Posted in IISC Outward-facing Thoughts
July 11, 2018
Many articles have been devoted to running effective meetings that build collaboration among teams, yet many fail to discuss the hidden element that can destroy a meeting almost without fail.
Power dynamics – the ways in which power works in a setting – can either sink a meeting and negatively impact relationships for years, or produce more shared power and capacity to get things done. A lot of the difference comes down to how we attend to power dynamics in meetings, how well we plan our meetings, how well we determine what happens within and outside of meetings, and how well we facilitate in the moment.
In every organization, there are people who hold formal power and informal power. Formal power is attributed to someone by virtue of their title or position in the organization. People carry informal power if they have influence over others or their organization, either because of their experience, force of personality or persuasion, unearned privilege, or because they have strong relationships with decision-makers and peers. Power is also deeply influenced by diversity and equity dynamics. In most Western societies today, many decisions in organizations are still controlled by people with certain backgrounds: over 40, male, white/European, heterosexual, and middle class and wealthy people. Many feel empowered to lead, speak, and make decisions by virtue of the standing society gives to them on the basis of their background. They get a lot of practice leading and people are acculturated to following and respecting them.
Power — the capacity to get things done — is neither positive nor negative in and of itself. It’s all about how we construct, reconstruct, and practice power. Individuals can exercise their power in healthy ways if they stay focused on making space for others and growing power to achieve positive outcomes by building “power with” others. Individuals and groups can exercise their power in unhealthy ways if they are focused on establishing “power over” others or concentrating power in a few.
At IISC we have made some key observations about power in meetings:
- Power dynamics are always present in meetings whether we see them or not.
- Every meeting is a chance to build a group’s power and transform power dynamics. It’s important to design and facilitate meetings to create opportunities for power to be shared and openly discussed.
- Meeting designers and facilitators must attend to formal and informal power and the dynamics that come along with it.
- Meeting facilitators should be mindful of and acknowledge their own power and enact it in a way that builds the power of the group.
- Every element of meetings needs preparation to make power and decision-making transparent. Consider questions like: Who is at the meeting and who is not? Why or why not? What’s on the agenda and what’s not on the table for discussion that should be? Who will be making the decisions that flow from what will be discussed (both in the room and beyond)? Who plays which roles and why? What work will happen outside of the meeting? What information from the meeting should be shared and with whom?
So, what are some ways to attend to power dynamics in meetings?
- Assume power dynamics are always present in meetings. Design your meeting agenda to include multiple voices and perspectives. Lightly encourage people to step forward to lead and participate, especially if they have less power in the organization either because of role, positional status, race, gender, or other factors. Encourage people with traditional forms of formal power to do more listening than speaking.
- Build a culture of collaboration in meetings. Think of meetings as an opportunity for a team to build relationships, learn leadership, design good processes, and counteract unhealthy uses of power. Design your meetings for relationships, joy, and creativity. Good things will follow! Always build an agenda that allows people to first interact on a human basis, such as starting with opportunities for people to do a “check-in” to share how their day or week is going or to learn more about each other on a personal level. Ask people a question that surfaces their personal and professional purpose. Encourage honesty, vulnerability, and calling people “in”, instead of calling people “out”. Spread a little business love around the room, creating openings for people to feel heard and noticed, and to experience a sense of belonging and interconnectedness.
- Openly discuss power in meetings. Discuss openly with your team the question, what would be the benefits to our group if we shared power? Remind them that power is not a finite pie; rather, it can be infinite, expanded, and shared among people and leaders. Prompt them to explore how they can share “power with” each other instead of “power over.” Make a list of meeting agreements the group will use to share power. Ask people to monitor the agreements and be brave enough to intervene if people are not practicing them. Make a list of “power over” moves, so people learn the behaviors that reinforce dominant voices and power and exclude others. Have people take mental note of who is speaking the most and who is not. Make sure your discussions of power go beyond yourselves as colleagues to the people or communities you serve. How are they “at the table?” How are their priorities, assets, and skills driving the discussion?
- Remember that power is a social construct. We can design spaces where individuals and groups experience their own and others’ power differently. Be proactive about ways to amplify the power of people who are typically at the margins of the conversation. Challenge the group to pay at least as much attention to the expertise that comes from lived experience (say, of poverty) as from formal theories and data. Flip questions on their head by asking “why not do things differently?” instead of “how can we work within given boundaries?” Ensure that people who are affected by the issues you’re working on are at the center of the conversation and have meaningful roles in the work over time (inside meetings and beyond).
- Use your role intentionally and thoughtfully if you’re the meeting facilitator. Don’t dominate the discussion. Don’t come up with all the ideas. Stay as impartial as possible, even though you can never truly be completely neutral. If you want to contribute an idea or experience, tell the group you are switching from facilitator role to express your view as an individual and then step back into your facilitator role. Examine who gets to facilitate meetings and who doesn’t. Meeting facilitators can change the outcome of the meeting just by how they design and run it. Rotating facilitation and supporting people to learn how to facilitate and run meetings distributes power and makes meetings more dynamic.
The skills of meeting facilitation with a lens to share power are teachable and replicable. At IISC, we share some of those skills through training and consulting. We have learned that meetings that are both well facilitated and that attend to power dynamics can transform groups into highly functioning teams with deeper purpose and intention for social change.
April 16, 2018
At Passover, there is a song about being thankful for each thing we are blessed with. Dayenu means “it would have been enough.” It is a call to appreciate the small things and to recognize that they are enough. And yet, within the “enough” there is a simultaneous recognition that the first gift or step is not enough without the next one.
In a world where racism is rampant, and where the impacts are real – often deadly, even – is there an “enough” in terms of being collaborators for change? It feels like it is never enough when lives are at stake.
On the one hand, there is never enough until we have envisioned and called into being the liberated and equitable and pleasing community that allows us all to thrive. This reality requires a commitment that is bone deep. It is the kind of commitment that requires constant thinking and action to live into new ways. It is held knowing that upending racism and racist systems is something to die for.
On the other hand, each action, each change to the individual and to the system, needs to be celebrated. For that one moment, it is enough. As long as we know that a new moment emerges when more is needed, and the past action is certainly no longer enough.
What is the first step and what is the next one? For many white people striving to be collaborators, the work begins with learning and knowing and then shifting awareness, then teaching, then ultimately embodied anti-racism practice in relationship with other white people and people of color. Perhaps a move from external to internal; from pointing out the faults of others to seeing how, despite best intentions, we are each implicated in racist systems; from tight vigilance to looser living and correcting.
- Reading books and learning by black artists and intellectuals who have created parts of the world we want Dayenu
- Understanding the history of racism and how it got institutionalized in the US and globally Dayenu
- Bringing a new consciousness to my actions as I walk through the world Dayenu
- Naming racism in all-white spaces Dayenu
- Building authentic relationship across difference Dayenu
- Helping other white people along the journey through openness and kindness Dayenu
- Showing up as a vulnerable person who can acknowledge my mistakes and own my racism Dayenu
- Ongoing learning through books, workshops, conversation, community Dayenu
- Contributing to and investing in multi-racial community at work and at home Dayenu
- Putting my life on the line Dayenu
The work of a white ally or accomplice is never ending, to be sure. It requires a lot of effort. And yet, it should not be a slog. We are doing this for ourselves as much as for anyone else. We recognize that ending white privilege and white supremacy allows us to be full human beings as we disrupt the notion of superiority on which this country was founded.
In my work in trainings and coaching, I encourage both the ongoing effort and the need to celebrate.
Maybe this is one way to be gentle and joyful in our work for liberation – to celebrate each small step as if it were enough while also knowing that it is never enough until we are all free and that we need to want and to create more.
What does it mean to you to do equity work with both insistence and gentleness, step by step?
“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach… What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing.” – Clarissa Pinkola Estes
April 13, 2018
And you will be undone forever.
Pursuing racial equity and systems change is a forever equation. I am noticing that our clients and friends believe that if we just implement racial equity, diversity, and inclusion “the right way,” our organizations, movements, and networks will immediately become effective multiracial ecosystems that produce transformative results.
We will always be undone. People and systems – the very world we live in – are ever changing and reverting and that’s why I have to be honest that the work of racial equity will always be unfinished.
People are always coming in and out of our organizations, some with knowledge of our path to create racial justice and others completely unknowing and beginning the discovery of systemic racism. Even if we root out systems of injustice and racism in specific institutions or sectors, they will exist in other places and invariably slip back into our ecosystem. The world is encased in racial stratification. We can dismantle racism in one territory and it can spread elsewhere as people and their ideas travel.
Oppression cannot be fixed. It’s not a linear proposition. It swarms, grows, gets attacked at moments, dissipates, and then finds its way back into our systems as fearful ways of thinking and unproductive ways of doing. And because we are a species and planet dependent on each other, the chronic patterns of racism can reenter our minds and societies. We are imperfect people in deeply imperfect systems.
We are making progress but it’s not the kind where there’s a clear end in sight. We’re learning together. We’re trying new practices of shared power. We’re rooting out racist policies in our laws and organizations. Our systems are feeling the pressure because of our joint actions.
But we won’t do it “right” and we won’t get it “right.” We will be undone.
But don’t let this disappointment get in the way of persistent bold action.
We will have moments of clarity. Moments of seeing new possibilities. Months of progress in our leadership for equity and justice. Years of growth and learning. Examples of power shifting and sharing all around us. Detrimental laws defeated. It will feel like freedom, like less damage is around and inside of us.
Let’s see ourselves as equilibrium makers, re-introducing people to see the problem of racism once again, re-balancing power as the dynamics return, re-calibrating systems when they revert, revisiting change in ourselves and others with humility, and re-birthing our best nature and ideas toward liberation.
Each of us are needed to extricate the roots of racism. We can still be a constant catalyst for change all the while knowing that we will be undone.
February 20, 2018
I am becoming pretty good at compartmentalizing – focusing on the work that is right in front of me, even as more tragedy surrounds us and more outrage wells up within me. It’s certainly functional to be able to do that. But I don’t know that it’s always good. Part of me despairs. How many more people – and especially children – have to die needlessly? How is it that in other countries, people experience mental illness, firing from a job, expulsion from school, and all manner of personal tragedy without turning to mass killings? I want to be in the streets. I want to raise my voice with others in ways that will make a big and immediate difference. I want an end to politicians offering “thoughts and prayers.” I know there is power in prayer, and I also know that powerful prayer motivates powerful, compassionate action.
In a workshop the other day, we were exploring the ways that collaborative leadership practices support organizations and networks in pursuing broader diversity, deeper inclusion, and expanded equity and justice. Someone asked me if I really thought we would ever get closer to justice in this country, given the recent sharp turn we’re taking in the opposite direction. I offered two thoughts in response: (1) I think things are getting much better and much worse at the very same time. There is an expanding consciousness of the sacredness of human life and the interconnectedness of people and the planet; and many people who suffer under oppression are finding ways to resist and to build alternatives. That is all advancing and it’s good. And, the forces of racism, sexism, homophobia, zealotry, and more are also advancing, most recently with tacit and explicit support from the White House. (2) As a woman of faith, what keeps me going is anticipating that in 50 years, when people look back on this era, they will see it as the last moments of flailing by a dying beast. May it be so!
Our friends at Spirit in Action remind us that there are four interdependent ways to transform society: “reimagine culture, resist domination, reform institutions and recreate society.” Whichever of the “Rs” are in the center of your work, go forth with strength and power!
December 20, 2017
I’ve been observing the role of Mercury’s retrograde on my systems. Paying attention to my thoughts and feelings, the shifts and entrenchments. Lately I’ve been feeling a bit stuck. Or to use another metaphor, a bit ungrounded. It’s easy given the flow of information, the speed of communication, and the function of social media to feel pulled in many different directions. In addition, as a consultant, balancing the priorities of several clients at a time can often make it difficult to focus. When this happens I try to strengthen the consistency of my meditation practice and focus on my personal and professional goals to provide a guidepost for my actions.
I realized as I sat in meditation the past few mornings that my sense of purpose had been unattended to for a while. No wonder I felt scattered or ungrounded. Having a clear sense of purpose, an understanding of what I feel committed to and associated goals provides an important filter or straight line through all of the choices I face daily and helps to ground and retain focus. So I’ve been reflecting on purpose, leaning in to what is resonating for me in my conversations with colleagues and what is I am feeling called to in the movement. I’ve also been thinking about what threads together the work I am doing at IISC and my cultural work with Intelligent Mischief.
My commitment, or purpose, is to engage in transformation of myself and others towards liberation. This work aligns with what I do at IISC by supporting the self-empowerment of transformational leaders and by creating possibility for liberatory organizations that can really bring about the social transformation…that world, that speaks of, that “on a quiet day we can hear her breathing.” It also aligns with my work at Intelligent Mischief by cultivating a cultural shift that makes this transformation irresistible through the use of popular culture.
I reflected on what principles underscore this transformation for me…principles we can embody now at all levels to move us in the direction of liberation.
I see this transformation being underscored by a shift from isolation to interdependence, from exploitation to love, from extraction to regeneration & healing, from disconnection to community, from competition to collaboration, from exclusive ownership to the commons, from othering to belonging…and there are certainly many more.
These principles exist currently in practice but are overshadowed by the dominant culture especially at macro levels of society. Capitalism, our current dominant economic system, has been built on the principles that we are transitioning away from. The transformation of this system thus requires creating new systems based on the principles that we are transitioning towards. The question is, how do we expand these principles?
What can be our role at IISC in supporting leaders to develop practices that embody this transformation? In building structures that prefigure this transformation? And what is the transition in alignment with those principles that we ourselves must make as an organization?
December 18, 2017
I wrote last month of my own work to take more pauses, to pay attention to my body, and to ensure that how I work is more aligned with what I do and what I care about. I started with a story of how slowing down actually allowed me to see my agitation and what was not aligned. I began to understand that not being aligned was partly external– the ways our country is out of synch with justice– and partly internal– my mind was still moving at an unrealistic pace…although my body and breath were beginning to slow.
Let’s consider how this work of aligning, and often of slowing the pace of work, might play out in social change organizations and networks.
We live in a culture that dissuades us from attending to ourselves and to our alignment. I have learned this lesson as a woman in this society that has been taught to attend to others even at my own expense, from a family that is great at doing and acting and less so at being, and as a white person raised in a white supremacy culture that values efficiency, productivity, and movement regardless of impact.
What is at danger, as change agents, if we are not attending to our internal condition and are not aligned?
First, our relationships are at stake. We cannot truly be effective if we are operating in ways that are not healthy for ourselves or for our colleagues. When we make unrealistic promises, get too little sleep, or are short with someone because we are stressed, we are not aligning ourselves with our commitment to justice.
Second, our effectiveness is at stake. If we are working in community and not taking the adequate time to build relationship, we ignore a critical step; even if the event or work gets done, it is not truly as effective as it could be. It is not deep justice work.
Third, our ability to create impact is at stake. We teach people to create great meetings as one of the practices in our Facilitative Leadership for Social Change course. We also teach about the importance of attending to one’s interior condition. A great agenda facilitated by a person who does not hold themselves and others with love will likely fall short of its potential.
Lastly, our integrity is at stake. There is no time like the present to see that many people, especially men, in social change work have been of the belief that they could work in movements or in politics and “do good” while simultaneously abusing their power and assaulting colleagues. These are people deeply out of alignment.
As people involved in social justice work, we each owe it to ourselves, our organizations, and our movements to attend to our interior condition and work on aligning such that our values, our mindset and heartset, and our work are functioning in concert.
The simplest way I know to do this every day – and something I continue to grow in – is to take time. That can be time to talk to people and express our kindness, time to express appreciation and gratitude for what we have and what others do, and time for breathing. In a time of assaults on justice it feels counter intuitive to slow down and to breathe more. And yet, what we have been doing for years is not working. Let’s try something new.
October 12, 2017
A secret I don’t share with many people is that I have trouble reading books. When I went to law school, they made us read so many dense pages of legal reasoning I lost my love of story – until I discovered the podcast. In the comfortable confines of my car I stand witness to stories of personal accomplishment, quirks in our daily lives, and social commentary about our world. The other day one really caught my attention.
It was about Toys R Us, the biggest toy store in America. I love toys and I thought everyone else did, too. So I was surprised to learn that Toys R Us had filed for bankruptcy. Turns out, Toys R Us had invested in bricks and mortar without seriously expanding into the internet sales market. And at the same time, they kept those physical spaces disorganized, stale, and predictable. Amazon swooped in and sold toys at a record pace.
A toy and business analyst said if Toys R Us could have jumped in early and creatively into internet sales they would have avoided their decline. And if they had made their stores places of experience, fun, mystery, and discovery, they could have saved their business that way. He believed they should have created large and open areas where kids could ride around on bikes and play with other toys. He thought another miss was not thinking about how to combine physical toys with technological interactions.
As I was driving on the highway heading into traffic, I started thinking about lessons IISC or our network of clients and partners could learn from this story. Are we missing opportunities for integrating our knowledge and expertise with web-based learning and social media? Are we creating experiences in physical rooms and meetings that kick leaders and participants out of the norm and into experiences of fun, exploration, and surprise? Are we combining online and in-person strategies to more effectively and creatively share learning and ideas around collaboration, leadership, equity, and network building?
IISC is not a for-profit corporation like Toys R Us, and we have different values and approaches from them, but we can benefit from understanding that the way we do our work now and how we do our work may not be the standard for the decades to come.
IISC has started piloting some unique approaches in our workshops, in our consulting work, and through our experimentation with public engagement that use web-based learning, social media memes, and narrative. We are cooking up ways to fashion our training and consulting expertise in modular and less expensive ways so we can share it more broadly. I think that’s an early sign of us growing and stretching. We are pushing ourselves to domore experimenting and I know it’s going to help us stay relevant and live into the power of the future.
What experiments might you try out that will help you live into your future? What’s the risk of not doing so? Supporting leaders, organizations, systems, and networks to engage in social change is never out of date, but the way we as consultants and leaders approach that work might be. We may know at a gut level that something new and different is called for, but are we leaning into what’s necessary to make the leap?
Check out how Toys R Us plans to turn around: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-toysr-us-bankruptcy-brandon/toys-r-us-ceo-sees-future-with-smaller-shops-idUSKCN1BV2Y7
May 8, 2017
One of the many things I appreciate about adrienne maree brown’s new book, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, are the questions she asks over and over again: what are you learning from nature? how does nature inform your organizing and movement building efforts?Autumn Meghan Brown, interviewed in this book, talks about consensus. Building consensus is one of my favorite practices to teach in IISC’s Facilitative Leadership for Social Change workshop. People love consensus and people hate it; I’ve seen many people struggle with when and where consensus is the appropriate decision making method, and with how to facilitate an effective consensus decision making process.
IISC’s Framework: “Levels of Involvement in the Decision Making Process,” above. © 2013 Interaction Institute for Social Change. All rights reserved.
I believe two reasons for this are that we live in a society with an unhealthy relationship to time, and with a low level of skill for collaborative group process. Autumn says these wise things about consensus:
- The history of consensus is deeply rooted in feminist and Indigenous movement work
- Building consensus is the work of collective liberation
- People want consensus to be an antidote to power, but it is not! Consensus does not require equal status; it requires equal voice.
So back to brown’s question, where does consensus happen in nature? What might we learn from nature about consensus?
November 22, 2016
Dreading the conversation over the Thanksgiving table this week?
Not looking forward to reconnecting with a friend, colleague or relative who thinks very differently than you?
How about inviting them into a different kind of conversation—one that enables folks to hear one another across deep divides and to share differing perspectives without inflicting excessive injury.
Listening as an Ally
Try introducing the practices of deep listening to unlock a conversation where everyone can both speak their truth and hear other folks’ truths without convincing, berating, or arguing.
Try introducing the practices of deep listening to unlock a conversation where everyone can both speak their truth and hear other folks’ truths without convincing, berating, or arguing. It’s harder than you might think, especially when you think you are right. But remember, these loved ones probably think they are right, too. And, in entrenched conflicts, everyone generally tends to view themselves as the victim and others as holding all the power. Deep listening can be a powerful way to break through all of that.
In these times, deep listening seems more necessary than ever. So, take the risk to really listen to those around you without trying to convert them to your way of thinking. And ask them to take the risk to really listen to you too, without trying to convert you to their way of thinking. Some of what you hear may make your blood boil. Some may make you shake your head in wonder or despair. Some will make you want to ask more questions. This is good – seeking to understand does not imply you agree. Only that you are willing to explore. In the end, if you can use the guidelines shared below, you’ll create a safe space for conversation where you’ll end up still loving one another and you’ll be better informed and better able to engage in the tumult that is our political space this holiday season and beyond. Let us know what you learn!
Tips for Deep Listening
November 8, 2016
The Interaction Institute for Social Change invites you to join a National Call to Action for Unity and Dialogue after the U.S. elections. From the moment the election is settled, we call for a peaceful response from Americans, and from people all over the globe, to the results.
We call for a national conversation in living rooms, workplaces, boardrooms, schools, and government offices to foster healing from the divisions that have been deepened by this election, and to explore the common ties that bind us.
We call on Americans to explore with honesty and empathy the role that race, gender, and immigrant status played in this election to create a powerful wedge in our communities. We ask for commitments and plans to remove this wedge, which for too long has deeply threatened, burdened, and dismantled our democracy. It has fostered violence and death and a loss of opportunity and personal dignity. It has constructed glass ceilings and prevented our children from realizing their full human potential.
We call on Americans to talk to each other and not at each other. The use of social media in this election has perpetuated the false notion that we cannot talk to one another or understand one another across differences or party affiliation. This is not true. In the right places with the right facilitation, we can have meaningful and healing dialogue. Unity is not agreement; it is a decision to stand firmly as Americans to embrace ideas and opinions different from our own, and to disagree peaceably in order to foster understanding and better solutions.
We call all Americans into “Big Democracy” – the belief that the public is fully capable of working together to create sustainable, just, and equitable communities. We can provide peaceful ways for the public to come together and – as professor and social activist Carl S. Moore says – “struggle with traditions that bind them and the interests that separate them so they can build a future that is an improvement on the past.” We can create these conditions with shared leadership and shared responsibility, and with the power of love that resides deeply within each one of us.
With this National Call to Action, we call on all Americans to shift the conversation about what is possible. We call on all Americans to communicate, demonstrate, and create places of experimentation to show that it is possible for the public to come together to solve problems and create change.
July 24, 2014
The following article appeared in an email newsletter from the Vermont Farm to Plate Network (VTF2P) one of IISC’s clients in network and collaborative capacity building. The author is Beth Cullen, co-chair of the Farm to Plate Consumer Education & Marketing Working Group and owner of Root Consulting, who attended the New England Food Summit that Cynthia Parker and I helped to design and facilitate. It is great to see the power of that two day convening and conversation continuing to ripple out into the region. VTF2P plans on integrating the conversation about equity into their upcoming October convening . . .
New England Food Summit targets social justice to drive change in the food system
The 4th Annual New England Food Summit, organized by Food Solutions New England, convened over 110 delegates in June to discuss racial equity and food justice in the region. Summit organizers unveiled the New England Food Vision, a regional aspiration to locally produce at least of 50 percent of the fresh, fair, just, and accessible food consumed by New Englanders by 2060.
July 17, 2014
The following article appeared last month in the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG) newsletter. NESAWG is a 12-state network of over 500 participating organizations. Together, they unite farm and food system practitioners and allies to build a sustainable, just and economically vibrant region. From one network to another, the article profiles Food Solutions New England (FSNE), a network building effort now going into its third year of intentional development. It captures where FSNE was just prior to the New England Food Summit, which advanced connectivity and commitment to both regional action/identity and work for racial equity. NOTE: I have added links, bolded text, and pictures to the body of the article.