Strategic Planning and The Chaordic Path

By Deb Helber, Partner


The path of learning in the Art of Hosting has been powerful and ongoing for me.  I am a strategic planner by training – that has been my work and I love it.  I am a practical, orderly and analytical (and yes bossy and sometimes controlling) person.  I love convergence and moving into action.  Traditional strategic planning processes offered that – a linear process that moved organizations to actions with timelines, assignments and outcomes…..LOVE IT!   

The Art of Hosting has given me the understanding and tools to look at strategic planning as a non-linear process – without a single starting and stopping point.  This was not a big “aha” moment.  This was learning that percolated over time as I went deeper into the Chaordic Path (the dance between chaos and order when we are seeking something new and innovative) and the Chaordic stepping stones (a way to walk the path).

This is not to say that I have replaced the traditional steps of strategic planning (vision, mission, values, internal/external analysis, goals, strategies, tactics and outcomes) with the Chaordic stepping stones (needs, purposes, principles, people, concept, limiting beliefs, structure, practice).  What has happened is a blending of the Chaordic stepping stones with the strategic planning process that provides an organization a way to move to their next level of work.  One outcome has been the development of strategic plans that have more clarity around the vision and mission of the organization – driven by the real needs of the community.  Another outcome has been more voices into the work, creating a broader and richer view of the organization and also creating a plan where many can see their DNA in the strategies and tactics that the organization is striving to achieve.  And a third outcome has been a process that allows organizations to begin to stretch themselves into what the future needs them to be.

It’s funny as I look back at my years of working inside an organization.  I use to be frustrated when an external consultant would be hired to do planning for the organization.  I really felt that we had the knowledge to identify what needed to be included in the plan.   It always felt like somebody came in, put together a list of things for us to do, and then left – leaving the organization with a plan that none of us felt any connection to and many times sat on the shelf.

The Art of Hosting and the chaordic path/stepping stones have given me the methodologies and practices that allow me to work with organizations on their strategic plans in a different way.  I am not there to tell them what to do.  Together we live and walk the chaordic path, surfacing the collective knowledge that will move us towards their vision and mission. 

This way of working and being together really touches my core.  I do believe that we are smarter together than alone.  I do believe that every voice should have a place to be heard.  I do believe that many decisions made by leaders in organizations should be informed by others - because we are more likely to move forward with change if we are part of the change and because there are so many people in our organizations and communities that have knowledge far greater than ours alone.  LOVE IT!


Why Bring Social Presencing Theater into our Art of Hosting?

After having offered multiple Art of Hosting (AoH) trainings for our community and training over 700 local people in having Conversations That Matter over the years, Deb, Phil, and I still love it and get inspired by every group that joins us for our three day intensives.  We host these AoH's because we believe that one of our most important roles as stewards of the global AoH community is to make sure that we are sharing our learning and learning together with others in our community. 

And there’s so much to share!  We are learning a ton all the time as we engage in long-term change efforts locally and go further afield and learn with AoH practitioners around the world in projects and trainings - big and small.

And we’re committed to learning with our field here in Columbus, Ohio. That’s why, when we became friends with Heidi Madsen, a Social Presencing Theatre practitioner here in town, we were so excited to see how we could bring Social Presencing Theatre  (SPT) into an Art of Hosting training in a meaningful way.

If you’re not familiar with SPT, you can find out more about it here.  It’s an approach developed by Arawana Hayashi , and I’ve found myself describing it simply as a “different way of knowing and listening”.  It’s an embodiment practice that augments our typical ways of conversing and helps us be together in deep and meaningful ways.

And it’s fun!  Heidi’s a professionally trained clown (yep, there’s a school for that!), and she makes the SPT practices easy, accessible, meaningful, and joyful.  If you want to know more about Heidi, please check her out over at the Columbus Arts Council site (here and here).  

I’ve started describing this Art of Hosting as an “Art of Hosting Plus” - you’ll learn all the methodologies and theory that are present in a typical AoH, have all the meaningful conversations and learn skills and practices, AND we’ll get to experience a new way of being together.

Please join us May 15-17, 2015.  We’d love to have you with us!

For more info about the upcoming Art of Hosting, please go here.  


A Gathering of Friends


This blog, written by Phil Cass, was originally posted on the Berkana Institute website.  We include it here because it references our work together as friends who have built a company and, we think, serves as a great invitation to work with us or join us at one of our event.  Enjoy!

A Gathering of Friends: dinner at our place, hanging out by the fire, let’s do lunch, a drink after work, are often some of the sweetest times in our days.  Sometimes they are planned and other time spontaneous.  Sometimes they are quiet and sometimes raucous.  Sometimes they are for serious conversations and sometimes they are for letting go.

What if we made these gatherings an intentional practice?  Intentional in that they meet regularly, at an agreed upon time, for an agreed upon length of time, with an agreed upon purpose and we committed to each other that we’d not quit.  We’d not quit at least for an agreed upon period of time that is long enough so that we each could experience the best and the worst of us.  Where we could practice being in authentic relationship with each other with our whole selves.

In three different instances for three different purposes I have been a lucky participant in just such gatherings.  I am one of three co-founders of a small consulting and training company.  Our company is based on friendship and in many ways authentic relationships is our business model.  The three of us decided from the beginning that if our core competency was to be assisting others in developing meaningful relationships that we needed to practice this.  We meet together once a month, usually for a four hour period of time.  Most months we spend the first hour or two in deep check-in with each other.  These check-ins are both related to our work with each other but are also about our lives in general.  We intentionally pierce the artificial veil between who we are as co-workers and who we are as private people.  We have been doing this now for about three years.

In the early days of our relationships our check-ins were largely made up of getting to know each other at ever deepening levels and were heartfelt and often very moving.  As the years have rolled along they remain that but we have also come to reveal some of those pieces and parts of ourselves that each of us struggle to accept in ourselves.  For me, for example, it has meant sharing my jealousy of not being able to be a part of working with them together very often or at times feeling like a third wheel and not being heard.  When feeling not being heard, of seeing my habit of wanting to “take my ball and go home”.  Not easy stuff but real and part of what it means to deal with being in authentic relationships. The commitment is to not quit but to stay, to see, to learn and get to the next level.

Although a long and lovely story that there isn’t time for here, I have also been in a peer coaching relationship now for going on twelve years.  These are monthly phone calls and as you can imagine we have both gone through many changes in our lives over twelve and have been there for each other as witness and coach for all of them.  My growth and my life’s direction have been hugely altered because of this ongoing authentic relationship with this person.

And finally there is the weekly circle of our leadership team in the organization that I am CEO of and where I spend most of my time.  Our leadership team has been meeting in circle once a week for usually an hour and a half for twelve years now.  It’s how we get work done and how we stay in relationship.  As I often say to people, when you meet deliberately, using circle practice, for twelve years the end result is wise decisions and you end up loving the people you work with.  That mythical line of our business persona and who we really are fads away and here we are real people caring for each other and doing good work.

I hope this gives you a sense of what we mean when we talk about “A Gathering of Friends”.  I hope this can serve as an invitation into your own creation of meaningful circles for yourselves.  

To hear more from Phil and to see our friendship in action, please join us for our upcoming Art of Hosting in Columbus, Ohio May 15-17, 2015. 



Shared Work Not Shared Analysis or Aspiration

 As I’ve been invited into work that is more and more complex, work where there are no clear answers and the experts disagree on the best courses of action, work where the only solutions to be found are those that we can create together, most groups I’ve worked with have been challenged to figure out where to start. 


When in these type of complex situations, we often want to start in one of two places: 

  • Shared Analysis:  the sense that we need to have some common understanding or agreement on root causes or analysis of the issue before we can work together. 
  • Shared Aspiration:  the belief that we must agree on an aspirational vision of what we want to have happen in the world before we can do good work together. 

Both of these have some validity, I think, but sometimes folks do not and will not agree on shared way of viewing the world.   (And wouldn’t it be boring if we did?) Or they cannot or will not agree on a shared vision that is anything but generic and meaningless:  we all want the world to be better for our children, for example, but how that moves us into action is unclear.  It doesn’t tell us what we need to do

In wildly diverse groups of people, insisting that we must share a perspective or vision at the outset is often a recipe for group deterioration and/or getting stuck.  Forcing common analysis or shared aspiration at these times is not only counterproductive, it is false, and it undermines our work. The work is over before it even begins.

So, what do we do?

I think one answer is Shared Work.  I’ve found in my own work in organizations and communities that sometimes we just need to get to work and figure how to navigate perspectives, visions, and purposes as we’re working.  In Shared Work, our differences will arise, and we develop processes that help us navigate them while continuing to move forward.  Instead of setting up preconditions or false consensus, we centralize the work and getting it done.

When the differences between us are so thick and laden with historical trauma and meaning, there may be times when we have to move on practical work and projects and only through sharing work in this way, can we come to know ourselves and each other enough that we can create and truly own our understandings and futures. 

The idea and practice of shared work can get us started as we develop the relationships and some shared understanding of what we want together.  It is not easy, but it can reveal enough of our next work to keep us moving forward together.

And as the work continues, groups will continue to struggle with this.  We must resist the idea of resolution of difference.  We must instead focus on what we were going to do next?  What is our shared work here? 

Sometimes that means that all we can do is simply see the very next step together and agree to take it.  There is something about giving permission to not solve it all at once, which allows a group to figure out what is next for them.  It allows them to get to work. 

I’m finding that the idea of Shared work actually lets me work with a lot more and different people.  It has me not clinging to my own perspective - or losing it - when I’m in a group.  It helps me stay in the work and its practical application in the world.

It’s a great area of learning for me right now, and I wonder:  What are you learning about working together?


This blog was originally posted on the Art of Hosting Beyond the Basics website.  


Please join us at the upcoming Art of Hosting Participatory Leadership!

No matter where you are, you can lead change...We invite you to join us at a three-day intensive to explore participatory practices and  hosting essential conversations that lead to shifts at all levels - from the grassroots to senior leadership.  

For more information and to view the invitation, please see here.

To register, please go here