The Art of Hosting

Below you find a stream of (part of) emails that was going on in a group of stewards. It followed out of a conversation that started on Stewardship Development, but then diverted to this theme - which is also fascinating to read for all practitioners working with - and in - organisations.

Feel welcome to add your bit into the conversation!

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Helen started of with her experience from inside a big organisation - with time to write on her free Friday morning!

I want to speak of something that is very clear to me because I work inside an organisation, not consulting to many. So I bring perhaps a different perspective on talking about and introducing hosting and participatory leadership to those I serve in my capacity as host/consultant. My point is a 'meta' one, perhaps quite subtle, but one that is important, nonetheless. I'm sure everybody will recognise it when it's written in black and white, but it's easy to overlook in daily life and work because perspectives are such all-pervasive and yet invisible things.
One point is, of course, that coming from my perspective at one of the many operational coal-faces of this mammouth organisation, I see that there is no single head to congratulate for being bold and leading collaboratively. Like the hydra, there are so many heads (all leading in different directions - sometimes even pecking at each other, certainly getting in each others' way (room for more collaboration there, certainly!) - perhaps due to the unconsciously held 'lone-hero' myth still rife in so much of Western culture, certainly in the Commission) that we hosting practitioners often find ourselves leading from the midriff, or even the knees... So although there's A LOT of pockets of good participatory collaboration going on here, the ocean liner is still steaming, oblivious, past the iceberg that has already disemboweled it, far from turning towards a safe or sustainable course, and even further from thinking of rescuing the passengers...
But the point I really want to make is that the corporate culture inside our organisation (like all others), while it does have microclimates and pockets of innovation, has a strong immune system, and we, the hosting practitioners, have learned - the hard way - that it is really important to place the concerns of which ever part of the whole we are hosting in the centre, and to make the whole AoH approach and its methods as invisible as possible. The Commission is organisation-centric (you just have to look at its websites to see it!) and doesn't welcome any other '-centrics' within poking range. So when we come as practitioners of participatory approaches, if we make the mistake of putting the practices in the middle (because that's what we're passionate about) and wanting to honour their lineages and how they were developed, etc., people are not only not interested, they are often actively irritated. Because it's not relevant to them. All that's relevant to them is their content. They haven't shown up for the meeting architecture, they've shown up to tackle their agenda. (As you might be able to tell from the previous paragraph, I live with the extra, personal, tension of not agreeing with their agenda most of the time, and having to battle with my urge to jump up and down screaming about icebergs and passengers, rather than creating a nice container for their dinner dance...)
Of course, in an Art of Hosting training, which is how many of us first discovered these wonderful methods and models, it's exactly the Art of Hosting that's in the middle. And in our AoH community, at all levels, the lineage of the different methodologies, just like the whole story of the Art of Hosting and everything that has happened in our community that illumines our collective adventure is enriching, empowering, enlivening and points to new pinnacles of collective intelligence that we long to see travel to cover the globe, to further the wellbeing of people and planet.
In a nutshell, those of us practicing hosting in organisations (I don't know if it's different in communities?) need, like Janus, two faces: one towards the organisation, which works almost invisibly with the forms, seeming to give primacy to the relevance of the content (while nevertheless preserving the integrity of the forms, for maximum effect). And another face towards our global community of practitioners of these sacred arts, where we honour the forms, engage in genetic manipulation to produce worthy hybrids, share stories and learnings that have nothing to do with the content of the meetings we have hosted, and everything to do with the energetics and body language of the participants and the smiles on their faces on leaving...
Sorry this got so long...

Bob chimed in with wisdom from his Aikido experience:
Thank you Helen, This has revealed some good clarity for me. I want you to know that I often really value reading what you write but don't always respond.

There is a truism in Aikido that goes like this, "I'm not strong enough to throw you down but I can lead your mind to want to fall down." Like all truisms this may not be exactly always right but it does point to the artistry of how a seeming much weaker person can respond to and influence the dirrection of of a seeming much stronger person. In this case, the weaker person may be a few individual within a huge organization; one that, like people, can be very aggressive toward "irritants". In Aikido this is always done by "joining with" and influencing small fulcrum/leverage points with a little power but great attention.

The secret is that you cannot really discover these points (or have access to them) without first "joining with". Otherwise, you simply become embattled with what you wish to change and find yourself in a war that will hurt and damage many things... including you. As I am usually an "outsider" in organizations and people I work with, I find that part of my skill is in being able to "join" with", which is not always easy but essential to good outcomes.

I actually have come to love this "joining with". It cannot be faked or it would not really work. I often come away from working with people, and organizations are just a collection of people, with the sense of forming friendships and even a sense of caring for those who seem to be working against me. It has to do with how well I have trained and practiced in staying out of the temptation to see them as enemies but more as "worthy adversaries" or, when I am at my best, even as potential mates.

When I was working in Japan this year, I met a very respected man who worked for an extremely large corporation. He was referred to as "the father of consulting work in Japan" by someone I had been talking with. At one point he looked at me and quietly said, "There is such a thing as, 'Necktie Bodhisattvas'. I really like this term, so I pass it on to you, my friend.


Monica enjoyed this concept of Necktie Bodhisattvas:

Thank you Bob & Helen - you have enlightened and brightened my day;-) I am just emerged in the intriguing question of how you live the chaordic path and embrace two worldviews at once (living systems & mechanistic systems = hierarchies) without a polarisation but rather a "joining with" . It seems to me most people have a preference - and very few yet master both worlds. Fortunately there is a ground in the middle = the chaordic space where the two worlds can meet and actually team up. (the best processes we have done are probably in deep cooperation between these two; content & process, reflection & action).

It takes mutual respect for each other and each others worldviews and skills. - Also it takes both patience and compassion.
So the "Necktie Bodhisattva" is a nice concept.



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