We are getting serious about organizing our community of practice at the University of Minnesota. After next week we'll have over 100 people who have been through AofH training in addition to probably 50+ more who have exposure of some kind to the practices/concepts and deep interest in this type of work.
We have a core team of three who have stepped up to lead this effort and we imagine ourselves turning over a new team about once a year. In addition, we'd like to invite people to another circle of leadership that will be committed to helping to organize the community and host gatherings and some of whom we hope will be the next core team.
1. How do we name the core team of three and the other, larger circle of leaders? In our other worlds we know names like "steering committee" or "advance team" but those are so NOT right in this paradigm. We are finding ourselves stuck on language that represents the AofH framework. Suggestions on names for both groups?
2. What kind of descriptive language would you use to explain this organizing structure and the roles of the groups? We want people to feel truly invited to step into this community in different ways, according to their interest and their availability.
It sounds like you're surfacing some issues similar to ones we've wrestled with in our CoP at Ohio State. How do you introduce participatory leadership in a historically hierarchical environment, keeping alive not just the "techniques" but the spirit and practice of inclusivity? Or, as I've come to think of it, how do you tend the larger patterns rather than just the explicit forms? Is the issue really about the names? Or is it about decision-making and direction?
At one of our early trainings (as I recall), we tried to identify different kinds of responsibility that people could take on (depending on other commitments) and, in a closing ceremony, asked them to situate themselves in a set of circles. Those close to the center became the "core" group, others wanted to be involved in specific projects, others were generally supportive. What was important was to have everyone comfortable with their level of commitment, especially since our CoP has no "official" status or endorsement.
Our original plan was to have regular trainings that would allow people to deepen their understanding and commitment, and gradually move in and out of the nested circles, as circumstances changed. In practice (for various reasons), we haven't managed to keep that going—but not necessarily because the model doesn't work.
My own sense is that the pattern of practice and the emergent relationships count for more than the formal labels: an experience of the work conveys far more than any "explanation" or "description." Not to say that language doesn't matter: we've talked about mates, apprentices, hosts, stewards, pattern-keepers…--but usually in relation to a particular project/field and regularly leading back to specific teachers (thank you, Toke, Monica, Chris, Phil, Tim, Tuesday….)
Hope that helps.
Want to second what Rick is saying. We are also using the concentric circle model to help community project teams to invite community member involvement and support. In that case, the inner circle is the "core team", the next ring has been defined as those who participate actively in projects or specific tasks, and the outer ring are those who might sponsor or provide support in the form of resources or "positive press" for the effort. The team defines the expectations of these rings specific to their project and people are invited to "stand" in the circle that matches their interest/availability/level of commitment.
It creates a fluid approach in which people can move between the circles, but everyone is clear what it means to stand in a particular ring. It also helps to think this through in terms of communication and who gets copied on what. I think it is generally useful to communicate broadly and openly, but some upfront guidelines of who gets what can be helpful.
Another approach we use in our community of practice for women is that circles have formed around key aspects of the community functioning. As we are a non-profit with a board, the board is our governance circle that integrates and holds the organizational "point", the program facilitators have a separate circle that focuses on programs to bring new people into the community or deepen specific learning needs identified across the community, and another circle of community members oversees the emergent learning activities for members within the CoP. Having members overlap across the circles helps to integrate across the groups, as does a very active and open harvesting and communication process.
Very exciting to hear how this is growing at the University - let me know if you want to talk further.
I wanted to circle back to this having gotten great advice from the list and made a decision. We decided on less formality, less layers, less structure. Just enough to hold the container. We sent out a simple message and a simple call which I'm including below in case others ever want to reference it. Of our community of 120, we got 24 responses! We're having an initial gathering of the organizing team in early August and we'll be very organic about it knowing that people will filter themselves into appropriate support roles. Thanks for all your help!
Here's what we sent:
"Do you feel called to support our community of practice at the University? Are you able and interested in investing some of your time, energy, and talent to co-create opportunities for us to learn together, support each other, and foster meaningful conversations on our campuses? That could mean event planning, hosting a gathering, helping with communications, or other things that have not even been dreamed of yet!
The three of us, Leah Lundquist, Jen Mein, and myself, are willing to commit to a year of serving as a core team for our community. We see our role as holding the container for ensuring that the community supports itself as best it can. We would like to extend an invitation for others to join us and be apart of a community of practice organizing team to support our members and our collective work."