The Art of Hosting

Hello friends from Bowen. I had glorious opportunity to practice much of what we explored together at Bowen with a group a couple of weeks ago. My post is here as well as text copied below. Questions and feedback welcomed!

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to work with a group who wanted to create some plans for 2011. I drew on the Chaordic Stepping Stones to clarify the high level purpose, the principles, the people and the meeting concept, guided by the mantra that “we aren’t planning a meeting, we’re planning a harvest”. I loved how in the pre-meeting work the right practice for this meeting emerged so naturally and the Stepping Stones created space for suggestions (such as inviting more of the system into the room and invitation as a process).

We worked with the concept of an Action Café as there were specific project areas that needed the benefit of the group’s perspective in a short amount of time. There was a rich moment in the pre-meeting work where we explored the benefit of not assigning people to go to particular tables, to let people self-select and join the conversations that called to them. (In the meeting it was like magic when I chimed the first round and *whoosh* people immediately travelled to where they wanted to go.)

A few of my personal reflections:

  • Using this groan zone image was so helpful to describe to the key stakeholders what it would feel like during the meeting. As well as sharing the Open Space principle of who ever shows up are right people – not to fret about why someone has arrived at a table or wishing someone else would.
  • I also tapped into the OS principle of what happens is the only thing that could have, and when it starts is the right time. There were a few times when some formal presentations began to go on longer than planned and I simply let go and enjoyed the bits of wiggle room I had built into the agenda.
  • I used an informal circle to shift the feeling in the room when we moved from the formal presentation into the Café, resting to absorb the questions for the afternoon and the World Café principles that would help us meet well that day.
  • I focused on holding the space instead of mucking about in the group’s work.
  • In hindsight, I would have done The Work on a sticky thought about a senior leader (whom I had not conversed with) possibly staying for the Café. The Work might have helped me see the possibility in that potential reality rather than me feeling all “yikes” about it.

The meeting was deemed a success with all the action plans that had emerged by the end. At closing circle we passed a talking stick that even travelled backwards a couple of times – a joyous ending filled with both laughter and humble moments. It was an awesome example of how learning happens through conversation. One of the highlights for me was hearing several people say that they are convinced that inviting a group of people together around a challenge is how we should handle all the challenges inside the organization. I agree.

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Replies to This Conversation

Amanda, great post you did here!
If you feel like it, it would also be good to post it in the Conversations -> Stories from hosting Experiences. In that way more people will read it. Only when you feel like it of course!
Thanks for all your contributions!
Nice work Amanda. And nice share. Feels like your 100 year-old self in action!

Some of my learning in holding space came this week with a simple phone call. On the surface it started as a conversation about institutional partnering. Kind of a default way to think of good people working together. Tends to jump too quickly to structural issues. It shifted quickly to one of generative friendship / colleagueship. Largely because of the depth and experience of the people involved. And I would say because of some simple intent to hold space for exploring possibility. Turned out to be beautiful surprise and explosion of generativeness with lots of energy to come back together.

Simple holding. Intentional holding. Explosion of generativeness. Yea!

Greetings from Utah.
Thanks Ria and Tenneson - for the encouragement and the sharing of how holding space can happen within a simple phone call. Just awesome.


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