The Art of Hosting

from the emaillist, early 2015:

Happy New Year, everyone!

I’m looking out on sunshine and green hills here in New Zealand — and all the vegetation is waving in return — it is that windy!  Hope your view is equally pleasant, whether it is summer or winter focused.  

Here are two things I’ve been meaning to share for some time:

The Art of Capacity Building
Last year we discovered a pattern while working on a project called Sweden 3.0 (and I’m thinking of you fondly right now, Kajsa Balkfors and Nanna Frank!).  We were in a training where we were working with a small group to support them in becoming hosts, but it was not an Art of Hosting training.  How to make them aware of the foundations of our practice in a brief time?

I decided to blend the Fourfold Practice and some of the other foundational practices Art of Hosting is based on.  You can see what I came up with in the attached diagram.

We are in the business of building capacity.  I’d say we’re practicing the Art of Building Capacity.  Some of our practices are practical and visible and some of them are subtle and invisible at first — but if any of the subtle practices aren’t being practiced, the more visible practices suffer.  In the Fourfold Practice, hosting yourself — learning how to be present at every moment is the basis of all the other practices.  This is mirrored in the Art of Invitation.  First comes the invitation, and then everything flows.  You are issuing an invitation no matter what you are doing — as I like to say, some leadership is an invitation to speak up and some leadership is an invitation to shut up.  Being artful about your invitation opens the doorway to participation and contribution.

Next the Art of Organising is something that few people recognise, but everyone notices.  It is the foundation for hosting and harvesting to dance well together.  Great hosting and great harvesting leads to the next round of invitation.

More to say about this, but I’ve noticed people getting both mentally and emotionally involved when they see and experience this pattern.  During the training where it evolved, we broke people into groups to begin working on each of the capacity building arts.

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Thank you, dear Mary Alice, for your generosity in sharing your great work with the community of practice.

I have loved the art of building capacity since you shared it with us at the EU practitioners gathering in April.

Sending everybody new years’ greetings from a frosty Flanders morning…



Both you, Helen, and Cathy reminded me of the larger circle in the diagram.

What I didn’t speak about in my post — and I should have! -- is the role of hosting the whole. So necessary and often so forgotten! We get wrapped up in what we need to do and how we need to do it and who’s responding to what, but hosting the whole is the role of the Steward. This is also the 8th breath — the one that holds all the rest of them. It is not an easy thing to do, to be in the work and yet around it hosting the field of becoming, but that’s what the Fourfold Practice is leading to and that is at the heart of capacity building. Until this is happening, it is not possible to invite others in fully and be the host to their capacity building too.

The dual nature of hosting the whole — being the sensei in the continual honing of practice and reminding everyone to work on their practice/stay in their practice coupled with being the steward and nurturing the being and becoming, seeing and calling in the potential in everyone and in the field — that’s what helps our practice work. This is the ground and foundation.

Let’s face it — people are always doing what you least expect! Curiosity, a sense of humour and deep practice are what can help you ride the currents. I am grateful to a field of mates and practitioners who keep reminding me that I am in service to something bigger than myself.

Take heart and keep going, everyone!

Mary Alice


Good stuff guys… gives some real bones to a feature of Art of Hosting workshops.  

For a long time I have been telling folks that there are many different learning outcomes you can expect from an Art of Hosting training.  Only a few people will go off and be active hosts.  Others come to do personal work, others come to deepen their practice of participating in the dialogue.  Still others are just searching for a community.
So for me, it is not exclusively a facilitator training. It is instead, as you have noted, a place in which capacity is built.  Sometimes folks become charged up about facilitation practice but a key outcome I’d like to explore is that whole systems become invited into practice. 
At the conclusion of an Art of Hosting training, especially one done within an existing community of practice we can expect that the system, organization or community will have a set of tools for hosting itself.  That includes hosting, harvesting AND participating.  People who will never facilitate a meeting in their lives become better at participating in dialogues, become better listeners, have a broader view of problem solving and complexity and are able to sit in uncertainty longer.  
So it is much more holistic than simply facilitation, and I have found that it is important to notice all the ways it is showing up.  So when you all evaluate outcomes from Art of Hosting events, be sure to find ways to look at the whole capacity that has been developed.  Reflective practices, like the one MA shared help us to see the whole of what is happening, or at least a little more.  
We don’t need more facilitators in the world.  We need a better capacity to be in “it" together.

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