principles of emergent processes in facilitation

just spent several days facilitating the BOLD gathering with a team of brilliant people. i used emergent process to move us through the time together, and got great feedback. i have been identifying tools and principles for practicing emergent strategy in groups for some time. i am writing this to share the thinking, learning i am doing in my facilitation practice.

to reiterate from earlier posts, emergent strategy is strategy (a plan towards a goal) based in the science of emergence – the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. last year in a workshop at the allied media conference, we generated ideas with a working definition of emergent strategy as: intentional, fractal (the same at the largest scale as it is at the smallest scale, toxic, healthy, joyful, stressed, etc), strong because it is decentralized, adaptive, interdependent, and creating more possibilities.

rather than laying out big strategic plans for work, the invitation of emergent strategy is to come together in community, build authentic relationships, and see what emerges from the conversations, connections, visions and needs. it feels like more and more of my communities are growing comfortable experimenting with, testing, and learning emergent strategies.

i don’t see this as creating something from scratch, but rather innovating from need – lots of people have been doing this for a long time, calling it a variety of things. and of course nature has always been on it.

here are some of the principles i have identified in as clear a way as i can articulate them:

– lao tzu says ‘if you don’t trust the people, they become untrustworthy.’ the first principle is a positive flip of this statement – if you trust the people, they become trustworthy. trust is a seed that grows with attention and space. the facilitator can be a gardener, or the sun, the water.

– there is a conversation in the room that wants and needs to be had. don’t force it, don’t deny it. let it come forth.

– the connection between the individuals is what makes the whole group/community strong.

– passion is a more valuable force for action and accountability than obligation.

– develop a strategic direction based on the horizon you can see. move in it with awareness. develop strategic bodies and minds to adapt intelligently as the horizon changes.

i am also playing with fleshing these principles out into practice. for example:

in agenda development, look for places where you can open people to each other, and get their whole selves in the room. i am learning an immense amount about this opening, getting present, and connecting in my somatics studies. it changes what is possible when people take the time to acknowledge they are whole selves in the room. and changes what is possible when there is space for deepening one-on-one relationships as a way to build the strength of the whole room, early and often. even a one minute pairing exercise can increase the possibility of the room.

another tool i am working with, which i picked up from the very brilliant allen gunn at aspiration tech, is generating topics for necessary conversation individually, and then finding the priorities amongst those conversations together. this allows the work people are truly most passionate about to be articulated in their own words. it moves the group beyond obligatory conversations to what they really want to talk about and ultimately do.

good ideas become great movement growth strategies with the touch of passionate hands and work. ideas that emerge from obligation tend to go stagnate waiting for water.

so…work in progress. what do you think? what would you add?

Author: Adrienne

VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): Your uprising against the forces of darkness has got to do more than say "no." A fierce, primal yes should be at the heart of your crusade. (rob brezny, long ago)

7 thoughts on “principles of emergent processes in facilitation”

  1. Great piece. Here are some additional thoughts about your piece in terms of actions:

    1) Facilitate Presence, what people are excited about from the beginning to bias them towards possibility.
    2) Track and calibrate the non-verbal of the room aka somatics and neuro-linguistic variables (shape, breathing, tonality, rhythm of group)
    3) Utilize metaphors and stories of emergence (iceberg, u-theory stories of suspending thinking and going with what feels is opening),
    4) Explore what other models have to bring to this practice (U-theory, emergence via Stephen Gilligan and his generative coaching model, Adaptive Action model and it’s view on emergence).


  2. hi adrienne ~
    love your framing of emergence and would love to dig into what we are learning sometime. and thanks for the call out from shira!
    i wrote this piece after attending a presentation by a very western white male researcher who studied emergent businesses and named the patterns he found. i wrote it in the context of the hierarchical hiv/aids and disability service orgs that i often work with, not so much for the movement building context. while the book is about building a kinder friendly capitalism, the research and framing is interesting.
    peace, kelly

  3. I adored this piece, which I found when Maha Bali mentioned your work in the references of her own writing. Most impactful to me was the tenet of people bringing, or being encouraged to bring their whole selves to the room, to each other through person-to-person interactions, to the work. But how, specifically? Up to half my kingdom for some more of the facilitation and design moves, and structures to make that possible. Thank you!

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