The Art of Hosting

I wrote this reflection in response to an inquiry going around on the AoH mailing list, and thought it belongs here too. It is around What is the next level of AoH?

"I have just come out of some rich hosting work in the tough, mainstream environment of the European Commission. That is giving me, also, a perspective on the 'next level'. Maria Scordialos, one of the co-creaters of the AoH pattern, spoke that she has seen an evolution in her work with these patterns over the years. The Art of Hosting started off really as an amazingly innovative form of training that uses its own pattern to teach itself. People come to the training events from all over - different contexts, backgrounds, places. Something else happens when the pattern is brought into an organization. Our sense is that 'the art of Participatory Leadership' (as we are calling it in the EU context) is a next level up, where the patterns are applied in a very specific context, over time. Now that we have gone past the point of no return, and the practice is no longer in danger of being killed by the immune system of the status quo, we see that another level of potential is opening up, which calls for another level of practice, beyond what we traditionally think of as AoH, but still very much within that DNA and practicing those forms. It is what Maria calls systemic transformation. It calls for working with core teams and different levels of engagement, as well as pulling in many more mental models and practices, as needed. It is ongoing action research, a lived, ongoing collective inquiry, into whatever it is that the people are gathered around - the purpose that the organization is in pursuit of.

I am also noticing, very specifically, a beautiful and hope giving phenomenon around this whole thing of the 'core team'. As we seek intentionally to grow our hosting capacity in the Commission, we are creating ever-greater hosting teams for our training events and other forms of work. Typically, we work with one or two 'externals' (bureaucratese for 'honoured stewards of the practice from the global community'), one or two experienced practitioners who work full-time for the Commission, and a handful of 'apprentices' - people (who might be internal or external) who have gone through the training, been bitten by the bug and feel called to deepen their practice. We might have up to 13 people on the hosting team. What I am noticing is that teamwork and co-creation in these hosting teams is invariably seamless and inspired. When we have a bumpy ride, we learn from it gracefully, and often find that our experience reflects the system we are hosting. Ego never seems to be an issue. People not only learn, they transform to their own next level, in their practice but also in themselves. My way of explaining this to myself is that thanks to the strong and coherent intention with which the (ever-growing) 'core team' has been holding this work in EU institutions, the field of practice is now so strong that people are automatically aligned just by stepping into it.

Now that we have run 29 3-day 'entry-level' Art of Participatory Leadership trainings (we also offer 2-day art of harvesting trainings and regular 3-day practitioners' gatherings which are more like collective inquiries than trainings) we are also able to notice the way the field is evolving, through the quality of the conversations taking place, the speed at which the group reaches co-creative cohesion, and the truths that are now becoming available to the collective consciousness (specifically awareness of the fear in our corporate culture, that used to be acted out but not available for inspection). I get the image of the advancing glacier - each new cohort steps on the the leading edge of the glacier, which is further down the valley each time.

So a key pattern to start working with and exploring in more depth is, for me, the core team, for this is what holds the potential of the field."

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