Principles and processes for co-designing self-organizing events

It’s easier than it sounds. If you organize events, this is for you.

The international Art of Hosting community has developed a different way to design gatherings. There is an underlying pattern that has been fine-tuned and experimented around the world for over 20 years. No matter what the convening topic, from collaboration methods to water management, to financial matters, it is possible to design, organize and meet with the flavour and feel of life, because they are the result of an underlying pattern.

Participants and conveners do not necessarily get to see this backstage, (how the hosting team works together through the design/preparation day and onwards) though everyone is sensing its existence. Over and over, it has laid the conditions for groups to experience a functional self-organizing operating system, live an enlivening experience, access deep co-learning, and do good work. A friend with decades of event organisation explains it as an update of the system software we have been working with for a long time; a 2.0 version, if you will. This is my attempt to share the pattern in a practical and helpful way, without reducing it to a simple recipe to follow. The pattern holds deep consciousness and wisdom, and I hope I am honouring it well. It begins with three principles.

It is wise that a facilitation team spends some time together just prior to a convening. The length of time will depend on elements such as the duration of the convening, the familiarity between the team members, the challenges and risks. Typically, for a three-day event, the hosting team will spend one or two days together prior to the event. For a very short meeting, the hosts will spend a shorter time.


Principle 1: Responsive design — Wait until as close to the gathering/training as possible to design the program

Certain aspects related to organizing a gathering/training can and should be done well in advance of the event, such as the venue, food, decorations, lodging, budget, registration, communication. What the team also does upfront is getting to know the context more, and getting to know each other a better, so they become a real team. As for the design of the actual program, if we want it to be acutely responsive to the context and needs that connect to the convening, to the tiny changes, local and beyond, that are forever taking place right up to the first day of the convening, then it makes sense to leave the programming to just prior to the event.

Friendly warning: We have become so accustomed to developing our event programs months in advance of an event, that waiting until just prior to the event may generate a certain level of anxiety.

Principle 2: A strong container — Give importance to the invisible field that holds a meeting

If we want power, depth and flow in our gatherings then we will need to accord time and space to build what we call, for lack of a better word, “a relationship field” or a “strong container”. This is the invisible field that holds the potential of a group. It is the collective presence and the quality of the relationships between the team members that make up the quality of this field. If this is strong and healthy, it can facilitate generative conversations, paradigm shifts and deep connections. With it, the event team will stay in healthy collaboration even if the event brings stormy weather. This can mean taking time to be together, play, sing, cook, share silence, whatever flows. This is how friendship and familiarity grows. Being in good relationship with yourself and with others helps to enjoy and benefit from the diversity of others.

Friendly warning: We have become so accustomed to time management for performance that giving time and spaciousness to being together may cause some anxiety.

Principle 3: — Learning edges, self-organisation and community of practice — Practice our own medicine

Every work session in the preparation is a micro-example of what is being created. How you are imagining the event should be showing up during this preparation time. If you want participants to harvest online, the team should start during the design days. Be in this practice with the team before the event and you will be practicing well at the event. The practice contributes to the container. If we want the event participants to experience deep learning, then the team should share their learning edges with each other. If the team is trusting and trying something new during the convening, beyond our fears, with the support of each other, then we are modelling that for the whole event. There is life in the trembling and this is being in a community of practice.

Friendly warning: We have become so accustomed to showing up with our expertise that it can be uncomfortable to reveal our learning edges.

How do we design together?

When we finally get to design the actual event our reflex is to jump in directly. Go slow and begin with the following. By doing these steps, the design that is needed will reveal itself. Embody the principles described above in the actual design time.

Need, purpose and participants

Take time to strengthen the connection to the need underlying the event and then to the purpose. Since the purpose is the invisible leader it needs to be held clearly by the whole team. The original call for the event began with this and so should the design. It is the centre of the work.

Team learnings

What is the intention or learning edges of each person in the team? If we want to facilitate learning we need to be in learning ourselves. If we embody the work we strengthen it.

Sensing in

Take time to understand the context, the people who will be coming, what is going on around to be more in tune and responsive to what is needed. Listen with all your senses, on all kind of levels.

Outputs — Acting more wisely for the world

Good work should always yields real results. The Hopi Indians say: “Will it grown corn for the people?”. What is the convening going to create that will be useful for the world?

The venue

The venue can support the quality of the convening. When it is possible spend some time at the venue? Connect and feel the flow in the space. How can the event make use of it? Are there any outdoor possibilities? Imagine the space and beauty unfolding. Embrace the constraints that come with it.

Friendly reminder: It is not either or, you need the analytical and planning capacities together with many soft skills.

How do we design for self-organization?

When the time comes to actual designing the event, the same principles apply.

  1. Clarify responsibilities/teams

If the event goes over a few days, create sub-teams. One way to approach this is a team for each day, a team for space and beauty and a team for documenting (harvesting). It can be helpful to identify how many spots there are in each team; then it is clear if people are in a single team or multiple teams. When it is time to decide who is in which team, in a self-organizing framework it is important that each person choses for herself. It can be useful to invite people to think about their offering and their learning edges before and then place pens on the table and in silence everyone writes their name where they are feeling they should be. It is important to note that the sub-team have a role of stewarding the tasks, not of executing all the activities and work of the day.

2) Clarify the flow and structure

Each team spends time designing a flow of activities for their area of responsibility. It is NOT yet time to dig into the design, only identifying the flow of activities (ex. team hosts, team coaches, participants) and the number of each. Then, to ensure that all the parts work together, the teams share their flow and activities and receive comments. Friction points and blind spots will be revealed. The teams then have a bit of time to produce a second version of their flow and activities if necessary. The group then comes back together to agree on the design. In this way everyone is aware and in support of the total design.

3) Activity designing

Only now each person identifies the activities/roles they will be responsible for, individually or in teams. Now each activity can be designed in detail. Those for day one will take priority. Some will be done prior to the event and some will be designed during the event with (some of) the participants (during breaks or evening).

4) Inviting in

During the first morning of the event, participants are invited to step in with their own activities or proposals within the scaffolding structure set up by the team. This structure holds the space so that the facilitation/hosting and documenting/harvesting can be done with the ample participation of all, in an open and flexible way. When the preparation work has been done – attending to all the details with care — the principles described above allow the loose structure to be held with quality and rigour. It can appear chaotic but the freedom is held by a container that supports coherence, alignment and freedom. It allows us to open up to what is possible and alive. This is how we organise amongst ourselves.

The Art of Hosting way creates a self-organizing operating system, an edginess of possibility, a depth of learning and a quality in human connection that often eludes us in other types of gatherings and meetings. Events all over the world are organized in this manner with great success, from the European Institutions, to local neighbourhoods, from businesses to professional networks.


Learn more about Art of Hosting and upcoming trainings.

Thank you to Ria Baeck for contribution and support in writing this article.

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Art of Asking for Help

How comfortable are you at asking for help? How clear are your requests for help?

Have you ever thought that we can improve our asking for help skills and even approach asking for help as a practice? Our awareness of the specific type of help we are asking for and the words we use to ask for help can be fine-tuned. Indeed, the more our request for help is precise the higher our chances of obtaining the help we actually want and avoid frustrations on both sides (feelings of not being heard or not being appreciated).

At percolab we have developed a simple tool to support the development of our asking for help culture. We have seen how it can open up space and deconstruct preset minds. We have noticed that it can work with everyone.

Before you dive into the typology, think of a moment when you offered help recently and think of a moment when you asked for help recently.

Jot down your examples and then read through the typology and see where they fit. If your examples are not in the typology, let me know so the typology can evolve and strengthen with our collective intelligence.

1. Ask me questions (coaching)

2. Show me how to . . . (demonstrate)

3. Tell me information or perspective (local knowledge/experience based)

4. Give me expert advice (expertise based)

5. Think creatively with me (idea generation)

6. Give me feedback on my idea, model etc. (enriching)

7. Be my audience/participant (practice)

8. Provide me moral support (emotion)

9. Give me a hand… (physical, action help)

10. Loan/give me something (material support)

11. Protect and care for me (abuse support)

12. Make sense with me (intellectual/intuitive)

13. Motivate me (kick in the butt)

14. Step in with/for me (solidarity)

15. Can you listen to me (attention)

Now, write down two requests for help using the typology. Go and ask someone for help. If the person can’t answer the first request, try the second one. How was that? Did you notice a difference?

As collaboration and participatory leadership are on the rise, our capacity to excel at asking for help is becoming all the more important. The time of the hero leader who could figure everything out on his or her own is over.

It is kind to ask for help. Do not trust someone who cannot ask for help”.

Note: Feel free to adapt and adjust this typology. Think of it as a commons. I invite you share how you are using it and how it is evolving with your usage. here or email sam@percolab.com

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How does an organisation shift to self-management?

Thinking about shifting to self-management or wondering if your way of self-governing can be fine tuned? In my previous article What is self-management, really? I explore what is and what isn’t self-management via percolab’s story. This article goes into the details of how percolab went about setting up a role-based self-management system. As a word of context, percolab is a non-conventional company and we had realized that we required a bit more structure in how we self-organise our company.

There is a different way to structure our organisations based on “roles“. A role based structure means:

  1. Thinking about an organisation based on its purpose and all the roles and responsabilities that allow the organisation to meet its purpose;
  2. Leaving behind job profiles and job titles. Different people can take on different roles at different times – there is a flow and adaptability with roles; and
  3. Distributing the authority (decision making power) throughout the organisation via the roles.

Percolab recently shifted to such a role-based structure. As a team of process designers we were very deliberate in how we went about setting up our roles structure. We are sharing it now in the hope it will help others on their paths towards self-management.

Identifying our company roles 

Roles are already within our organisations and companies, we just need to listen in and make them explicit. To identify ours, I put on my role identifying hat for a few months. I resisted  the temptation to look outside the company because that would lead to thinking about what roles we “should have”. Over 9 years our company has grown into its own way of functioning and this is the organic base we wanted to work with.

Honing on the daily life of the company helped to come up with a preliminary list of roles. What is the company up to? What are people talking about? Where are the questions and tensions?  In all, 32 roles revealed themselves. I gave them some placeholder titles: Banker, Legal protector, Keeper of our workshop offer, Video producer.  The work was done as an open and transparent process, as per self-management principles. Now we were ready to begin the collective process.

Writing our roles together

Writing the roles as the team allowed us to benefit from the team’s collective intelligence. Also, it was an active way for us to process the shift to roles.

At a team meeting we reminded ourselves of the reasons we were shifting to roles. We drew on the wall the basic structure every role should have (inspired by Holacracy):

  • Role title: clear and aligned to our culture;
  • Role purpose: a short statement;
  • Role accountabilities: tasks and decision making authority;
  • Role metrics: specific indicators that help the team see if the role is being well stewarded.

We shared a draft role to exemplify these elements.

Title: Banker

Purpose: Reduce financial stress of all members of the collective, collaborators and organisations with whom we have transactions.

Accountabilities

  • Based on laws and obligations, foresee financial provisions and make all necessary payments to the government and documenting them.
  • Act as contact for percolab with the government, documenting key information, exchanges or situations.
  • Emit checks, once documentation duly completed and if appropriate, approved.
  • Inform members if a difficult financial situation arises and work through it openly and collectively.

Metrics

  • Financial stress of members is low – collective average of no more than 2/10 each month.
  • Payments are made within 30 days.
  • No penalties or interest to the government

We agreed that each team member would be responsible for writing 4 or 5 roles. The 32 titles and notes were laid out on the table.  Each team member chose the roles that he or she wanted to write.

Then we agreed on the process as follows:

  • We would set up a wiki (mediawiki) and each person would insert his/her first drafts of roles over a few weeks.
  • For each role, we would each invite two team members to iterate it forward using their wisdom and experience.

Through this writing process, each of us was now familiar with more than one third of the 32 roles. We all committed to reading ALL the roles prior to the next workshop to have a system view of the roles.

Adopting and attributing our roles

We held a 2.5 hour workshop to attribute the roles. The workshop process went as follows:

  1. We began with a short reminder of the purpose of roles. They are NOT job titles. We will all be stewarding multiple roles and we will be rotating our roles over time. Roles are aligned to the company’s purpose.  (5 min)
  2. We checked in by answering the question  “What color are we feeling?”.  This gave space to our apprehensions. (5 min)
  3. We took 30 minutes in small groups to discuss and review the roles that were speaking to us.  We brought back to the team 3 proposals for improvements.  If anyone had any significant issues with any content,  it was being heeded.  We quickly fielded the proposals following the integrated decision making process (Holacracy). (50 min)
  4. We discussed and agreed on the implementation date for the new role system.  This was the official day when authority (decision making power) would no longer lie with the co-founders. and when team members would take on their expanded responsibilities. (30 min)
  5. We attributed each of the roles via a multi-step process. We wrote the names of roles on index cards and laid them before us. We each wrote on the cards who we thought was best situated for stewarding that role and we could not put our own name. We took a moment to take in the collective perspective that had been revealed. Then, each person identified two roles she had energy to steward and  named it as a proposal. The group let the person know if there were any objections. If none then the roles were considered attributed. The next round, each person proposed one more role and again we verified for objections. A final round whereby anyone could propose anyone for the remaining roles. Again quick checks to see if there was any opposition until all roles were attributed. (55 minutes)
  6. We closed by each responding to the question What colour are we feeling now? (5 min) 

This image sums up the workshop. The inner circle represents our check-in colours and the outer circle our colours after roles had been adopted, attributed and an implementation date agreed upon.

roles (2)

By our in-house artist, Roch!

We updated the wiki with all the information. In the end, we landed 30 roles and a shared role that clarified what each of us in the circle was accountable for (project management and project work).

Lessons

1. Process design is key. Self-managing principles should be embodied in the way the shift to self-management takes place.

2. Self-management is a never-ending process of learning – about the broader functions of an organisation, our own capacity and confidence to step into roles and collaboration and trust.

3. It’s about the roles, not the people.

Next up, an article on the implementation process.

*It should be noted that in percolab’s case everyone within the company  has the role “0” Project work – the intention is to work, learn, have fun and advance the company and our domain. The role involves generating, leading and contributing to projects.

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À quoi sert une formation percolab?

Je suis consciente que notre approche de formation est non-conventionnelle, voir déstabilisante pour les participants.  

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Formation auprès des élus et agents de développement économique du Québec.

Il y a trois motivations derrière notre modèle  :

  1. Connecter ses façons de travailler avec des cadres conceptuels pour créer du sens.
  2. Vivre des expériences qui permettent d’entrer dans des subtilités pour amplifier sa manière de travailler.
  3. Construire sur ce que l’on fait déjà si bien avec plus de conscience.
insertion sociale

Atelier offert au secteur des entreprises d’insertion sociale du Québec.

Pas évident d’avoir des indicateurs sur de telles intentions.

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Des participants en plein travail lors d’un atelier sur les Méthodes d’intelligence collective.

Quand Philippe Garon, un participant d’une formation en région (Gaspésie, Québec), m’a fait un retour sur son expérience, ça m’a fait chaud au coeur. J’entends l’impact à travers son récit.

Garon_Festival_Caraquet

Philippe Garon en action professionnelle.

“Bonjour !

Je suis un artiste multidisciplinaire qui vit en Gaspésie. J’offre aussi mes services en rédaction, correction et animation. Grâce à la direction régionale du ministère de la Culture et des Communications, j’ai eu la chance de suivre une formation de Percolab avec Samantha Slade ici à Bonaventure en juillet 2015. En compagnie de 15 autres intervenant(e)s culturels de toute la région, j’ai pu me familiariser avec de nouvelles techniques de mobilisation créative. Quelle belle bouffée d’oxygène ! Nous avons pu nous familiariser avec plusieurs méthodes originales pour dynamiser les rencontres des multiples organisations qui œuvrent dans nos milieux. Samantha a réussi à adapter le contenu et son approche en fonction de nos réalités.

Personnellement, depuis cette formation, j’applique le plus possible dans mon travail mes apprentissages et je sens réellement une différence. Mes clients aiment expérimenter des activités qui sortent de l’ordinaire dans le cadre de leurs réunions. Leur efficacité et le plaisir qu’ils éprouvent à travailler ensemble s’en trouvent décuplés. Mais au-delà des méthodes que nous pouvons maintenant leur proposer, il y a l’importance de l’ambiance, de l’atmosphère que nous installons au sein des équipes que nous aidons. Mettre l’accent sur l’énergie positive, sur l’intelligence collective. Offrir aux gens un maximum d’espace pour leur permettre de s’exprimer et prendre le temps de vraiment les écouter. Encourager le questionnement, le rire, l’accueil des émotions, la réflexion, la créativité et la recherche d’idées audacieuses. Voilà un programme ambitieux, mais tellement motivant ! Percolab m’a donné le goût de pousser plus loin la maîtrise de l’art d’animer pour aider les gens de chez nous.”

IMG_3585

Philippe Garon en plein travail lors de la formation percolab dans sa région.

Merci Philippe pour un retour si ouvert. Si vous avez un retour apprenant suite à un atelier ou expérience percolab, svp partagez!!

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Trois astuces pour aborder un enjeu complexe

Est-ce qu’il vous arrive de tourner en rond autour d’une problématique? Vous faites peut-être face à un enjeu “complexe”  qui défie la mise en application des solutions existantes. En général, nous avons développé un grand savoir-faire pour résoudre les problèmes évidents ou compliquées. Lorsque la situation est complexe, les approches classiques ne semblent plus donner de résultats. Les relations entre les causes et les effets ne sont pas discernables et nous perdons souvent pied. Penser et agir dans la complexité demande plus que le recours à l’expertise ou l’utilisation de pratiques exemplaires dans l’élaboration de solutions. Elle demande la mise en œuvre de nouvelles façons de faire les choses. Les théories de la complexité suggèrent une approche et une posture différentes qui reposent sur trois composantes clés :

emergencePhoto Credit: Roberto Verzo

1. Travail en mode émergence

Face à la complexité, il faut se défaire de notre habitude de penser que l’on peut tout planifier pour obtenir une solution rapide. Travailler en émergence suppose la création d’un espace de réflexion et d’action qui s’ouvre à l’exploration de nouveaux sentiers, à la créativité, à la prise de risques, afin d’accueillir de nouvelles opportunités ou des pistes de solutions, parfois imparfaites mais porteuses.

cocreationPhoto Credit: Paxson Woelber

2. Co-création

On gagne à aborder un enjeu complexe dans un esprit de recherche collective qui inclut une diversité d’acteurs et qui s’appuie sur une approche systémique. Le travail en silo prive trop souvent les organisations de l’apport de leur écosystème élargi. La mise en place d’une stratégie collective, ouverte et transparente constitue donc un outil puissant pour avancer dans la recherche de solutions inédites.

experimentation

Photo Credit: ~lzee~bleu~not~really~all~here~

3. Expérimentation et apprentissage

À défaut de procédures connues et établies donnant les résultats attendus, travailler dans la complexité suppose l’expérimentation, par le biais de pilotes ou de prototypes, comme moteur de découverte. Car c’est à partir de petits projets menés dans des situations concrètes que l’on peut mieux détecter les tendances et les patterns qui permettront d’établir et d’ajuster la stratégie et de creuser davantage les dimensions prometteuses.

Pour en savoir plus sur la théorie de la complexité : David Snowden, Cynefin model : www.cognitive-edge.com

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Playing with Open Space Methodology

How far can you stretch an open space methodology? For the facilitator in me, there is nothing like a good ol’ open space to nimbly pass the power and responsability of an event over to the participants. People can forget that I am in the room as the life of self-organization flows. The process leads to new found clarity, ideas, connections that can help unstick thinking, open a field, prepare a decision etc, but the output I appreciate the most is the flip that happens inside people. The “Oh, things can be that simple and real”. And the “Oh, if there is something I care about strongly, that means it’s me who should be doing something about it.” This is great stuff and I have found myself playing with it in ways that are surprising me.

City as open space

Recently, we co-organized a three day event in Montreal on the theme of the commons for 75 participants [Art of Commoning] with three international experts: David Bollier (USA), Silke Helfrich (Germany) and Frédérique Sultan (France). The first two days of the event took place at the natural science museum, Space for Life.

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Art of Commoning at the Rio Tinto Planetarium, Montreal

We knew that the venue was not available for the third day and we had made a deliberate decision to NOT rent another venue and try out a wild idea.

What if for day three we trusted the group to self-organise their day in different locations around the city?

This super wide open space had some risks given the time of year was November and the number of people involved,  but the team was up for the experimentation.

I must say it was helpful that the event was pushing self-organization in multiple ways. Lunch for day two was a 75 person potluck  with light instructions to run it efficiently. All dishes, sweet and savoury, were laid out in the centre of a long dining table. With 4 starting points, everyone moved along the table serving themselves. Only once everyone was served did we sit down.

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75 person potluck

At the end of day two, we announced that the whole next day was dedicated to working on our projects together in any way we wanted. 15 people stepped up with a project. Each person shared how much time they wanted to work on their project – 3 hours being the most popular. We invited everyone to self organise, where and when they would meet the next day and with whom. There was a period of semi-chaos with lots of noise and some concern that the facilitators should have done more, and then, magically, the dust settled. Everyone knew where things were going to take place the next day, at someone’s home, at a coworking, a fablab. The full schedule was emailed to all later that evening with details of locations, times, project leaders, contact numbers and a one stop emergency number. We all shared a collective online space (framapad) for documentation. Finally, we all agreed to meet up at the end of the day for dinner and celebrations (some people took up the “dinner for 75 challenge”).

The experience was true to open space spirit. The work was engaging, deep, dynamic. Most people attended two sessions, some in different locations.

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Art of Commoning day 3, work session at EchoFab, Montréal

Over the course of the day the projects leapfrogged to their next step. A school of commoning moved to the next level, a community land trust initiative got unstuck, a group contributed to an international initiative of patterns of the commons, a business transitioned and a some projects of  living spaces as commons gathered momentum and much more.

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Session on Patterns of commoning with Silke Helfrich

At the evening meeting point, at ECTO co-working cooperative we were all a-buzz, sharing our experiences and projects over a home cooked meal, with a bit of play and  video harvesting and then some good ol’ dancing.

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andyDuring the evening  a time bank was set up and those who wanted to made further commitments to the projects of the day. The mutual support that had begun that day was able to continue on.

And so, the light frame that holds the freedom of an open space can extend out even across a city and coming back together  helps the collective field to continue to grow.

Guide to City Wide Open Space

Day Before

  • Invite in a culture of helping each other and a way of working for wiser action.
  • Allow  specific time and space whereby those who hold the projects and those who are keen to help out work out when and where they would like to meet by themselves. Trust that they will be able to figure out what is best to do.
  • Share digitally, web/email the open space market place, with contact info and maps

The day of

  • Allow the magic to happen
  • Share through social media, an online collective writing space (ex. frampad)
  • Come together to see a collective harvest and generally celebrate!
  • Set up a time bank to facilitate continued collaboration.

 

 

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