Michelle, after learning about Holacracy, went further in her quest (22 Jan.2012):
I love this thread, great getting right to an important point, everybody…
It takes courage for a leader to change the place from which they operate. The idea of “less control” being preferred over more control can be un-nerving…
I think the means to a core operating system (OS) for many group situations, is through small groups. Several of us here, at A Small Group, have experimented with numerous local groups using the Civic Engagement Series. We’ve learned that in two 3 hour gatherings, 20-45 people can connect, practice and generate a rich environment for innovation and change.
Leaders who continuously connect group members to each other can then begin connecting associations to associations… This is where scale comes from.
Thoughtful response, with lots of information, by Linda:
Hi Michelle and all - YES this is a really great question and its so good you have asked it.... Ive been fascinated by the replies and sitting on this e mail all day – middle of the night here, I'm being a night owl maybe its time to send it.
Im gonna try and get into the practice a bit here.
And here is my own response to this conversation:
This question of 'can AoH serve as an organisational governance structure' has picked my interest. I want to talk about the experience within the global AoH network. To be clear for all, the network has no official organisation, there is no boss, and things get done in the network because people step forward to do them. It's their gift to the whole. One way of looking is to say that we live totally in Open Space, and our sponsor is life itself.
The stewarding of such a self-organising system or network is not always easy. Over time we have come up with the notion of Stewards and stewardship. At a few occasions - really a few - some of us had to step forward to prevent that the name of AoH was mis-used, but for the rest the governance of this self-organising system has been very laid back and more on an energetic level than anything else.
There has been a time when there was some friction about who could name them self a steward, or who was going to decide that someone was one. We didn't come up with any straight rules around this, we want only a minimal, optimal structure that let things flow and so far that structure is indeed very minimal. But we see there are people who take responsibility for the whole - in whatever way - and these we call stewards. We see now that more regional stewards are standing up. Good!
There has also been some friction - or maybe confusion - around the difference of standing in the center, or holding the center. This tension released itself in the last Stewards gathering (where everyone pays for own travel and accommodation, again a gift to the whole) into the forming of a holding circle - the ones who are sitting at the rocks, holding the core of our practice. They don't do much in the manifest plane, but hold the energetic level of our network and our practice. Now and then they check in with each other in conference calls. One of the insights born there is that we are not a global community, but we better name ourselves as a network of (local) communities and then the question is what it means to hold this field in a good way?
On the AoH Ning there is a page where you can read the whole story from the beginning till now, with all the documents, reports that I know exists and that picture the process we went through. (Resources -> Documents/Articles -> History and Governance)
We have always used our own AoH practice, with the methodologies that we all know, and nothing else. But the question is of course, would you name us an organisation?
So, we are not an organisation in the strict sense, but we are 'working together in a more long term commitment', of course not day to day. And yes, the frictions and tensions had to do with projections and irritations, but we use our own practice of circle - as long as it takes - to get to some shared clarity. So far it has worked.
My personal opinion is that when your organisation has as its ultimate purpose to serve life, that AoH can give you all the tools you need. I don't have personal experience of working for a long time in a structure where the purpose is to make money, or some other smaller purpose than life, so I can't say much about it. But I see that our global network has been doing incredible work and has a wide influence, so that is good enough for me.
I hope this was useful for some of you,
And an answer from down-under:
Thanks so much for your thoughts.
My initial response to this question was "Why would you want AoH to be a governance structure?" and still this question sits with me. AoH is a practice and was not, as far as I am aware at least, ever designed to be a governance structure. And I really wonder if it's helpful to see it as some sort of silver bullet to work in all situations.
Governance is a multi-faceted construct and, while AoH practice can support good governance it is not a governance structure in its own right. Indeed taking Ria's great example of the AoH community, I wonder if the governance structure here is self-organisation, as opposed to AoH?
A final thought is the contribution the Chaordic Stepping Stones and the organisational paradigms might offer in the realm of governance. The organisational paradigms have been mentioned before so there's no need for me to add more. The Chaordic Stepping Stones might be a really good structure on which to base a governance. They require clarity of purpose, principles, practices (which could well include AoH), understanding beliefs that limit, organisation structure and constitution. This seems closer to a governance structure to me.
In conclusion I am left with the view that AoH is not a governance structure, and yet it is so much more.
Link between self-organisation and chaordic space by Tenneson:
Interesting thread -- thank you Ria, Stephen, all.
More from Stephen, in answer to a question for clarification:
Some lovely thoughts. Thank you so much.
I'm not sure emergence and design are mutually exclusive! I spend a great deal of my work designing for emergence to occur.
I wonder if AoH is a practice that allows collective wisdom to emerge? It can also be more. I am reminded of the interesting work of Lahey and Kegan on the levels of cognitive development - technical, adaptive and transformational - and I think AoH, as a practice can offer great technical tools, strong adaptive frameworks and transformational potential. I've seen all three emerge from the same training in different people, depending on how ready and open they are. The invitation seems to have an impact on that too.
Thank you for picking me up on my oppositional language. I shouldn't have said "as opposed to" and it was merely a turn of phrase, poorly chosen. The point I was attempting to make was to be clear about the underlying structure, which seems to be self-organisation, which of course is also core to complex adaptive systems, which in turn are part of the context for AoH. Just as Tenneson has contributed.
Again from Michelle:
Talking about the new paradigm... guided by principles...
This resonates so much within me!
I've been studying all three, AoH, sociocracy and permaculture, and I know the underlying principles are the same. It's been intuitive and not so easy to explain to other people.
I'm now exploring the forces in practice in a newly born co-operative, and I'd love to get to know more people, study & practice together.
Could we start putting some thoughts down somewhere?
on the difference of starting a new organisation and changing an existing one...
Delicious, all this!
All you (all) say feels right - when creating an 'organisation' from scratch.
My inquiry is somewhat different - the world is full of pre-existing organisations, many of which have enormous power in the world, for good or ill. As far as I can tell, many start off being for the good, and then end up so trapped in their structures, procedures and 'world views' that they end up doing ill. That's how I feel about much that is coming out of the institutions of the European Union at this time. What is being 'done' to the Greeks is the most poignant example. Our governments, our economic and financial institutions, all are crippled by out-dated governance structures and processes that cannot move fast enough or re-purpose themselves appropriately, leaving well-intentioned, capable men and women doing meaningless, even soul-destroying work, despite their initial idealism on joining these organisations to make the world a better place. That's certainly very strongly the case with the European Commission.
So, my inquiry and my working practices are around: can we liberate these existing organisations into lighter, more agile structures? If so, how? We have been working with AoH patterns for over 3 years, and are having some impact on individuals and in some pockets in some departments that are starting to operate very differently, using AoH principles. But of course they run up against the rigid, crusty old structures and procedures, and are often stymied by the traditional ways of thinking that hang out higher up in the hierarchy. So progress is limited and for me, the jury really is still out on whether it's possible to transform an organisation of this size.
Interestingly, in my very own department, there's an organisational revamp going on with, I suspect, the intention of loosening the rigid structures and introducing something more flexible and able to handle complexity. And yet I fear it will end up with two conflicting/competing organisational paradigms vying to occupy the same cultural space. And I don't see how a top-down, command-and-control hierarchical bureaucracy can co-exist in the same people that have to operate in a flexible, networked matrix organisation. The two are based on different assumptions... The same holds true as we seek to introduce more participatory, collaborative ways of working together. Two such different paradigms cannot co-exist in the same head space and the dominant paradigm crushes and distorts much of the fruit of our good work.
It might sound discouraging, but that's where the challenge lies, for me. Who else out there on this list is experiencing the challenge of working in existing organisations, rather than trying to create something new?
how to combine the old and new paradigm in organisations...
From Steve, from his experiences within an organisation:
Thank you Michelle for stimulating this conversation and for your perspectives, Helen. You have articulated the challenges that we face these days as we work from a new paradigm within systems that are stuck in the old command and control world view.
I worked for over twenty years within an organization that was committed to the principles that we later discovered to be core to the Art of Hosting. We worked to be inclusive and transparent, to empower individuals and teams to make decisions and to be self organizing and we continually challenged the temptations to revert to systems of control.
It felt like a constant challenge to live into our intention and to avoid being pulled back into the dominant paradigm. There were two primary sources of resistance from my perspective - fractals, actually. At the individual level, it was hard work and very demanding to take individual responsibility and collective responsibility without looking to a boss to solve problems. Individuals and teams also had the tendency to become too self-directed and to forget that they are part of a larger organization and that their actions and decisions need to be in support of the larger mission and vision. Over time, I came to appreciate just how important it is that individuals have practices which support their individual development and that this work take on a spiritual component (even though such language was not allowed in the workplace).
On a macro level, we were continually challenged by systems based on the old paradigms from the legal system which required an individual to be identified as being in control to governmental rules requiring traditional personnel systems to collaborative organizations that demanded to know who was in charge. My experience was that dealing with these systems took an amazing amount of energy, which in time exhausted everyone. As with the individual level, there was a need for practices that would allow the organization to sustain the energy for change.
It really feels like we are in a time of transition with old dying systems reacting and push back as new systems are striving to be born. In such turbulent times, it is hard not to get attached to outcomes and to the illusion that there is a destination. The real work often seems to be just showing up in service of the new paradigm, celebrating the moments of success along the way and being gentle with all of the stumbles along the way.
From Helen - on the difference between self-directing and self-governing:
What a wonderful response, Steve! What you say makes total sense.
Again a contribution from experience:
A cross-over point related to self-organization and self-direction:
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