original source of quote)

“If you really want an engaged workforce, treat [people] as fellow grown-ups working together for a shared purpose.” (Flat Army, p. 11)

“cooperating puts things into a whole new perspective…The harmonious state of leadership occurs when both the leader and the team are open.  To achieve harmony in the team or organization is also to act by cooperating with one another.  There must be cooperation between leader and team; harmony is the end destination.” (Flat Army, p. 102)

“In research conducted for her book Hot Spots: Why Some Team, Workplaces, and Organizations Buss with Energy and Others Don’t, Lynda Gratton summarizes a team environment that is effectively cooperative as follows: ‘[T]he energy of the cooperative mindset comes not from a mindset of competition but rather from a mindset of excellence.  The focus is on the excellence toward which people are striving together rather than the competition of beating everyone else to the goal.” (Flat Army, p. 102, click here to see Gratton’s book Hot Spots)

You can read related observations in my earlier posts about engaging people, harmony, cooperation, competition, shared purpose, and energy experienced.