The Human Operating Layer: creating networks that collaborate and care

Phoebe Tickell
Jul 15, 2017 · 10 min read
How do we create healthy networks of collaboration and care?

How do we create healthy, resilient human operating layers?

What are some ingredients that make a healthy HOL, I hear you ask? Some things stand out to me: accountability, and care are two ingredients that have crop up again and again, and are essential. Shared vision, purpose and mission are also essential — and can even take the place of leadership, or accompany leadership as a motivating force. Shared commitment to rhythms, showing up, doing the work, and seeing work through are also important. Transparency and clear, compassionate communication and a commitment to conflict resolution, when conflicts arise.

Seeding and spreading the HOL: a science and an alchemy

Weaving the HOL is a work of both science and alchemy. The science is that there are ingredients, protocols and tools, different in each context, that are needed in specific ways, measurements and times, to catalyse the collaborative nature of a group. If you imagine a social ‘fabric’ being woven between members of a group, it is the threads needed to make a fabric that stays. Or in a scientific experiment, you build a protocol out of a combination of basic materials, ingredients and processes that have worked elsewhere and makes sense in your head.

A case study: 3 days facilitating the weaving of a fresh HOL with a youth programme in Sweden

One of the self-organised, bossless groups, sharing dreams and building a collective project.

Tools vs humans

Often the “future of work” and “non-hierarchical organising” and “collaborative xyz” workshops seem to have a real focus on tools and processes. But underneath all that, it’s the humans, and the mutuality, understanding, vulnerability and trust between them that really makes it real. Within Enspiral, the open collaborative network I contribute to, we often say “humans are more important than structures”. But since structures are easy to generalise, but the humans and the HOL certainly are not, often we end up speaking a lot about the former.

Collaborative dreaming and collective creation: from “my” to “our”

One focus for the week was on collaborative dreaming and co-creation. How do we let go of our individually born dreams and allow co-creation to emerge? How are all voices heard and true collaboration achieved? How do we move from our attachments to things needing to be the way we imagine them in our head, to projects that respond to the environment, and the emergence between the team? And how do we heal our relationship to work, achievement and finance so that celebration is present in all we do?

We provided participants with a “menu” of options for our following days together — and opened the floor for voting.
The one time we turned to Powerpoint…

An emerging HOL that serves the needs of the group

Finally, we turned to collectively identifying the tools, frameworks and rhythms that could support and sustain the HOL. And rather than paste the existing tools and human technologies I have experienced in my networks, this was about presenting alternatives, and creating space for the group to self-organise around and create the patterns that would best serve them.

Explaining the Enspiral superorganism — with dialogue, participatory exercises and live graphic facilitation! Thank you to Sakura!

A wider vision

Whether there was enough time and space created in 3 days to weave enough of a new HOL for it to persist and take off, will become clear over future months. I’m grateful to have a group to explore, learn and experiment alongside as my understanding of the science and alchemy that catalyse HOLs deepens and broadens.

Enspiral Tales

Stories from a bold experiment - creating a collaborative network that helps people do meaningful work.

Phoebe Tickell

Written by

Genetic engineer turned decentralized network evangelist. Member at #Enspiral. Fellow at #NewspeakHouse. Cofounder #FutureFarmLab and #TechForHumanity.

Enspiral Tales

Stories from a bold experiment - creating a collaborative network that helps people do meaningful work.