Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Learning from the margins of your organization

Who are the people on the margins of your organization, or your community? The people who used to participate, but left? Clients who don't have input into decisions about the organization? Maybe those who are mentally ill, homeless, or refugees? Those with different political or religious beliefs than the mainstream of your group?

How do you move toward people on the margins and learn from them? In my work with organizations, I find that the wisdom and energy needed for groups to shift in positive directions often can't happen until the group learns from and incorporate the leadership of those on the margins.

"You seem like a white, middle-class suburban guy with no problems. What do you struggle with?"

My friend Walter asked me this question. He had recently come out of a long period of homelessness and addiction, and he was always very open with me about his past and current struggles. Walter also testifies to everyone around him about how God turned his life around. I wanted to be as honest with Walter as he was with me. My relationship with Walter challenges me to stop pretending that I have it all together. Walter challenges me to allow myself to be changed in relationships, to be changed by God. In response to his question, I talked about the depression and suicides that have been around me throughout my life, and my struggle to move from withdrawn, numb places to being alive and engaged. We talked about lust and other forms of addiction that can take me away from God and myself. I also talked about the many privileges and comforts I've had throughout my life. As we've gotten to know each other better, I've started to challenge Walter more, about ways his spirituality might deepen with more listening and seeking out the spiritual truth that others have.

This fall Walter and I are going to do a series of presentations about "Spiritual Friendship Across Differences." One of those presentations will be at Twin Cities Friends Meeting (1725 Grand Ave., St. Paul) on December 12 at 9:45 am. We invite you to join us.

Connecting the mainstream and margins

This fall I'm serving as the interim executive director at City House, a nonprofit who has a mission of "connecting the mainstream and margins for mutual spiritual growth and transformation." I have volunteered with City House for several years, and I met my friend Walter through this volunteering. At City House we are asking how this practice of spiritual friendship across difference might be more fully unleashed in our communities. If you are drawn to this question, I invite you to an evening of discernment about the future of City House on Nov. 18. You don't need to need to have experience with the organization, just an interest in the questions we are asking.

In your life, organization, and community

We each have ways that we are in the mainstream of groups, and ways we are on the margins of groups. Within your organizations and communities, how are those mainstream/margins lines crossed for mutual learning and sharing of power?

I offer facilitation in organizations to increase clarity, consensus, and commitment, to help build more just and sustainable communities. I'm especially interested in helping design and facilitate inclusive, proactive processes that engage people who haven't traditionally been a part of organizational decision making. Please let me know if there are ways I can support organizations that you are connected with. I'm also grateful for your ideas, challenges, and suggestions.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Tidal Wave Coming: Is Your Organization Ready?

There is a tidal wave of social change coming. Our relationships with the economy, the environment, energy, and each other are in the midst of major shifts. Will your organization be lifted up by this tidal wave or engulfed by it?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Supporting the Great Turning

I'm increasingly drawn to do work that intentionally serves the Great Turning, "a name for the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization." (Joanna Macy) I want to support organizations as they discern how they can best contribute to this turning. I made the diagram above to express some of the key elements I see in this turning to some groups I'm working with. Joanna Macy and David Korten have written in depth about the Great Turning. The background image is "Pinwheel of Star Birth" from the Hubble Telescope.

Do you see this Great Turning happening? How are you engaging with these shifts?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

How to dream big and attract others to the process

The world is shifting quickly. Most organizations want to dream and act boldly so they can respond to and inform these changes. Yet most organizations struggle with how to do this well.

I want to tell you about a visioning process that an organization that I'm working is using. Next month I'm facilitating a summit that Olney Friends School in Ohio is hosting. Here are seven suggestions for how your organization can dream big and attract people to that process, with examples from this high school's visioning and discernment process.

1. Connect your organization's questions with pressing global and regional questions. A guiding question for Olney's visioning is, "How can Olney be of service in the creation of a new green economy in Appalachia?" The school is combining bold questions about transitions in the broader society with questions about the future of their school. They are entitling their summit, "People, Planet, Place: Case Studies in Organizational Transformation: A Summit on the Future of Olney Friends School." This kind of broad thinking can make it easier to challenge the status quo patterns of an organization and open up powerful new possibilities for carrying out the mission of an organization.

2. Invite participation in personal and creative ways. For Olney's summit, they are inviting everyone that is already connected with the organization (students, alumni, parents, etc.), but also people they admire who are working on environmental and economic sustainability in their geographic area and professional fields. Olney has worked hard to make the summit a beneficial time of learning and reflection, even for those not invested in Olney itself. The summit will include presentations, music, and films about innovative ways people are working for environmental and economic sustainability.

3. Ask for support for the visioning process. Olney received grants from four Quaker funders to support the summit. They are also structuring classes this fall to integrate the summit process into student life this fall.

4. Make multiple ways for people to engage in visioning. Olney set up an online database of ideas for the school's direction that people can add to. People can also participate in-person at the summit. Summit participants will be able to sample hands-on experiences connected with the school, such as planting garlic and touring the farm on campus. During the summit, we're planning interviews, writing, small group and large group ways for people to give input.

5. Set compelling and bold topics that are both specific and open-ended. Olney's Board defined two broad dreams, "A new green economy in Appalachia" and "Sustainable independent schools," and they are inviting people to fill in the details of those dreams. They provided some direction so the visioning process wasn't too overwhelming, while resisting the temptation to plan all the details themselves.

6. Gather, gather, gather... and then let go and notice what emerges. Olney will be gathering oodles of ideas for how the school could carry out its dreams, and we'll ask everyone at the summit to help us process and absorb those ideas. But the core element of Quaker discernment involves holding all those possibilities lightly and settling into a place of inner stillness to listen for the possibilities that have the most life and sense of calling. In that process, entirely new directions or combinations of ideas might arise. Olney's process is based in Quaker practices, but adapted to welcome and include broad participation.

7. Connect dreaming with doing. I encourage groups that I work with to have a period of prototyping, where they can quickly test out ideas from their vision so they can fail often and learn quickly. The energy and learning of the visioning process can be carried into this phase of experimenting and learning. When a large group of people help shape a vision, many of them will be eager to help implement it.

Olney's summit still has space for people to participate, October 28-30 in Barnesville, OH. All events are free and open to the public. It would be fun to have some of you there!

The focus of my consulting work is facilitating visioning and discernment, to help build just, sustainable, and healthy communities. I'd be happy to talk with you, at no charge, about how this might work in your organization.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Six ways to convey the spirit of your work with video

In my work, I often use video making as one way to express and cultivate the spirit of an organization or program. Here are a few ways you can use video to further and deepen your own work. Increasingly, if you are not using video to illustrate and invite people into your work, you're missing a large percentage of your potential audience.

1. Ask leaders in your field to do a video interview about how their work relates to the ideas at the core of your work. Post the video on YouTube and share it with your network. People who are searching for the interviewee will also get exposed to your idea, and you'll also have an opportunity to build more of a partnership with the interviewee.

My previous post of an interview with Diana Whitney about Appreciative Inquiry and Whole Systems Healing is one example of this.

2. Videotape stories from the people most impacted by your work. Group the stories in themes that show the range of outcomes from your work. Post the videos on your website and use them to tell your organization's story.

I've had the privilege of consulting with the FATHER Project for past year and a half, supporting their planning and evaluation. This summer we videotaped several participants as they told their own stories about how the project has impacted their lives. We linked short video clips from these interviews to the logic model for the project, so a personal story illustrates each intended outcome.

And a few more tips:

3. Embed videos within email newsletters and updates, giving people another way to receive your message.
4. Invite children that are connected with your work to write their own stories and make these stories into movies. The process of making and showing these movies can be a great community builder. I'm doing that this week with East African children at high-rise buildings in my neighborhood.
5. Envision the future of your organization and community by making videos that combine images and sounds that express the vision you are working toward.
6. Get started. You don't have to be an expert in movie making. Experiment, post it online, and ask for feedback.

I'd be glad to do a free consultation with you about how you could effectively use video in your organization. More examples of videos I've made with organizations are on my website.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Engaging with Institutions as Living Entities

I was grateful to receive these reflections on the spirit of institutions from Michelle Bizek. I liked them so much that I wanted to share them here:

It seems to me that the term “institution” could be synonymous with a living entity composed of living, interactive systems and that the simplest expression of this living entity is the individual and more complex expressions include groups (i.e. churches, social clubs, Boy Scouts, etc.), businesses, governments (local, state, national), nations, and finally, humanity.

Each of these living entities has a spiritual ethos and I think if we look at the simpler human system and what influences and shifts it toward a healthier expression then those principles can also be applied to the larger systems. For example, we know that personal change is more efficient when we receive permission and agreement from the subject. Of course we can intercede and practice aggressive prayer for a person, but the effecting of change, most of the time, comes more readily when the person expresses permission for your influence and agrees to work with you toward change. It is like the difference between walking around the block praying for the person in house #123 or knocking on his door, going inside, and opening dialog
with him. Once you are inside talking with him you learn what he believes, how he thinks, what he values, his habits, how he makes decisions, his history, his fears, and his dreams. Now you can pray with greater specificity and he knows you are connecting to what is relevant to him. You are engaging the spirit of the man, freeing him from the “illusions spun over” him.

Taking this to the institutional level, I think that learning these same things about the institution will reveal the spirit of the institution. Once that is identified, abberations in the dominant
characteristics and expressions reveal “ the demonic…arising within the institution” and give us the specificity for targeted prayer for change as we “recall it to its divine vocation.”

Spiritual discernment will help us differentiate between the spirit of the man, the institution, the demonic, and the holy, and the information provided by each; this is essential for efficient prayer.

- Michelle Bizek

Monday, June 28, 2010

Whole Systems Healing & Appreciative Inquiry

Earlier this month, I participated in a conference on "Whole Systems Healing" put on by the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota and the Life Science Foundation. At the conference, I helped video tape interviews with some of the presenters. I'd like to share this interview with Diana Whitney with you. Diana is one of the leaders in the field of Appreciative Inquiry. If you want to know how to bring out the best in your organization, listen to Diana. I draw on Appreciative Inquiry in much of the work I do with organizations. It was an honor to connect with Diana. I also recommend the other interviews we did at the conference. If we won't quickly learn how to heal large human systems, we're in big trouble. I was quite encouraged by the many streams of systemic healing that came together in this conference.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Free Hour of Consultation: Assessing the spirit of your organization & leadership

A special offer for organizations in the Twin Cities who are helping build healthy and just communities

Free Hour of Consultation: Assessing the spirit of your organization & leadership

Does your organization have a shared vision for where you are headed? Could you be more effective in carrying out that vision and learning as you go? Are there processes that could help develop more clarity, consensus, and commitment among people connected with your organization?

Contact Michael at michael@clarityfacilitation.com or 612-234-1122 to set up a time to meet.

To give you a sample of what this consultation might look like, I'm also including a video clip of a recent consultation I did with George W. Bush and Barack Obama. FYI, the conversation with Bush and Obama was more personal and playful than most consultations I do.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Transformation of Elk River, MN

Did you know that a small city in Minnesota is seen by thousands of people across the world as a model for how the spiritual transformation of a city can happen?

I recently met with Stephanie Klinzing, the Mayor of Elk River, MN. The city is 35 miles NW of Minneapolis, and has a population of about 23,000. Since 1996, pastors, business leaders, and government leaders have met weekly to pray for Elk River. Many things have grown out of the prayer and relationships. For example, a local bank was started that offered prayer as a free banking service. In 2004, the New York Times wrote a 10 page article about that bank and Elk River, as an example of the faith at work movement. Many churches in Elk River began seeing their congregation as not just their members, but everyone in the city. Churches collaboratively worked together to reach and care for everyone in the city. In 2000, a network called Love Elk River started to provide "individuals and families with spiritual and physical needs by offering them a relationship-based network of support." Earlier this year, they had a contest to see how many random acts of kindness people in Elk River could do in one month.

Those involved talk about how Elk River used to lead the nation in its per-capita teen suicide rate. After the prayer network had been active for a few years, there was a stretch of years where there were no teen suicides. The Mayor also talks in detail about the economic and safety benefits of this movement. But the primary indicator that the group is aiming for is "the elimination of systemic poverty."

I don't agree with everything about the approach that informs the Elk River movement. My approach would be more interfaith. At the same time, I know that I have a lot to learn from it. I'm especially drawn to prayer, relationship-building, and cultural change that works for the elimination of systemic poverty. Most spirituality in the U.S. is so individualistic and focused on the benefit to individuals. I'm excited about this approach, which also focuses its spirituality for the benefit of cities and nations. I'm very interested in helping connect folks in Elk River with researchers interested in tracking indicators in the city and helping evaluate the influence that this movement is having in the city. If you are interested, please let me know.

What do you think about the spiritual transformation of cities? Are you scared? Ready to call the ACLU? Curious? Inspired? Ready to sign up?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

In Memory of Trinidad: Transforming institutions through humor and generosity

A few years ago I met a man named Trinidad when I was making a video about a group that I volunteer with, City House. Trindad was homeless at the time, and a participant in a spiritual companion program that City House offers. Earlier this week, Trinidad died of a heart attack. As much as anyone I've met, Trinidad seemed to cultivate a positive spirit in institutions he was a part of--a homeless shelter, an apartment building, and a community of people who were homeless. He didn't change the spirit of institutions through any formal authority, but through his personal humor, warmth, and generosity. Here is a 2 minute video of Trindad, which gives you a taste of his gifts:

This video is part of a longer video that I made about City House. The full video is available on their web-site. City House connects "the mainstream and margins for mutual spiritual growth and transformation." I currently volunteer through City House to facilitate a spirituality group at a drug and alcohol recovery center. I'm very grateful for the many gifts I received through participating in City House.

This week I give thanks for the ways that Trinidad touched and charmed the people around him.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Theory U: Illustrated through a silly game with kids

My last post, included a diagram and some examples of how I have been using "Theory U," a model for "leading from the future as it emerges." In this post, I'd like to show you a silly 2 minute video that I made with my kids, showing some aspects of the Theory U process, as illustrated in a game the kids and I made up.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What makes profound change possible?

"Presencing," a blend of the words "presence" and "sensing," refers to the ability to sense and bring into the present one's highest future potential—as an individual and as a group.
- Otto Scharmer
In the last few months, Ive been increasing drawn to a model called "Presencing" or Theory U, as articulated by Otto Scharmer, Peter Senge, and others. It is used to facilitate change in large corporations, health care systems, individuals, and many other settings. The model helps me bring together my interest in discernment and contemplative practices with organizational and systemic change. I am increasingly using it as a way to frame work I am doing. The diagram below is an adaptation of Scharmer's work. In each section, I also added examples of some related consulting work that I've done recently. I'm also organizing some gatherings of people in the Twin Cities who are using Theory U. If you have questions about it, or you want to collaborate in practicing it, please let me know!

Click on the image to see the full size.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Getting out of the box of your job (or joblessness)

I think that more and more of us will need to live without jobs. Lots of research & statistics tell us this. This could be a good thing. While there won't be as many jobs, we still need to work and take care of each other.

I left my full-time job a year and a half ago. Since then, I've been a lot happier, learned a lot, done some good work, and made enough money (though less money than before).

Without a full-time job, my work has often had a different relationship with money:
  • My family sometimes does work as a barter. Right now a friend is fixing our bathtub. As part of his payment, my wife will take photos of his family.
  • I sometimes do work as marketing. I make presentations about spirituality and leadership. I tell people they can hire me as a consultant for their organization.
  • I do work because I love what I'm doing and/or I love who I am doing the work with and for. I organized a forum about faith and organizations because I'm passionate about that topic.
  • I do work because someone around me needs something. I have the flexibility to take someone in my faith community to the hospital.
  • I do work that builds relationships and social capital. I help a friend make a web-site. That friend connects me to an organization that contracts with me for strategic planning.
  • I do work to learn. I co-facilitate a discernment group at a church, and I learn new ways groups can deepen personally and improve the church at the same time.
  • I do work because I think God is asking me to do it. I facilitate a spirituality group at a treatment center.
  • And, yes, I do work to earn money. I do some projects through paying contracts. Sometimes I might ask for donations to support projects I'm doing.
Of course, I can sometimes naively not pay enough attention to earning money. It is also possible to passively wait for just the right job before we use our talents and creativity to meet the needs around us. At this point in time the United States especially needs the talents and creativity of the millions of people who are unemployed and underemployed--both to meet the immediate needs around us and for the innovation needed to develop a sustainable, just society.

A range of groups are pioneering how to draw on this broader range of motivations for work. The free classes offered by Exco College are an example here in the Twin Cities. The millions of people who write for Wikipedia are an example on a larger scale. These groups are tapping into a growing group of freelance entrepreneurs who give for reasons other than money.

We all come at this dynamic with different kinds of privileges and challenges. I had the luxury of being able to choose to leave my job. On the other hand, I have learned the most about creatively and faithfully serving those around us from a friend of mine who was recently homeless and has been unable to find paying work for a long time.

How are you getting out of the box of your job (or out of your unemployment) to offer what is most needed around you?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The collapse of ego-based institutions

In this 5 minute video from Eckart Tolle about "The Current Economy," he talks about the collapse of ego-based institutions, and the shift in consciousness that can inform new ways of being. His talk resonates with my passion for the transformation of the "spirit of institutions."

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Upcoming Events in the Twin Cities: Spirit of Institutions

January 24: "Spiritual Grounding in Secular Organizations" Adult Education session at Twin Cities Friends Meeting (1725 Grand Ave., St. Paul), 9:45 am - 10:45 am. We will explore how Quaker practices for personal and collective discernment can be translated in our work within secular organizations. Open to all.

February 22: Twin Cities Theory U/Presencing Networking Gathering at Common Roots Cafe (2558 South Lyndale Avenue, Mpls), 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm. An informal gathering I'm organizing for people interested in the "letting go, letting come" process of Theory U as described by Otto Scharmer. RSVP to Michael if you'd like to come.