PWS Agenda Design, Part I: Thinking Buddies in Action (Spring 2017, week 5)

With nearly 30 interviews under our belt and a two-hour leadership conflict coaching session, Lysbeth and I launched into agenda planning on Friday night before our big community healing conversation on Saturday. Now neither of us are the type of to do the bulk of our planning the night before, but given less than three weeks time to do case development and that day being the first day we had been on campus and met anyone in person, we didn’t have a ton of other choices. We ended up planning until nearly 2 a.m.—my hotel room where we were working probably looked the oddest slumber party of all time with charts, slicky notes, sticky notes, and various print outs from case development stuck all over the room.

Our planning time together proved to be a really enjoyable collaboration. Coming off of Sam Kaner’s workshop and the use of thinking buddies, we very much made good thinking buddies for each other as we both took turns playing out different approaches and working through various activity ideas. I was amazed with how much Lysbeth let me take the lead in the agenda creation itself. The three main activities we did all came from me: initial question activity to both guide our time and evaluate our progress; an around-the-room historical timeline made up of sticky notes; and a pair story-sharing activity called “blank paper photograph.”

Of course, Lysbeth’s true art form is the incredible work she is able to do in open dialogue and circle time, so we integrated this throughout the agenda, especially in the middle and end when we knew that the groan zone would be happening and that to move into a convergent space we would need for everyone to hear each other. We also integrated activities because we wanted to “mix things up” for this group who culturally can overly rely on circle work and blatant consensus-building. Both of these approaches, while really valuable, can if over-used or used in a mixed cultural group be to the detriment of different learning styles, silencing of voices during prolonged conflict, and can be marginalizing to parents, board members, and administrative staff who are perhaps not as bought into the Waldorf way of processing information as the Waldorf-trained teachers (which I had heard from some individuals during case development. (Although, after the event, we actually heard from some of those most acculturated teachers that it was nice to have such an interactive agenda that brought people’s voices out in different ways).

Since I’m writing this after the facilitation, I can say that not only did this mixing up of different strategies work well for the participants, but the mixing up of our very different approaches worked well for us too. I might not have gotten to see her “do her thing” (consensus building through dialogue circles, such as befits her Quaker background), but I did get to see how “my thing” (small group, activity-based work) could be expanded and integrated into other practices. It was also just so much fun to have such a willing collaborator and thinking buddy, it makes me very much miss Carrie Bennett (Learning Through Differences, LLC) and it makes me want to find a business partner should I ever launch a private practice.

Quivira Coalition: A Case Study of Collaboration and Paradox

Acton_Quivira Coalition- A Case Study of Collaboration and Paradox in the SW

“You cannot save the land apart from the people or the people apart from the land. To save either, you must save both.” — Wendell Berry

For more than twenty years there has been a standoff between environmentalists and ranchers in the Southwest. At issue is the use of land for grazing cattle, which has long been framed as either cattle or no cattle, with no option in the middle. Amidst this, a small collaborative group called the Quivira Coalition has turned bitter enemies into partners. The small group who started the Quivira Coalition believed that there was truth in both the positions of ranchers and environmentalists — that cattle could be raised in semi-desert rangelands in a sustainable and ecological way.  It would likely be a new way of doing things, a developing art of progressive ranch management, but there was potential for it to succeed. Against all odds, the Quivira Coalition found a way to help their New Mexican community slowly embrace their contradictions. To understand how they continue to accomplish this feat, this paper first explores the concept of collaboration, then focuses on the case of the Quivira Coalition itself, and finally examines how the group fits into a larger discussion of collaborative organizations.

A paradox tells us that the multiple worldviews that drive us to conflict can all be true simultaneously, and that the multiple identities that make enemies of the other can be part of a larger, more inclusive identity. Both sides of the grazing debate viewed man as external to nature, as needing either to be removed from nature to ensure its preservation or to be above nature to generate wealth from the land.  The profound philosophical differences in these perspectives made it seem impossible to reconcile interests.  However, with a vision for a “New Ranch,” the Quivira Coalition successfully forges a third position in this polarized conflict, demonstrating that this paradox could in fact be restored and managed.  As an action-oriented collaborative, they are a reminder that we must “break down the artificial dichotomy between wilderness and working landscapes, recognize our place in nature, and take responsibility for it” (Sheridan, 2007, p. 134).  Through education, innovation, and a lot of patience, they have shown a community how to embrace their contradictions through a new collaborative mindset, and be stronger and more resilient for it.

Quivira Map

Part of this case study involved creating my own definition for collaboration:

Collaboration is a mindset that embraces learning, values systems thinking, and encourages problem solving by engaging diverse stakeholders in network building and information sharing to foster a sense of shared ownership in the future of a community.

Several key principles are worth highlighting with this definition. First, I present collaboration as not simply a process or even approach but rather a mindset, in order to convey the depth of perspective change required to undertake successful collaborative projects and be a collaborative leader.  This mindset does not start with assumed answers, but instead appreciates that the complexity of situations requires constant learning, constant assessment of the way things fit together, and a constant focus on the potential for future solutions.  Second, the processes of networking and sharing are examples of ongoing relationship building with an honesty that allows stakeholders to focus on underlying issues and values, rather than solely on positions. Finally, collaboration has the potential to do more than implement results or produce a product. If taken far enough, it can fundamentally change a stakeholder’s perception of identity and foster appreciation of both their inclusion in a community and their shared ownership in the future of that community.