The Art of Hosting

August 2009 – ongoing: Trained and practised facilitator


“The Art of Hosting Meaningful Conversations
is a global community of practitioners using integrated participative change processes, methods, maps and planning tools to engage groups and teams in meaningful conversation, deliberate collaboration, and group-supported action for the common good.

“The Art of Hosting and harvesting conversations that matter“ is a new practice of democracy that we really need in the world now.Hosting is an emerging set of practices for facilitating group conversations of all sizes, supported by principles that: maximize collective intelligence; welcome and listen to diverse viewpoints; maximize participation and civility; and transform conflict into creative cooperation. “

There are 4 basic practices and 4 core techniques at the heart of the Art of Hosting and Participatory Leadership

The Practices:

1) Being present (pre‐sensing)

…host yourself first—be willing to endure chaos—keep the “space” or possibilities open—stay in the fire of the present…

Being present means showing up, undistracted, prepared, clear about the need and what your personal contribution can be. It allows you to check in with yourself and develop the personal practice of curiosity about the outcomes of any gathering. Presence means making space to devote a dedicated time to working with others. If y distracted ou are, called out or otherwise located in many different places, you cannot be present in one. For meetings to have deep results, every person in the room should be fully present. Being present also means being aware of one’s environment, other people and what impacts you and how you impact others. Collectively, it is good practice to become present together as a meet- ing begins, be it through a welcome, a good framing, through “checking‐in” to the subject matter or task at hand by hearing everyone’s’ voice in the matter or as simple as taking a moment of silence. Invite a collective slowing down so that all participants in a meeting can be present together.

2) Participate and practice conversations

…be willing to listen fully, respectfully, without judgment and thinking you already know all the answer—practice conversation mindfully…

Conversation is an art, it is not just talk. It demands that we listen carefully to one another and that we offer what we can in the service of the whole. Curiosity and judgment cannot live together in the
same space. If we are judging what we are hearing, we cannot be curious about the outcome, and if we have called a meeting because we are uncertain of the way forward, being open is a key skill and capacity. Only by practicing skillful conversation can we find our best practice together.
If we practice conversation mindfully we might slow down meetings so that wisdom and clarity can work quickly. When we talk mindlessly, we neither hear each other nor do we allow space for the clarity to arise. The art of conversation is the art of slowing down to speed up.

1) Hosting conversations

…be courageous, inviting and willing to initiate conversations that matter—find and host powerful questions with the stakeholders—and then make sure you harvest the insights, the patterns, learnings and wise actions…

Hosting conversations is both more and less than facilitating. It is an act of leadership and means taking responsibility for creating and holding the “container” in which a group of people can do their best work together. You can create this container using the seven helpers as starting points, and although you can also do this in the moment, the better prepared you are the better. The best preparation is being fully present. The bare minimum to do is to discern the need, get clear on the purpose of the meeting, prepare a good, powerful question to initiate the conversation and know how you will harvest and what will be done with that harvest, to ensure that results are sustainable and the effort was worth it. Hosting conversations takes courage and it takes a bit of certainty and faith in your people. We sometimes give short shrift to conversational spaces because of the fear we experience in stepping up to host. It is, however, a gift to host a group and it is a gift to be hosted well.

1) Co‐creating with others—becoming a community of practice

…be willing to co create and co‐host with others, blending your knowing, experience and practices with theirs, working partnership…

The fourth practice is about showing up in a conversation without being a spectator, and contributing to the collective effort to sustain results. The best conversations arise when we listen for what is in the middle, what is arising out of the centre of our collaboration. It is not about the balancing of individual agendas, it is about finding out what is new. And when that is discovered work unfolds beautifully when everyone is clear about what they can contribute to the work. In a truly co‐creative process it becomes irrelevant who said or contributed what—the gift is in the synergy and inspiration when we each build on each other’s knowledge and the whole becomes much bigger than the sum of the parts. This is how results become sustainable over time—they fall into the network of relationships that arise from a good conversation, from friends working together.
The collaborative field can produce unexpected and surprising results.

The core techniques:

1) Circle Practice 2) Appreciative Inquiry 3) World Cafe 4) Open Space

4+1 Principles of Open Space:

1. Whoever comes are the right people
1. Whenever it starts is the right time
2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have
3. When it’s over it’s over
& The Law of the Two Feet: If you find yourself in a situation where you are not contributing or learning, move somewhere where you can.

Quote from “Leadership in the Age of Complexity: From Hero to Host”
Margaret Wheatley and Debbie Frieze, Resurgence Magazine, Winter 2011

“[T]he systems that now dominate our lives; […] cannot be changed by working backwards, focusing on only a few simple causes. And certainly they cannot be changed by the boldest visions of our most heroic leaders.
If we want to be able to get these complex systems to work better, we need to abandon our reliance on the leader‐as‐hero and invite in the leader‐as‐host. We need to support those leaders who know that problems are complex, who know that in order to understand the full complexity of any issue,all parts of the system need to be invited in to participate and contribute. We, as followers, need to give our leaders time, patience, forgiveness; and we need to be willing to step up and contribute.
These leaders‐as‐hosts are candid enough to admit that they don’t know what to do; they realize that it’s sheer foolishness to rely only on them for answers. But they also know they can trust in other people’s creativity and commitment to get the work done. They know that other people, no matter where they are in the organizational hierarchy, can be as motivated, diligent and creative as the leader, given the right invitation.”