May travels and learnings…

My goodness! It’s already July, and I’ve still not written here about my recent flurry of listening-related activities and thoughts… so here it is, at last!

Elders and Fellows Gathering in Sausalito, CA.

The beginning of my journeys, back in early May…  This was a small invitational gathering with a small circle of “Elders” in the field of Organization Development, initiated by Peter Block and hosted by Angeles Arrien. In turn, each of the Elders invited a few of their mentees or “Fellows” to participate. Three years ago,  I was invited to be part of this group by my mentor Saul Eisen, one of the founders of the OD program at Sonoma State University.

This year, I was co-facilitating our gathering with Christy Lee-Engel, another “Fellow.” In addition to being a naturopathic physician, Christy is a highly skilled practitioner of Art of Hosting. It was a real pleasure to work with her… and it was also a change of pace for me, to facilitate a gathering where I was not using the form of Dynamic Facilitation (my foundation practice) at all. Instead, we mostly used Circle practice, with some World Cafe and Appreciative Interviews as well.

Our (continually evolving) design turned out to be a good fit for this context, and participants were extremely pleased with the gathering. As some of you may realize, facilitating a group of facilitators (or consultants!) is not always an easy task, so we were very happy with how things turned out. At the same time, it is also a testament to the power of the Art of Hosting approach…

Conflict, Creativity, and Community

The Dynamic Facilitation workshops in Ashland and in Eugene were AWESOME!  We had a great group of people in each locale.  It was also a real treat for me, to be leading two workshops back-to-back, as it offered an immediate opportunity to take the learnings from one group, and apply them right away with the following one. At the same time, it was easy to see just how different each workshop ends up being, with the unique combination of people, topics, and larger context….

A key innovation from the Ashland group: On Day Two, one of the small practice groups decided to experiment with using some role-play. They were working with a real issue, yet they felt they did not have enough real diversity in the group, to have enough “energy” present… so one of the participants took on a role, and it worked GREAT.

This was somewhat unusual for us, in that we don’t generally do role-plays when we teach Dynamic Facilitation. Jim Rough, the original founder of this practice, feels strongly that he wants people to be authentic. So instead, we usually have participants choose real topics — real-life issues on which there is energy, as well as a wide diversity of perspectives already present in the room. And so participants will be offering their own thoughts and perspectives as they  explore the issue in small groups, while also taking turns practicing their facilitation skills.

However, during the afternoon of Day Three in Ashland, the whole group insisted that they wanted to do a whole-group role-play, on a very conflicted issue in their local community. I let them know that this was not how we usually did it…yet when they pointed out how well it had worked in their small group on Day Two, I chose to go with it. After all,  whenever we teach, we are continually experimenting and making new discoveries!

We were all surprised by how well it worked! People were taking various “positions”, and I was working hard listening to each of them, drawing them out,reflecting, writing it up on chart paper…  participating in the role play gave the group permission,to step outside of their own “politeness” boundaries… and so in turn I was having to run back and forth, a bit more vigorously than might have been the case, otherwise!

And THEN… after some time, the participants started becoming irresistibly drawn to co-creating the possible shared solutions that were beginning to emerge, from each individual participant’s response to one of our key questions in DF (“what would YOU do, if you were in charge?”) As this happened, they found it harder and harder,  to stay in the “role” of committed antagonists…

This led to some very interesting group reflections afterward. What I realized was that we could look at any “positional” or “defensive” posture that anyone is taking in real life, as a “role” that we are unconsciously taking on, in response to feeling the need to protect ourselves. And, when we find ourselves in a creative process where we experience being deeply heard, we find ourselves naturally dropping these “defensive roles”…

and so, whether we are engaging in a formal “role play”, or whether we are holding forth our own beliefs and opinions, turns out to not make much difference, in the end. Shift happens, regardless! And this is why I’m so taken with the term “real play”, that I learned from John Kinyon and NVC mediation


Two other innovations had to do with follow-up materials. First is a compilation of various question and insights that participants shared at the Ashland workshop, along with some additional comments and responses that I wrote in later. At the Eugene workshop, we participated in a “co-created theory” session during the third day, that I wrote up afterward to share with others… Both documents are set to “view” only, but you are welcome to leave any comments below.

2 thoughts on “May travels and learnings…

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