Minutes from gathering 5

Present: Debbie Warrener, Marc Pell, Patrick Andrews


Mark:  I have been exploring this question of organising from a spiritual perspective for many years. I am now realising with excitement that a lot of thinking has gone on elsewhere during that time that I was unaware of.

Debbie: Just before coming here I spoke to a person who after 14 years has left an organisation. He said he was “loving not being owned”. Previously his time was owned, his tasks were “owned”.  I hadn’t thought of it like that before.  A question with new emerging groups is the question: where is the ownership?

Also, I have been reflecting on something, in relation to support and trust. In a large organisation, when there are challenges you can reach out to your informal network, and share in a safe, confidential space. How do you re-create this when not working in a large organisation? Related to this, if we are being whole at work, how do we bring in vulnerability and trust?  And what does that have to do with ownership?

Patrick:   I’ve been thinking about organising for 13 years and I’m noting how increasingly it is being talked about in a way it wasn’t a few years ago – Laloux’s book has come out, people are talking about “Agile” and so on. It’s all connected.

I am excited about living new ways of organising too – not just reading about it.  I’m engaged in projects that are actively involved in exploring these questions. I am in a situation where I’m being attacked for doing something. It’s a loose network and it’s easy for mis-understandings to blow up. Passions are misdirected and don’t easily heal because we are disconnected.  It’s part of leading that you have to be ready to be attacked or criticised. I am out of my comfort zone.

In the past I was protected from such problems by being part of a big company. Giving people freedom unleashes something.  Part of the practice I have to develop is not to take on other people’s dysfunctions or anger or fears – there’s no big organisation to protect me.

Debbie: We need to be building our resilience muscles.

Mark:   In my experience, if you get close to people then stuff starts to come up. You start to be aware that you also have these hidden emotional issues and that you are engaged in a learning process which can be very emotional. It can be very intense. Being with others in a more collaborative, deeper sense, being more transparent and more trusting, can help us learn to respond in a way that is not going to break the relationship. If you can feel the connection you can learn how to respond in a way that is not going to break the connection.  I have the old control habits that I can call on at any time. But if I can avoid that, I can learn to be more self-reliant, helped by being with others.

Patrick:  the more you can be yourself, the better collaborator you can be.

Debbie:  This has two separate elements. Who are we, and who are we together?

Patrick:  I think humans have invisible shields, like deflector shields from Star Wars.  If we don’t trust, we keep them up. But they need energy to keep up.  We need to learn when and how to let our shields down, or put the energy to healing after it hurt, rather than putting the barriers up in the first place.  You can’t always trust in every environment but you can be more conscious about the barriers you put up.

In the last few years I have been learning to be more relaxed about my barriers, admitting my vulnerability more, not pretending to be a perfect professional. When I meet people now I ask them to tell their story so I get the context. The encounters are richer now. However very recently, in a couple of situations I have been too trusting, and have been attacked.  Having learned how to relax my deflector shield, I now need to learn when to turn it on or off.

  1.  It raises the question of where we stand if others don’t want to collaborate?
  2.   Therapists talk about being the parent, the adult or the child in a relationship? With your wife, it wouldn’t be appropriate to be the child – most the time anyway. If you are going to be vulnerable (an important part of connecting), the adult way is to do it consciously, not naïvely.
  3.      I spent a day recently at a holacracy workshop. It was very energizing and I felt people were able to be fully there,  and I can’t say quite why.  Could it have been about the topic? [PA note: holacracy is a system for enabling self-management within organisations].

Marc:  I was at the workshop too, and I agree with you. I felt everyone was there for more than just business. They were really into the subject. I felt I could have quite a lot of trust, and engage in deep questionning.  Maybe the diversity of the group helped. And it was collectively owned. We all had a stake in the question. The intention is really important – it means you are willing to stick with it and not let something unimportant spoil the possibility of something good emerging.

When I attended a week’s course in Spain, we went through chaotic times before we really came together as a group. It got very uncomfortable and awkward, even though up to that point we’d been good together. It took 4 hours to get through this point – we just followed some guidelines together. All of a sudden something spontaneous, full of energy and joy happened. We were making loads of decisions. It freed up something very deep, and no-one wanted to go home. And it wasn’t a big deal – like falling asleep, you create the conditions and then trust it will happen. You can’t make it happen. I have realised there’s a surrender that needs to happen in a group process. You let go and suddenly everything is working smoothly.

Patrick: Scott Peck the psychotherapist, described four different stages of forming community:

–       pseudo-community (people are superficially nice to each other), then

–       chaos (where people start disagreeing with each other) –  many groups don’t get beyond this, they blame each other and the facilitator. Scott Peck would then invite people to go into the next stage;

–       emptiness, people shed their patterns, and learn to hold more lightly their deeply held views.  This leads to;

–       community, a place of complete empathy. Pseudo-community is conflict avoiding – in community, people accept conflict as natural and don’t blame others for it.

Debbie:  this sounds similar to [Otto Sharmer’s] Theory U).

Patrick: William Isaacs says [in his book “Dialogue”] you get to the point when “you know that you are right but you allow the small possibility that the other person is right too”.  You get to a space where it’s all right, you accept other people for what they are.

Debbie:  In dialogue, you offer something into the space, not into or against any person.  It involves letting go of some of our defence mechanisms.

Marc: That was what we went through in the workshop in Spain. For a while we experienced the “tyranny of structurelessness”.  There were some very good ideas but they didn’t come together and we couldn’t move anywhere. And it was painful. Then someone said okay, let’s just sit.

Patrick:  The Quakers use silence. In 1945 the International Council of Quakers was asked to help with the Jewish refugee situation in Palestine and they met and discussed it and agreed that they couldn’t do it. But then they sat in silence and after sitting in silence for some time they all agreed they had to it. How do we build in practices such as silence into organisations?

Debbie:  wouldn’t it be amazing if in groups we could be with “not knowing”?!

Marc:  you have to be able to trust in something else, not in other people,  but in the collective process which has its own direction because you don’t know what can happen.  On the course I attended, we were moving from just talking to doing stuff and people started resisting.  There was a fear of loss of control. People were afraid of being told by the group to do something, of losing control to the group.   Everyone had to trust that the usual process of being told what to do would not happen and that everyone would have to consent to the process. Something had to shift, that did eventually. It was the practice that did it. In the spiritual community where I spent some time, collaboration would happen spontaneously quite often given a bit of freedom (which we didn’t always have) and I used to say “but it just happens”. I learned in the workshop that we can use practices, such as silence, or saying you can’t speak unless you put your hand up.   We got out of chaos into some direction, which was slow and clunky because the trust was not there yet, and it helped us find a way through.   The chaos was killing us, it was so painful – it was a kind of lesson.  Then we sat in silence and an idea came up.  When they came back, people were more humble. Then we could adopt a structure, and people were more conscious.

Patrick: I have what I call the “minestrone principle”. I once made minestrone soup and after half an hour I could still taste the carrots and peas and onions as separate vegetables but after another half an hour of heating it was one consistent flavour. You need the conditions which bring people together sufficiently (for example people under pressure, say in a natural disaster where they are brought together in a small space) and the barriers between people breakdown and community forms.

The two principles of a good team are said to be a) equality and b) a stretch goal.  It is not enough just to have equality.  It is that external energy, such as a stretch goal or heat (in the case of the minestrone) which brings the elements together.

Debbie:  The stretch goal has to be possible enough.  If it’s too big it doesn’t work and can be destructive.  Patrick: You also need a level of buy in as well. Externally imposed goals might not work.


Organising the Human Organising Project.

After a break, we switched into a discussion about how to organise the project, including the mooted “ festival of human organising” for spring 2016. Patrick proposed a series of blogs on different ways of organising (holacracy, sociocracy, viable systems model etc) and to start in this way to build a database of knowledge.

Debbie agreed to lead on convening the gatherings (she is associated with St Ethelburgas).

Talked of identifying roles and responsibilities, in line with holacracy, and seeking people to take responsibility for those roles.

Debbie asked how the way the festival is organised will be different from the way festivals are ordinarily organised? How will decisions be made, what will happen with trust and power etc. Could it be an experiment, a way of putting into practice the whole thinking behind the project? There are thus two projects: to deliver the festival, and to organise it in a way that is congruent with its values.

Talked of the possibility of organising smaller events beforehand.  Could do pilots – flash mobs in central London for example.

Another idea is to be public about the challenge of organising – to share the journey with people, to demonstrate the process of organising in action. This can both educate and draw people in.

Patrick proposed to start this by writing a blog on how we organise this.  Others can join in so there are different voices.


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