facilitating & hosting

Design Helpers: Breaths and Stepping Stones

In a conversation tonight with a friend who is working on two connected events that are sparking network building and collaborative action (one a larger meeting and the other a potential conference), I drew on two design helpers from the Art of Hosting community that are near and dear to my work designing conversation processes:

  • Chaordic Stepping Stones: clear strategic steps we take when walking the Chaordic path between order and chaos.
  • Breaths of Design: process architecture for different phases of divergence and convergence (sometimes named as Five, Six or Eight Breaths).

I my own rebellious way I’ve combined these two design helpers and reordered some of the steps in a pattern I’ve found works well for me.  Here’s the context I shared with her and a selection of questions connected to each breath:

These are laid out in breaths (different cycles of divergence/convergence) and they often don’t get explored in the same conversation; e.g. with your next conversation with the your colleague, it might the questions from breath one and maybe breath two that you explore together. For lay-of-the-land-orientation, breath one, two and three are all pre-event, breath four, five, six and seven are all post-event but it is wise to talk about them all beforehand. And while these are stepping stones (e.g. answer one before you leap to the next step) they are also iterative – cycling back and reflecting on alignment to purpose and next wise steps.

Breath One:

What is the need? The need is outside of our work: it is the thing served by the work you are doing. Think about: what time is it for our initiative now? What are the challenges and opportunities we are facing? If we didn’t have this meeting/event, what would the world miss? What does the world need this event/meeting to be?

What is the purpose? A clear and compelling statement that guides us. Think about: What happened before? What will happen after? What could this work do/create/inspire?What is the simplest and most powerful question we can keep at the core of this meeting/event?

What are the principles? Principles of cooperation help us to know how we will work together. Think about: The way we meet is a model of the future we want to create. What unique ways of being together can we bring to this? What is important to remember about how we want to work with the participants in our initiative?

Breath Two:

Who are the people? Identifying the people involved in our work, mapping the network. Think about: Are we engaging all those who have a stake in this issue? Who is in the room? Who is not in the room and how do we bring them in? Who will be interested in the results of this meeting? Who is making the decisions? Who will influence the use of resources? Who needs to understand and be involved in the decisions so it can be moved along?

What is our harvest? Harvesting includes making meaning of our work, telling the story and feeding forward results so they have the desired impacts. Think about: we’re not planning a meeting, we’re planning a harvest. What forms of harvest will best serve our need? What artefacts will be the most powerful representation of what we have created? What are the feedback loops we need to design to ensure that learning and change accelerates itself?

What is the concept? This is a high level look at the shape of our endeavour. For example, if our need was to design a way to cross a body of water, we could choose a bridge, a causeway or ferry. We might explore structures such as circles and networks. Think about: What are the shapes we might choose for our work? How might we activate our principles to do our best work? What is the deeper pattern of our work?

What are our limiting beliefs? We cannot create innovation in the world using old models and approaches. Think about: What makes us tremble, and what do we fear about new ways of working together? Who would we be without our old stories of old ways of working?

Breath Three:

What is the invitation process? The meeting begins long before the invitation is issued. Invitation is a process, and the goal is to attract people fully to the meeting. Think about: Hosting little conversations to find out what would attract them to the gathering, conversations with key potential participants, listening and communicating. Dates, location, clarity of the need and purpose. Try to send out more than one kind of invitation (3 to 4 levels of follow-up invitation).

What is the structure? Making decisions about the resources of the group: time, money, energy, commitment and attention.Think about: What is the lightest structure that will serve our purpose and need? What’s the structure that works with the concept, serves the people, follows the principles, pursues the purpose and meets the need?

What is the practice? This is the world of to-do lists, conference calls and email exchanges. Deliver, implement, learn new things, and respond. Think about: What do we need to sustain our work together? How do we leverage relationships and support the work that arises from thee? What commitments are we willing to make to contribute to the success of our endeavour?

Breath Four:

Meet! Have the conversation/meeting/event, host the group, the purpose, the question. Make meaning together.

Breath Five:

Harvest and make sense and meaning! Harvest the harvest, make the needed wise decisions for the way forward.

Breath Six:

Act! Perform any decisions decided on in the conversation and harvest. Follow-up; continue learning and leading. Don’t lose sight of the purpose. How do we sustain self-organization?

Breath Seven:

Reflect and learn! Reflection with the core team and key stakeholders. What have we learned? Have we gained results in alignment with the need and purpose? What are the next long term steps? What? So what? Now what?


graphic by Monica Nissen and Simone Tiesinga-Poutnik

4 replies on “Design Helpers: Breaths and Stepping Stones”

Thanks @Kevin Hiebert! Somewhere on the AoH ning I posted a mind-map that has the integration of questions that I use in my planning. If it might be of use to you pop me an email and I’m happy to share (warning: it is very dense as I wanted it to fit on ONE page!).