Trip to New Zealand blog 4: Holding emotional selves in a working team

(what came before in Trip to New Zealand: one, two and three)

Working at the river side, by Paul Messer

In the Art of Hosting network, we are quite committed to walking our talk. Since we often ask participants in our training seminars to share what it is they want to learn, we opened a similar conversation in our recent hosting team on what our learning edge was. I felt that my ‘trembling point’ was related not with the content or the process of the actual 3-day training we were starting, but rather with a personal point of insecurity.

Late in 2017 I had send in the draft of my book (almost all of which is online) to a publisher, only to learn some 8 weeks later that they rejected it. And not only did they reject it, they didn’t even understand what it was about. This left me with a massive question mark: if this particular publisher doesn’t get it, then who will? It has since dawned on me that, actually, it is not a book that I have written; it is more appropriate to say that I have developed a body of work — it could almost be seen as a PhD. And PhD’s don’t get read by mainstream public — I know that. But then what?

This was the point of uncertainty that I wrote down on the little card at the outset of our conversation, and then shared with the team: “Being vulnerable about not knowing how to spread my wisdom.” Strangely, I didn’t expect to get any answers or insights during the training. And yet how wrong I was! In this, I did not apply some of the wisdom I actually describe in my book: how everything connects with everything and you never know where answers will show up, or why certain things happen.

In a conversation during the training, the name came up of someone who has also developed a whole framework over the years, but it sits behind a wall of training and workshops for which you have to pay (quite substantially). Susan called the work ‘impenetrable’ — I am not sure if it was because of the language used or because of the money hurdle, or perhaps both? Erecting walls is the exact opposite of what I want to do with the models and wisdom I have garnered. I want to find language that speaks to people so they can use it, I want to spread it as widely as possible because it can be helpful in many situations, and I want to put all the content and exercises under the creative commons license into the global common space. 
 
In one of the exercises we did during the training, I shared my simple seed idea of re-writing some of my work for a specific audience. In the conversation that followed I was challenged to expand this kind of prototyping and to choose three different audiences (teal-reinventing organisations — permaculture and other activists — young start-uppers) and prototype with three different pieces of my work — maybe with one piece written for all three audiences and then see what happens. I have nothing to lose, so my plan is to do this in March.

On the last morning of the training, I checked with “I think I am moving from being a host to being a teacher.” This was met with quite some exclamation marks (What!?! You don’t see your self as a teacher?!?) by the two ladies who came to my session on gathering thoughts about a possible writing retreat (in July, in Belgium, at my home space — let me know if you are interested!).

After my first Enspiral retreat, after this particular Art of Hosting training, and following several weeks in the company of Susan Basterfield (holding the Enspiral network), Samantha Slade and Paul Messer (holding the Percolab network) I see much more clearly what kind of knowledge, wisdom and practice these circles or networks need to be able to make the most of their potential.

I am looking for ways to describe what I am pointing to in a couple of sentences. Spiral Dynamics could be helpful as a model in this respect, but not everybody is familiar enough with it, so that doesn’t help. In this movement concerned with the Future of Work, self-management or self-organisation, or whatever you want to call it, there is the notion and the intention to bring the whole person to work and to the organisational processes. Some examples: increasingly common use of circle practice, for simple check-ins and check-outs, as the foundation of the organizational structure and more. In some cases there is room for people’s emotional side to show up, but most teams and networks get stuck when more intense emotions are at play. 
 
When tension and conflict arise in teams, it is a mistake to conclude — as is most commonly the case — that ‘X and Y have a conflict, so X and Y need to talk it through and resolve it between them’. Most teams don’t recognise that personal tensions are also features of the systems they work and live in. Dealing with them at the interpersonal level might be helpful in some cases, but it passes right by the opportunity to welcome the conflict as a pretext for deepening the relationships of the whole team– and thereby enriching the ways we are able to be human with each other in the workplace.

Please don’t construe from this as a plea for more emotion in the workplace. Quite the contrary! However, there are many techniques and methods that make it possible for individuals to share deep feelings, even frustrations, while the group maintains a grounded, centred stance of witnessing. The emotional charge and underlying pain can be acknowledged, while we collectively hold a field of non-judgment and witnessing that recognises our deep humanity, without needing to take either side in a conflict. 
 
More to come!