Simple Yet Profound — Design and Practice

I co-hosted a group in Chicago, Illinois yesterday, with colleague Quanita Roberson. It was all-staff, and a culmination of six months of meeting and guiding to help create a more robust (meaning, more relational) culture. So that they can be in their vision and mission and strategy in more healthy and more adaptive and more coherent ways together.

At the start of the day, I named that we are doing something together that is simultaneously simple, yet profound. And also, that people everywhere, in most organizations, are trying to do. We meet so that we can connect. In our connection we can be in a much richer and creative quality of learning together. From that connection and learning, our experiments that support vision, mission, and strategy can become more life-giving and life-serving.

Simple, yet profound.

The design was straightforward.

  • First, in structure, sitting in a circle (really oval in this room, for 25 of us). All tables pushed aside. A simple center (that’s the photo above). I think of this shape of circle as hearth space. It holds us in initial meeting.
  • Welcome and Context (10 minutes total) — in the circle. It’s a bit of stating the purpose of the day. It’s a bit of welcoming people with creative energy. It’s a bit of speaking intention so that it can be heard and felt among us.
  • Check-In (30 minutes total, one minute ish each) — in the circle. In this instance it was invitation to presence, and invitation to bridge learning from the previous day’s meeting. “In one sentence, share a bit of how you are as you arrive to this group this morning. And share in a few sentences, was there something in particular from yesterday’s learning that you wish to speak as we start today?” I went first on this one to model right-sized timing (not a race; not a 5 minute story).
  • Paired Interviews (25 minutes total) — in the circle, but with moved chairs, encouraged to meet with someone that they don’t know as well. Prompts included, “What do you do? What is some of the gift you bring? What is some of the learning you wish to contribute?” And of course, some encouragement to share and ask about non-work related things — which is often the strongest connection that is made.

Simple and profound — still with me? It’s sweet and familiar to feel this kind of beginning. To watch the smiles. To see the leaning in. To witness the joy and desire for joy.

  • A break (20 minutes) — coffee and some light snacks in the hallway.
  • Small Table Discussions x 3 (World Cafe, 90 minutes total) — Make-shift tables in this case. One of the rooms that we thought we could use was unavailable. It was fun to make it up on the fly, using their lunch room. Groups of 4-5. Some 5′ square tables. Some 3′ round bistro tables. Round 1 — To whom are you critically connected so as to do your work well? Are there others with whom you need critical connection, but are not? Round 2 — How does relationship and connection change the way you do your work? Share stories, examples. Round 3 — How can you personally improve relationship and connection in this work? We harvest on individual post-it notes, three things per person.
  • Lunch (60 minutes) — yummy Mexican food, buffet style.

Still simple. Creating connection. But let’s nuance the purpose narrative just a bit. Connection so that learning can emerge. New combinations. New prompts. New weaves that welcome passion and purpose to the room.

  • Embodiment (30 minutes total) — Back in the hearth circle, chairs pushed back. Groups of six with intersecting ropes, and an invitation to create a knot in the middle. Peppy Flamenco music playing in the background. Light debrief of learning. Then invitation to undo the knot in each small group. Only basic instruction is to not let go of the end of the rope. More light processing — what does this teach you about how it is for you working together?
  • Self-Organized Working Groups (100 minutes total) — Four locations in the building (hearth circle, cafe area, board room, lobby couches). Four groups, in this case pre-seeded topics to align with their four strategic pillars (not an open agenda). People invited to go to the group that most interests them today, whether that be because of alignment with job or because of interest. Each group given a harvest template — What’s going well? What’s challenging with this strategy? Are there things you recommend starting? Stopping? To keep doing? We harvested learning back in the hearth circle with all present.
  • A Few Words of Thanks (10 minutes total) — It’s bookend encouragement to stay in shared purpose. It’s encouragement to stay in the complexity of it, and to practice the simple. It’s gratitude to the leadership team that has be trusting us in how we hold them.
  • Check-Out (15 minutes total) — In circle again. It’s deliberate that we start with hearth and end with hearth. The prompt, “What is a gift that you received today?” Everyone speaks. Some of simple joys and friendships. Some of the joy of interaction. Some of the dedicated work of finding way together. Some of details in plans.

Simple in design. Circle. Cafe. Embodiment. Open Space. Circle.
Profound in practice. Connection. Learning. Experiments. Belonging. Wonder. Hope.

Design matters. But more so, vibration. Offering a few formats (I called them “strategic scatterings” and “strategic co-minglings”) that contribute feeling and welcome to go together with what we care about and sort together.

Grateful to all the folks involved. Glad to contribute.

One Reply to “Simple Yet Profound — Design and Practice”

  1. Thank you. It’s helpful to “see” the structure of the flow. The Self-Organized Working Groups plus the harvest template capture my attention today. There is structure and there is opening. I like the model.

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