Getting people to work together without using bribery or coercion

“The antidote to self-interest is to commit and to find cause. To commit to something outside of ourselves.” Peter Block

On the 1st, 2nd and 3rd of July, 14 people from Enspiral put their hand up for the Stewardship Retreat, hosted by Billy Matheson from EXP — an exceptional facilitator if ever there was one. This is a blog about what we learnt and what we did on the retreat.

Riverslea and the rhythm of retreats

Retreats are one of the most important rhythms that we have at Enspiral. They’re a time to do deep work and reconnect with the choice that many of us have made: ‘to choose adventure over safety’ and focus on what we need to do to make this adventure work.

We’re lucky enough to have Riverslea Retreat on our back-doorstep. Riverslea is a place where the sound of running water in the mighty Otaki river enables the mind to slow down and words to flow easily.

The Stewardship Retreat crew

Why stewardship

The purpose of the weekend was to investigate the concept of ‘stewardship’. This is a form of leadership which is not coercive or controlling. It is different than mentoring, coaching, or managing.

Billy offered us a couple of pieces of theory from management consultants and psychologist to enrich the conversation:

Peter Block: Stewardship

According to Peter Block (the guy who wrote a book on it), stewardship asks us to be accountable for outcomes without defining the purposes for others, controlling others, or taking care of them.

Stewardship is the choice for service.

  • Service is a stance that relationships are critical.
  • Relationships are built through partnership, rather than patriarchy.
  • Partnership is built on empowerment, not dependency.

We do a lot of stewarding at Enspiral (even when it’s not named), but if we harnessed it better, we might be able to serve our ventures and people better.

Here is a video clip of Peter Block talking about stewardship:

Eric Berne: Transactional Analysis

Billy introduced us to Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis, a concept that many of us had used but hadn’t found the language for.

This is the idea that we often use parental modes of control, or switch into childish modes of behaviour.

This happens a lot in hierarchical organisations when the boss has the control.

But it also happens a lot outside work. Think about those times when you try help a friend by thinking of the answer to their problem and telling them. This is a form of parenting and it transforms your friend into a child.

Conversely, choosing to be a free spirited child and splash around in the fountain is ok too, but it’s the choice that is important.


Robert Kegan: Five Orders of Consciousness

Finally, Billy shared some of Robert Kegan’s work on the Constructive Developmental Framework and the 5 Orders of Consciousness from his book In Over Our Heads.

Applying it at Enspiral

Of course, these theories suffer from the shortcomings of any framework that attempts to distill the infinite variety of human experience into a small number of finite categories. In the context of the retreat though, the theory provided some really useful shared language as we discussed experiences of people and projects we have stewarded.

As the weekend went on, it became clear to us that the idea that ‘relationships are critical’ part of Block’s theory was very true in the case of Enspiral. In fact, relationships are the reason we exist and how we function. We felt a renewed energy to put in structural supports to ensure this relationship-development work happens reliably and transparently.

What next?

One of the most exciting parts of the retreat was the final session, where everyone made a commitment to turn all this lovely talk into practical sustained action.

We hosted a round where we collaboratively developed three lists using a Google Doc projected on a large display on the wall:

  • Somebody Should: adding an issue to this list means I think it needs attention but I’m not volunteering to do the work right now.
  • I’m Up For: adding an item to this list is a commitment to take a specific action.
  • Phone Tree: each of us volunteered to have a conversation with one or more other people who weren’t at the retreat, to share context and develop our thinking with their input.

We’ve started a “stewardship upgrade” working group who are going to propose a modification to the agreements that govern the network. We’re aiming to design a system where anyone at Enspiral can have a steward if they want one.

The intention is to:

  • Improve the arrival experience for new contributors
  • Clarify the pathway from contributorship to membership
  • People in the network know how to help each other
  • Learn from each other’s “near misses”
  • Establish a reliable pathway for inter-personal conflicts to be resolved

Enspiral Contributors are invited to help codesign this proposal on this Loomio thread.

With thanks to Richard D. Bartlett.

The Otaki River