Sometimes, we forget—especially when we’re new to our audience—that we’re not just talking about equity and systems change. We are demonstrating it, whether we intend to or not. In the following conversation, Tim and I examine how we come across as representatives of what could be—should be—a better way of working towards a better world.
Often the differences between collaborators—different perspectives, backgrounds, ideologies and aspirations—become the focus of meetings rather than getting work done together. The Shared Work Model offers a way to think about collaborating and moving forward on the issues and challenges we care most about in our organizations, communities, and systems.
Tim and I often talk about holding both soulful and strategic elements in our work—the way forward is filled with complexities, engineering, design, and logistics, but that 'left-brain' also needs depth and meaning. Similarly, we can't let substance be overwhelmed by right-brain feelings of epiphany or transformation. Powerful revelations have to lead somewhere. Recently, the excellent ON BEING podcast featured an interview with poet David Whyte, and hit on something I see in our work—a need for vulnerability, poetic language, and the balance of left-brain, right-brain that moves us into new action.
We've been doing this for years—both together and as individuals—and it never ceases to be a shock and a delight when hands go up in a room that was once completely blocked and closed-off to the idea of doing things—and thinking about things—differently. This is the breakthrough that begins genuine, meaningful, much-needed progress. Here's how we try and set the stage to get hands in the air.
This is why we do the work we do—new leadership methods and tools, shifted mindsets, and a practice of equity animates a room. Even the rooms that might have once felt irrevocably blocked with a legacy of competing mandates or repeated patterns. When we contemplate fresh perspectives, bringing more voices 'in from the outside', it dawns on us that perhaps there's a way forward after all. These are the moments we live for.
It's our birthday! Why 'THE OUTSIDE'? As outsiders, we have the advantage—the clarity and calm—of not being entrenched. When overwhelmed by repeated patterns and blocks, fresh air helps. It's all about the fresh air. Watch our latest for the view from here.
I recently did a keynote for the Association of Municipal Administrators of Nova Scotia, talking about long-term change in highly complex systems (like municipalities!). As part of my prep, I interviewed Anna Karin Berglund from the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions and integrated some video of our conversation into the keynote. Some great reflections on how we can lead change in a more participatory way and in particular within municipal and government systems.
Tim recently partnered with Bravespace to deliver a live draw keynote for Education, Research, Development and Innovation (ERDI). I introduced Shared Work—a model created by Tuesday Ryan Hart that I have been part of developing. Shared work is seeking to bridge the work of social justice ad systems change by looking at how we can work together across difference over time.
Tuesday and I just did a webinar on Shared Work with Joshua Cubista @ Borderlands Restoration Leadership Institute, which explores how to take action in the midst of the increasing complexity of the 21st century. It explores shared work and the practice of leading systemic change within our personal lives, communities, organizations, and the world.
To me, alignment is something both bigger than and more foundational than being alike. Alignment asks: Are we going in the same general direction? Do our fundamental ideals allow us to do some good work together? Maybe we won’t do everything together, but when we’re aligned, we can see that there is something to do together.
In a webinar offered by Engage Nova Scotia and filmed at the HUB South Shore, my old friend and mentor, Toke Moeller explored the Art of Hosting: the method's radical common sense and impact, and how it's become its own movement. What can we learn from this as we work to accelerate change in Nova Scotia, and how might we use it to encourage young people to lead change within their communities?
The majority of meetings should be discussions that lead to decisions. Meetings are the linchpin of everything. If someone says you have an hour to investigate a company, I wouldn't look at the balance sheet. I'd watch their executive team in a meeting for an hour. If they are clear and focused and have the board on the edge of their seats, I'd say this is a good company worth investing in. —Patrick Lencioni
Change need not be a big deal. Not changing the entire system, shifting infrastructure, addressing oppression or “swallowing the ocean” as a colleague of mine says. But, rather, taking a sip, seeing a small impact that is entirely within our ability to make, getting started, seeing what happens, and moving from there.
When with new peoples, I continue to be mindful of asking ahead of time what to be aware of, inquiring about honorifics and titles, and generally stepping back and listening. And also, I have to be careful not to get too earnest and in my own head about this stuff. Folks are generally kind and while I may mess up—and someone will let me know and practice grace!—it’s best for me to go forward humble but unafraid.
We were literally doing something that had never been done before: bringing together governments’ employees who were aboriginal. Can you imagine the amount of goodwill in the space with people being together for the first time as a group? As they found themselves and each other? As they explored their own leadership? And from that goodwill, some really powerful learning and work was done.
What would it mean—how might we change our practice—if equity were not simply a longed for goal, but rather a return to a natural state? The idea feels edgy for me, but in a good way and definitely worth exploring. Here are some of our reflections on a short video blog:
Recently there has been an excellent exchange of resources on the Art of Hosting email list around how evaluation connects to the work of participatory leadership. I hope you find these resources and reflections as useful as I have. I have separated the content based on the person that contributed to make it a bit more accessible.
It does feel to me like the chaos has only increased over the lat 13 years: the number of ecological disasters, increased economic uncertainty, massive social unrest, the breakdown of trust between citizens and governments, corporate greed running rampant. That got me to thinking about why Nova Scotia is such a great place to be.
It’s hard. Sometimes it sucks. No one at my house (including me) is happy about these two back to back trips, but I know I’m making the best decisions I can while navigating an engaging, intense, inspiring family and work life. It’s not a matter of importance. They’re both important. And when you have more than one important thing in your life, things don’t always line up perfectly. That’s the truth, and you just gotta figure things out from there.
Three clear messages about different ways of “knowing” in less than 24 hours? I’m pretty pragmatic, but even I know that there is a persistent tapping on my shoulder right now telling me to listen more closely to my heart. To listen to something beyond the way my brain is trying to sort things out right now.
Intent is not impact. You’ll hear this phrase a lot in social justice circles. It’s based on the understanding that our actions may not have the consequences we desire, and that just because we didn’t mean for something to turn out the way that it did, doesn’t mean that we aren’t responsible.
I truly believe if we could change the quality of our meetings, not only would people's happiness and productivity go through the roof, we would need less meetings. Imagine a bright future ahead of us: no more meetings for the sake of meetings!
The chaos is inevitable. I am working with humans, and what's more, humans bring conflicting perspectives and experiences. There is no mechanistic predictability available! What will happen in the room or over the duration of the project is largely unknown... I can prepare, but planning is usually futile. In these situations, figuring out what is the minimal order for people to be able to organise and move forward meaningfully and productively is essential.
For Tim and I, the resolution is in our practicing relationship with each other, day in and day out, with its inevitable hurts and with a commitment to learning from each other. This resolution in relationship is not neat and tidy, but more real, deep, and entirely based in practicing together.
In addition to getting results swiftly, people get really excited to learn a whole new suite of tools and a new way of thinking about problem solving. It immediately starts to be applied all over the organisation. As one client put it last week: "What we do is not hugely different—the structure is not undergoing big re-design—but how we do everything is changing".
If we want to be change leaders, we have to find a way to engage and work with people who hold power and influence. It is essential piece of the puzzle that needs to be integrated into our strategies. It is dangerous not to—our work ends getting squashed, co-opted or undermined long term. Simple put, any obstacles I carry to working with power is hurdle to having impact.
What's the minimum order we need to navigate change meaningfully and productively? Too much control and we kill learning, too little and everything falls apart. My go to is the chaordic stepping stones. I use the chaordic stepping stones all the time: project planning, meeting preparation, long term strategic plans, my own personal reflection, designing events and trainings, writing proposals … the list goes on.
Ok, so there's some questions I ask every time before choosing to work with someone on a project, event or long term initiative. They help me get a sense of the landscape and discern if the conditions are in place for me to do my best work.