How to collectively (re-)align? More on Pop-up communities, aka retreats; extensive list.
Mieres, Spain. Pop-up communities — part 3 (part 2 here)
Here, this morning in the writing retreat, (yes, my 3rd retreat in a row!) we were wondering: maybe a retreat is more real than the life we go back to after the retreat? Maybe that so-called real life is a collectively held fantasy?
Besides this profound question to ponder, and as promised, below you find a more extensive list of elements that makes for a good and inspiring retreat for a self-organised or self-managed team or network. Keeping in mind that we are all continuously experimenting, we can notice certain patterns showing up over different retreats. That’s what I want to share.
There is always a caller
A retreat or gathering doesn’t come into being without at least one person taking some initiative to make it manifest. He or she feels the need and has a sense of the potential and that’s why she calls the retreat into being. The caller sets the banks of the river, the purpose about what this specific gathering will be about. Although many more people will step in to make the retreat a reality in all its details, the caller defines ‘the call’. Sometimes it is a team or core group that ‘hears’ the call and will clarify among themselves how to articulate it. This will be a crucial part of the invitation. (More on being a caller)
Be an active participant
When the invitation is send out, people register and then the actual gathering starts. Remember this is about retreats for self-organised or self-managed teams or networks, the 3- or 5-day being together builds on the same capacities. Here you can train your muscle of being in an open participatory organization! Everyone present is an active participant in holding ‘the village’, not a consumer who complains that certain things don’t work well. Everyone is able to take responsibility and offer a solution or put a proposal to the middle.
To prevent that certain people, like the organizing team or other responsible people taking too much on, a good guiding principle comes from circle practice: ask for what you need, and offer what you can. My suggestion would be to speak this clearly in the framing of the retreat. The invitation should mention that being an active participant is expected. It is part of the learning process we are all in to live in self-organised way.
I just learned that (one of ?) the leader of Ikea, Göran Carstedt, mentioned the power of check-ins. He was asked in an interview: “What is your number one advice in leadership?” He didn’t skip a beat and said, “Check-ins! I always start every meeting with a personal check-in.” From the different gatherings and retreats — and weekly meetings! — I can only confirm that.
A check-in at the beginning of a meeting puts our humanity in the middle, next to the content of what the meeting is about. Either writing, or meeting of different networks, or diving into a challenging question (intention of my three recent retreats) check-ins brings us straight into what is present. It is the present where we are and where we work from, whatever the intention of the meeting is.
Share meals and breaks
Ad hoc conversations over meal and during breaks and evenings is one of the best things to get to know each other better, in different ways and different aspects of our lives. There are always surprise encounters! If you add shared responsibility for doing the dishes or even collective cooking into the mix then some coordination is required! Of course it can be self-organised too, but someone, or a small team, holding an overview is really helpful.
Connect with land and people around
The good thing about retreats is that they are most of the time held in some remote place with lots of nature around. At least, these are the retreats that speak to me most. Retreats in seminar centers, with luxury swimming pools, and professional staff that keep a distance, but no link with the environment… I don’t think they offer us the best experience.
Although we forget this a lot, humans need connection with the land. This can take various forms: In Amalurra we were working in different spots on the land, in Mieres we had conversations under the tree, in the writing retreat, here at my home, some people worked in the garden. We leave the place where we stayed well tended to, we connect with the people living there year round; we enjoy the bird songs, the beauty of the flowers, the taste of the daily salad.
Create spaces for personal sharing
When there are many participants it might be difficult for people to find their own place in the whole. The forming of home groups — groups of around 6 people who you meet regularly with during the whole time — seems like a good practice when whole circles are not possible or take too much time. They provide a space for deeper and personal sharing next to the activities happening in the bigger group.
Tend to the diversity present
Especially when hosting people coming from different backgrounds and with different learning needs it is crucial to provide open working space to tend to the diversity present. Open Space Technology many times does the trick! Due to its open agenda, you can see how over the days different strands of inquiry weave together, new ideas arise, patterns can be seen, new projects get born.
Integration of body and soul
In the convergence of networks (link) , the integration of body and soul was the theme for one specific day, and was hosted by our home group (another or extra way of using home groups!) We invited our colleagues in the morning check-in to be mindful of how present we are when we are in conversation. I notice so many ‘heady’ or ‘conceptual’ conversations that will not lead us to ‘the world we know our hearts is possible’.
We need to take care of our bodies, paying attention to what our body signals, however weak the signs!
Alternate the hosting
To make it into a real self-organising or self-managed retreat it is important that the facilitation — or the hosting as we call it — alternates between different people. As mentioned, in the Convergence of Networks, the home groups became hosting teams for one day. Amazing what kind of talents came together and wove nicely in the facilitation of the day. In the Percolab retreats different people take care of specific parts of the day(s); always in co-hosting.
Some lessons learned: think of ways the hand-overs could be done, to keep the link from one hosting group to the other.
Holding the whole is crucial
Many times, the caller(s) — the one(s) who saw the potential of the gathering from the beginning — ends up doing a lot of invisible work that is needed to hold the whole. Not many people see this role and its responsibilities. You might end the gathering with a caller that is totally exhausted without others understanding what happened. So, my advice from experience: Don’t do it alone! It might not be a lot of visible work, but it is attention to detail, attention to people, attention to process, attention to the whole, attention to the potential… as we say in the Art of Hosting global network: it needs a field to hold a field!
A retreat is retreating
Recently I was looking up a good Dutch translation for the word retreat. It finally dawned on me that the noun retreat is related with the verb retreating. I never saw that before! (not being an English native speaker) Of course: in a retreat we retreat from the daily work and concerns. For many this translates as: Slow down! Come back to a natural pace of living and working. For most of us, this means slowing down the pace we use in our working lifes.
Take care of food and logistics
Sometimes in a retreat the meals are cared for by the venue (totally excellent in Amalurra!). Many times cooking is done by participants itself. But be aware! As we pointed to the importance of ‘holding the whole’, this is surely also the case regarding food and logistics! The bigger the group, the more attention this needs. Give all participants clarity on many of the practical stuff. Why? The more they know, the better they can take care in a self-organised way.