We're thrilled to introduce The Art of Convening book. It will be released by our publisher Berrett-Koehler Publishers early 2011. Throughout the rest of the year, we'll post excerpts on this blog for your early viewing.
Craig & Patricia
The ART OF CONVENING
9 Ways to Transform Your Meetings, Gatherings and Conversations
The role of the Convener is to gather and hold the people
"I would love to see leadership be the art of convening and hosting, and
that leadership training would teach how to bring people together and initiate
conversations that have power rather than predictability."
-Peter Block, author of "Community: The Structure of Belonging" in 2007 Wall Street Journal interview
Convening has become synonymous with facilitating gatherings and meetings. Heartland has been differentiating convening from facilitation and meeting leadership since our founding in 1995. By definition, facilitation is, “the process of making something easy or easier,”* whereas convening is the art of gathering and “holding” people. We consciously invite people into an engagement and are thereby accountable for the energetic and physical field in which we meet.
This book, The Art of Convening, is about the art and practice of convening people for the sake of creating wholeness in our engagements. It addresses the essential principles and practices for those “called” to convene and lead meetings and gatherings that produce transformational outcomes for the people in them and their organizations, communities and the world. Nothing less. It is for those of us seriously engaged and committed to making a life-changing difference in our own lives, and the lives of those we gather.
The Genesis of the Art of Convening
In 1998 we (Craig & Patricia Neal) began hosting and convening a series of member-based conversations, the Thought Leader Gatherings (TLGs), for a diverse group of leaders in our hometown of Minneapolis and then the California Bay Area. We had been holding these gatherings for seven years when Patricia noticed we needed to offer people the “recipe” for what we were doing at these meetings, rather than merely deliver the experience for them over and over.
We crafted a convening format description and published it on our website for our members and attendees to use in their practices and meetings. It was our hope that people would experience a transformational conversation with us at the TLG, then with that experience in hand and supporting printed materials, would replicate the experience in their lives, organizations and communities.
The reports back to us were always the same: “I wasn’t able to replicate what you do here and what I experience here, back home”.
What became abundantly clear was that people needed context and content to go along with the experiential learning and simple format. We discovered that our complimentary styles, Craig a high intuitive and Patricia a high analytical, had enabled us to create a breakthrough format for convening that would bring intimacy, depth and idealism to any gathering. However, we were not giving people the right recipe for how to do it themselves in their own lives.
About that time our friend Peter Barnes opened a writer’s retreat center in California and invited Craig to come for a two-week retreat in April of 2004. What emerged was the initial outline for this book and an almost intact curriculum for a 6-month Art of Convening (AoC) TeleTraining.
What Craig came to know at the writer’s retreat was that he needed to introduce the principles, practices and processes - developed for the TLGs and their own consulting practice - with others who were already convening practitioners. He also knew that this introduction needed to be done using a format that was accessible for people all over the world. TeleTraining was the perfect medium.
Within the first year we realized, additionally, that TeleTrainings also provided an intensely focused experience. Without the physical cues present with in-person meetings, we relied on energetic cues. In order to better notice these energetic cues, participants would learn the art of deep listening.
With the birth of The Art of Convening TeleTrainings in 2004 and the ensuing six years of trainings, came the evolution of the Convening Wheel as the foundation of thought and practice for this book. As the conceptual framework came to us, the practice within the AoC groups tested the theories and concepts with real life application.
We have observed a great yearning in ourselves, and among those we teach and train, to discover the answer to the foundational question, “who am I and why am I here?” It is a seeking for wholeness that we can then share with others. When we do so, the power of being whole or complete acts as a multiplier in our relationships and the meetings we conduct.
The people who have shown up for our trainings over the years have been those who see themselves as catalysts for transforming the nature of their relationships in their lives and practice for the sake of their own transformation and that of their families, communities and organizations. By now, hundreds of AoC graduates have worked with and applied the principles, practices and processes of the Convening Wheel – from corporate settings to faith-based applications.
A FieldGuide to help navigate your journey
There is a “technology of relationships” that is foundational to The Art of Convening. If you consider that each interaction with another human being is an opportunity for engagement or relationship, a necessary shift occurs in that interaction. The Art of Convening book is a guide to help us integrate our personal values into positive relationships that then make possible the best outcomes for our communities, organizations, and even the world.
Each of the 9 Chapters represents an “Aspect*” of the Convening Wheel and offers new principles, practices, processes and case studies. Much of the Convening Wheel explores the convergence of the inner and outer worlds of Conveners - those that engage others in meaningful meetings, discourse and conversations. The integration of the personal practices of the Convener with how they bring themselves to the practical concerns of convening meetings and gatherings is the unique realm of this book.
Much of what we learned and observed over 40 years of running businesses, community organizing, and countless group experiences about convening has been distilled into the 9 inner & outer considerations a Convener must make in designing any gathering or conversation. These Aspects hold true for one-on-one as well as large scale meetings.
What amazed us during the journey of writing this book, and developing the Convening Wheel, is that the outer, physical, design-oriented delivery considerations in convening seem to always follow the same path as the inner life of the Convener. As within, so without.
That is why the inner considerations are so prominent in our convening model. We believe that the Convener is the new evolutionary leader whose power and effectiveness is rooted in personal transformation.
Convening Contexts for the Convener
There are myriad contexts for convening, and that these contexts present different challenges that require variations in our approach to each situation. In other words one shoe does not fit all in our intent, design and execution as Conveners. The 4 classic cases below may be familiar, although variances and nuances abound. The important factor here is our approach from the perspective of the Convening Wheel and where we find ourselves along the path.
Context 1- Collegial Everyone being convened is present for what are essentially compatible purposes, and the participants seek a feeling of one-ness and connectedness as part of the their experience in the convened group. There are no “win-lose” or “zero sum” elements. The key convening challenge is to get people out of their day to day business and distractions, and into a deeper and more soulful state of awareness.
Context 2- Shared Conflict The people being convened are all stakeholders in some larger, shared context, and the status quo is for some reason undesirable or unsustainable. The participants have at least a partially shared interest in solving the problem at hand. Usually there is a strong “zero sum game” aspect of these situations, where people consider the possibility of holding out and resisting the change, in an attempt to get another person or department to make a greater concession.
Context 3- Dysfunctional Elephant Here, the people being convened are part of a somewhat dysfunctional organization as in Context 2, but instead of there being a clear external challenge which serves as a rallying point to move people past parochial and ritualistic behavior, there is an unacknowledged major dysfunction that has been rendered “undiscussable”.
Context 4- Advocacy Here, a group is convened for the purposes of advocacy and activism. A major goal in convening an advocacy group is for the group to conclude that they care enough about the issue at hand to act, and for the group to begin to develop a workable plan.
Each convening context requires a specific kind (or kinds) of affective work, the goal of which is to engender a certain sensibility or emotional state in the participants being convened. However, the specifics of the affective transformation vary hugely with the convening context. Notice the subtle and overt differences and overlaps you may encounter in your engagements. As we travel this journey together be aware of the predetermined context and social makeup of the group or individuals with which you will be convening. Whether you are called to be an active convener in the meeting or a participant, be aware of what the social and political dynamics may be in advance. Who knows how things may change as you travel the Wheel together?
This book is intended as a “Field Guide” serving personal and professional growth, leading to the discovery that the way to achieve the highest potential of any engagement is to unleash the creative potential inherent in the collective wisdom of those gathered.
As we travel the path around the 9 Aspects of the Convening Wheel from At the Heart of the Matter to Commitment to Action we’ll examine Core Elements, “practice stories” from the field, journaling questions and a corresponding chec klist of items to consider along the way for highly effective engagements.
The structure of the Convening Wheel is designed to illustrate the various Aspects of convening as a whole. As we gracefully progress through the Aspects around the wheel, we cycle through the steps and considerations systematically. Using this circular method to articulate the way of “being” and “doing” we build upon each Aspect’s core elements in a logical sequence.
In this book you’ll read about people restoring wholeness to themselves, their families, communities, and organizations by igniting the brilliance and genius inherent whenever two or more are gathered.
"Challenge: The fundamental barrier that must be seen in order to continue to the next Aspect"
It is our belief that each person is born perfect and whole; and that now is our time to experience this perfection and wholeness in one another. Through the principles and practices of The Art of Convening anyone can learn that meaningful connection and engagement is not only possible, it is an imperative for the world to work for everyone.
Each chapter or Aspect of the Conveners Wheel is associated with six Core Elements. These elements, followed in a progressive order, address powerful questions that illuminate each Aspect of the Wheel.
Principle (The foundational value of an Aspect of the Wheel.)
Essential Question (A question one asks in an Aspect of the Wheel
that illuminates the Core Principle.)
Challenge (The fundamental barrier that must be seen in order to continue to the next Aspect)
Design Element (A primary consideration that goes into the pattern in which engagements are planned and created.)
Practice (Personal practice, repeating action or exercise that will enhance our thinking about an Aspect of the Wheel.)
Process / Methods (Collective series of actions for a particular outcome.)
Things to Remember (Reminders and important concepts to check in order to be successful within an Aspect of the Wheel.)
Stories and anecdotes for each Aspect of the Wheel illustrate real life successes or failures where a particular Aspect played an important role.
At the end of each chapter is a Reflection Worksheet that offers journaling questions to prompt our own reflections and creativity as we navigate each Aspect of the Convening Wheel.
This book is dedicated to the inspired catalyst for change and transformation within all of us. We believe by waking to our own brilliance and sharing that with others we can, relationship after relationship, create a world that works for everyone.
Our heartfelt gratitude goes out to you for your willingness to step forward with us on the Convener’s journey.
Craig & Patricia Neal
*Encarta® World English Dictionary © 1999 Microsoft Corporation