Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Vision and Mission Work

As part of the Cooperative Design Lab with The Resilience Hub, Cooperative Development Institute and Cooperative Fermentation, I am giving a workshop tonight on Vision and Mission work for cooperative enterprise tonight. This core values stuff is at the heart of my consulting practice. Today I had an opportunity to review some of the organizational development (OD) literature and I noticed an interesting range of styles and assumptions about leadership in the context of visioning. This post will share some of that as well as a prezi for my workshop.

In Peter Senge's The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, Bryan Smith has an chapter titled "Building a Shared Vision". In it he explains the developmental stages of an organization facing change and presents the stages in the frame of participation. Within his range of participatory engagement, he suggests that we be objective about where an organization is at, then work up from there. One of the things about vision work with cooperatives is that they are already at the highest developmental stage! According to this model, that stage is labeled co-creating.

Starhawk as a different style than the Fieldbook in general. In her book Empowerment Manual, she offers more cultural variability than the "business-as-usual" approach of mainstream organizational development. Both works in comparison are holistic, however Starhawk's style invites a broader audience than than multinational corporations. Empowerment Manual reflects on a different range of experiences.

Personally, I enjoy her permaculture influence on the OD topics. In preparing for this webinar, I liked that she pulled in Alan Savory's idea of "Holistigoals"! Savory being a worldclass livestock management expert, regenerative systems of land, has a holistic management model that includes three parts of a goal.  These are the following: a.) The quality of life that you want, b.) future resource base, and c.) what you need to produce.You can read about that here and see something about it in my prezi posted below.

For this Co-op Design Lab Vision and Mission workshop, I also drew from Looby Macnamara's book People and Permaculture and Peter Block's work Community: The Structure of Belonging. Finally, I provided the tremendously accessible Vision and Mission Worksheet resource from the creative commons (cc) made available by Craig Von Korlaar.

Here is the presentation. Feel free to share with your organization if you are considering the need for a visioning workshop as a way to establish common understanding in your group.


Friday, January 30, 2015

Social Connections Matter

Ecological services in a living economy are vital. In a living system, connections are so important that they actually are a leverage point on both fertility and yield. These connections are a network with a weave so subtle and intricate, it is unnoticed. More often, to people anyway, these vital networks are not visible. I awe at them when observing and interacting in living systems. As a leadership and organizational development consultant, this study inspires me to be curious: What are the principals that "weave" or "unweave" our social networks?

Karen Stephenson is a brilliant anthropologist in Rotterdam and trust building consultant that helps her clients understand leadership through the "white space" on their organizational chart. She explained to me once, in an interview, that in the white spaces there are a few key connectors in any social structure. They are 1) performance, 2) knowledge and 3) exchange.

Performance connection is where what you do and what I do are co-dependent and our success depends on our performance together, as with any job we all work for the same company and all our work matters. We are a team. Side by side, forming a story of our work and a narrative of our lives.

With the knowledge connection the way we work is a connection. How we get things done, our process and our style matters. We tend to trust and attach to people when we understand how they do things. People sharing things about how they get work done, what helps and what doesn't creates more of a learning relationship. It looks either like a mentor-mentee relationship or a collaborative team. These are typically informal connections that have more trust bonds then performance connections have.

Exchanges, she explains are didactic; informational. They are more like the trainings and the performance evaluations so common in the context of work experience. Patronizing and yet consistently repeated and trust occurs.

Since the beginning of time we have had "white space" she says. She is curious how the org chart has meaning in organizations...and doesn't. The behaviors of networks (read network management vs. hierarchies) are to both weave and be woven, to get things done, to create and to exchange value.

When change happens, we weave and unweave these connections. The org chart changes, the enterprise restructures. Connections are happening and connecting us to our stories and to our work in the world all the time. Networks are always there, subtle unnoticed, until you notice, of course.

There is more I want to say on this....always.

Network Leadership

The Center for Creative Leadership had been collaborating with the University of Cincinnati, to hold forums on leadership networks and network leadership. These seem like really neat jams on the power of learning systems. 

You can read about some of their findings in their January newsletter, Leading Effectively E-Newsletter. In a short piece on network building: Networks and Leadership: Are you Connected? They invite leaders to develop a "network perspective".  This is an invitation I share widely. 

In the article, they concisely present leadership as "a shared process the engages and connects" with many benefits. They are presented as the following:
  • An increase in the collective capacity for leadership.
  • The enabling of others to step up, adjust and make decisions about the future of a project, team, organization or community.
  • The transformation of the leadership culture from reliance on command-and-control hierarchies to adaptation within agile, interdependent networks. (CLL E-Newsletter, January 2015 Issue),

It's a new article but not a new set of leadership ideas. The network perspective is essential for solving the problems we face. It is a very important perspective for leaders to have. I first began to explore it when Meg Wheatley came out with The New Science of Leadership in 1992. I could not put the book it down, and it set me on my path to coaching and consulting leaders and organizations, with a whole systems framework. Wheatley's deeply scientific understanding of the power of intention, and engagement redefined leadership and lead to very dynamic work around the World. Wheatley founded the Berkana InstituteWhich I followed for years, during graduate school and after, whose motto is "whatever the problem, community is the answer." 

Over the years I have sought collaborators and partners to bring about this new leadership science based on biology, chaos theory and quantum physics. It lead me to an interest in permaculture and the study of ecological design, this blog, and my now practice with the Resilience Hub in Portland Maine. At the Hub we call this process work "social permaculture" and teach people to apply it in land systems, food systems and New Economy projects. 

Learning to lead with a network perspective, is known in investment and policy circles as social innovation and impact investing. We just call it social permaculture because permaculture is as a whole systems design process, really does precede, and pre-seed, these ideas into learners minds. 

Once you've read it, the article above consider that leaders who make the shift from hero to host, are agents of change in systems they have no direct impact on, rather the collective leadership of engaged and committed people make the impact together on the systems they want to change. The host then need only be a designer of conversations that engage people support collaborations. 

We use the following Connectivity and Collaboration model at The Resilience Hub: 1) connection, 2) alignment and then 3) action. 

The pattern both repeats serially as gatherings are assembled, and builds overtime as a strategic pathway forward. Hosts make time, hold space, invite. Over time, as the system learns together, trust grows, relationships grow and those interconnections raise the collective capacity to function well, to be co-designers in the of systems that work together. 
A network learns and acts. A leader hosts.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Decisions, decisions...

What is the orientation you have toward decisions? Do you make them? Arrive at them?

There are subtle but important differences between them. In the former, one has to make up our mind. they have an empirical process to look as the situation with objectivity. This implies infallible knowledge, expertise and instinct. It is quite possible make decisions quite on your own. It is a what-are-we-doing-to-do-captain? matter.

In the latter, the process is democratic, there is a group of people setting out to solve a problem and so doing they are open to the emergence of new information. It provides the room for evaluation and feedback, space to amend operating assumptions. It provides a spirit of exploration and experimentation.

A wise man by the name of John Rooks recently said in a talk in Portland Maine, about culture, sustainability and authenticity, that solving problems well requires that the group solving them be working on the right scale. This sheds a light of  appropriateness on the difference between making and arriving at decisions; of groups arriving at decisions versus people making them.

In a culture of individualism and hero-worship we are wired for making rather than arriving at decisions, and this leads to all manner of wasted time and money in the problem solving world.

Often there is a tendency for people with resources to take roles in organizations or in coalitions that have a mission to address some social problem, only to find they are geared for making decisions only. They don't have the will to work with others. But because they can not make decisions for social issues, they end up maneuvering politically; focusing on internal power-struggles instead of solving anything. It appears to be more about the "helper" acting out a savior-complex, fulfilling a narrative of helper, at the end of the day.

Then there is the ones that make decisions independently for a group that is actively engaged in a collaborative process. These decision makers are also wired in the same culture. They are not accustomed to status and resources, nor are they tolerant of "process". They are passionate, intelligent and the sense of urgency that can not wait for the process to figure it out. They know what to do! Everyone should just follow them! They end up tyrannizing the group, hijacking the process, alienating people and trying to pushing a decision through.

The scale of some problems require wide participation. Engaging discussion and structured processes to arrive at decisions together are essential in adaptive solutions to large scale problems. Take food security, housing, joblessness, or any number of social ills. These can not be solved by making decisions. Expertise in this situations is an absolute liability. Status, a barrier to engagement. An accustomed decision maker, say a top-dog, is completely lost, and would rather hide, deny or bury evidence of the problem, then to engage with a process that navigates ambiguity and hold people in relationship so they may arrive together, at decision.

We need diversity, unknowns, committed people to engage in problem solving. So, given you have some greater discernment about the appropriate orientation toward decisions, what is can you do? The answer begins with partnership. From there the collective wisdom can begin to emerge.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


What increases engagement? What would our meetings look like if everyone was engaged? Would those meetings still be meetings at all?

Tonight at Portland Permaculture and The Resilience Hub, I taught a class on Participatory Event Design to answer some of these questions. We talked about the power of a good question to frame a conversation that matters for people, to focus their inquiry, to energize and capture their imaginations. Here is are some of the materials I used to talk about some of the most engaging methods that I know Open Space TechnologyWorld Cafe, Calling Circles, and Art of Hosting:

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


That was the web address sending confirmation of my acceptance into the Community Consulting Project in It struck me then as the most basic level of group process for actual collaboration, creativity and change... Trustwork. 'What would that look like in the CCP program?', I thought. I was excited. I was not disappointed either. CCP gave practice to process work, getting people to engage in systems design work together, from goals, to planning, to implementing and celebrating, always tending to trust.

Six year later, I am working with a new group of people who are working together to start up a Transition Initiative in Portland Maine. The group are working as facilitators and I find myself reflecting on CCP a bunch. The group settled in three core values this week, Trust, Empowerment and Engagement. In this first  post in a series of three, I am exploring Trust and reflecting on the term with dive into my library.

Trust. The opposite is controlling, and what an interesting value for a group of facilitators to hold. Facilitators who shape an agenda and manage the time that a group has to interact around each item.

In the book the Four Fold Way (Arrien,1993) trust is
considered in both the Way of the Teacher and the Way of the Warrior chapters. In the way of the Teacher, Trust is explained from the perspective of Native Americans, as the being comfortable states of not knowing. In the time of not knowing it is considered unwise to act. Trying to control the uncontrollable, or being uncomfortable with surprises is a sign of a need for trust. When we trust we go with the flow and we wait.

Arrien suggests that the trickster in indigenous cultures is the mythic figure who "steps through the cracks and flaws of the ordered world or ordinary reality, bringing good luck and bad, profit and loss." This figure reminds us not to be attached to our expectations, not to become rigid and controlling. In short, the universal trickster teaches us to become more resilient and objective.

Symbols of the trickster are throughout world mythology; Native American, Germanic, Polynesian, Greek and mythologies of ancient India . Think Coyote, Ictinike and Rabbbit , Loki, Maui, Hermes and Krishna. each one a master of boundaries and transitions, and presenter of the miraculous and unexpected.

 In the Way of the Warrior, trust is built using "judicious communication". Trustworthyness is explained in terms of walking our talk. The warrior is an artful communicator, extending honor and respect to others by saying what they mean and doing what we say. Without alignment of words and actions we lose power. If we do what we say we will we become trustworthy. If we don't responsibility with discipline is the appropriate path.  This can be practiced, as the book suggests, simply by our use of the words Yes and No. Arrien explains that in Western cultures, we overlay these words with emotional intent. No becomes, "I am rejecting you or I disagree with you." Yes, "I like you and I agree with you."

If we peel back the layers of meaning, and speak Yes or No in terms of boundaries and limits, "No" becomes ' this is a limit of mine', and "Yes", 'this is something I will do'. The warrior invites us to honor and respect personal limits as well as the limits and boundaries of others.

What a perfect value to live by and co-create with in a budding Transition Initiative! Greater resilience through trusting the process and trusting the wisdom of the group.....Communicating with respect and honoring personal boundaries...These sentiments, at the heart of a start up have both a powerful resonance with the perennial wisdom of the ancients, and alignment with the idea that Transition suggests, that we can not solve the problems we face alone. We must learn to work together.

I am excited.