Impact of The Relational Field of Hosting Teams – Ingredients for Success

Ah.  The relational field.  What is it and how does it impact hosting?  This is one of the explorations we are in for Growing Hosting Artistry.  There is a relational field that convenes in the room, any room, as hosting team and participants gather. Some would argue, the relational field begins to convene before the physical gathering and is one of the reasons we pay attention to container setting as a hosting practice.

At any gathering there is not just one relational field – there are constellations of relationship. Some of those constellations of relationship are in the room and some reach beyond the room but still might have influence on the room.

AoH Constellations of Relationships

AoH Constellations of Relationships

The hosting team has its own relational field and the quality of that field has an influence on the larger relational fields we host. We have seen and experienced it time and time again. We know a well connected, cohesive team can address the challenges that show up in a space far more effectively than a team that has challenges within its own field.  A team with challenges in its own field draws some of the energy from hosting the participants or client group to hosting the team, if we even can.

Cohesive, fluid hosting teams haven’t always been, and still isn’t always, my experience.  In my early days of hosting, most of my experiences were with teams with challenging interpersonal dynamics – a rich learning field in itself – and my more recent experiences are more likely to be generative cohesive hosting team fields, although not 100% of the time, of course. In these cohesive, generative fields, humour, support, intuitive empathic hosting connections are alive in the field.  Sometimes the communication between the hosting field happens so empathically very few words are needed to host the field, make decision, be responsive to what is alive in the field.  It is a thing of beauty and one that people feel as much as see.

Having contrasting experiences on hosting teams offers the opportunities to notice and reflect on what works well and what doesn’t.  In hosting myself and in inquiry with hosting mates, we are becoming more aware of how to, more often, invite the kinds of experiences that work well.  And a starting point is always in the first of the four fold practice – hosting self.

What are some of the things we are learning about relational fields and want to be in deeper inquiry about?  One for sure is paying attention to and intentionally cultivating the relational field.

Being curious about the term relational field, I came across Phil Pearlman’s writing on the Relational Field and Twitter and his description resonates for our work in the Art of Hosting. “Relational field comes from relational psychology which posits that humans are inherently social and that  no personality exists independent of relationships. The relational field has attributes such as clarity, contingency, complexity and structure and relational psychologists know a good bit about how the qualities of these features affect the development of relationships. The optimal relational field is one that has the potential to foster enduring authentic relationships.”

That last line bears repeating: The optimal relational field is one that has the potential to foster enduring authentic relationships. The invitation to all of us to show up fully, whether we are stewards, seasoned hosts, practitioners, stewards, apprentices, logistics coordinators or participants.  We are all equally human, equally beautiful, equally valuable and  each of us holds a part of the whole.

The space for this invitation is often held by the stewards on a hosting team and could be held by anyone.  It is not just a verbally issued invitation, it is one that is fully and authentically supported in all our actions and in our energetic field, in the space we create and hold for others to step into, in the responsiveness to all the voices that show up.  When, as seasoned hosts, we are able to step into our own humility and support the field from what might seem a less visible place, we open the space for others to step in more fully. When we don’t do this (and maybe none of us do it well all the time), when our actions or energetics are inconsistent with the words of invitation, or in Jerry Nagel’s writing on world view, when we do not “take whole“, people will be reluctant to step in. The invitation will not feel fully inviting or authentic.

To seed the field of invitation, or the relational field from which the invitation is offered, it is stronger when at least a couple of people on the team know each other well, have worked together well, where mutual full trust exists, with whom they know they can handle pretty much anything that comes along.  With a minimum of the two (and one or two more is even better), a team can hold the space for whatever wants or needs to show up in the team – and then in the gathering being co-hosted.

Co-hosts and apprentices are wanting to know and understand their role, what they can contribute and how welcome their contribution may or may not be.  We are all wanting to know where our learning edges are, what each of us wants to step into and how this can best be supported.  More seasoned practitioners have the opportunity to support people stepping up to their next level of learning, hosting or offering.  It is a thing of beauty when people publicly step into their learning edges, usually with some fear, some trepidation and loads of courage.

When we create the spaces for people to step in, when we are able to stay in our own humility and not have to offer comments every time someone else is leading an offering, the space for brilliance is created and each member of a team will have moments they truly shine.  We also become more responsive and alert to when what we have to offer from our experience is what is needed – a thought, an observation, a question, a teach, a framing for what’s in the room, making something visible, stepping into our own brilliance in service of what is needed now. Knowing when to step in and offer what is needed now is important – a part of the art.  Knowing when to step back is also part of the art. Doing it in a way that supports others, builds on what others have offered, in the spirit of expansion and illumination, is a gift to self, a gift to others and a gift to the field in which we work.

A question very much alive every time we step into a relational field, those we’ve been in before and those we are in for the first time is: what is the humility, generosity, open heartedness and also the brilliance that needs to be present and available in me, in each of us and collectively that supports the environment of co-learning in service of the field we are entering and committed to holding?

In our work with hosting teams in trainings, with clients, across many contexts and countries (including Canada, Brazil, United States and Australia) these are some of the awarenesses that are growing around what consistently supports strength, cohesion and capacity in hosting teams to take on the bigger questions and challenges that are calling us to grow our hosting artistry.

There’s A Reason Why It’s Called “The Art of…”

What is art without technique and is technique alone really art?  When people ask us about “the art” part of hosting, our response is often that you need to be in the practice to grow your artistry and maybe there is a way to be even more intentional about this.  This is part of what has evoked the offering of Growing Hosting Artistry  by the team of Jerry Nagel, Stephen Duns, Dave Ellis, Roshanda Cumming and me.  We are in the desire to be in a learning journey with others about how we do this – how we grow our skill, grow our artistry – to prepare for and rise to that which is  calling us into deeper and more challenging work.

art supplies

Awhile ago, I’d been in a beautiful reflection after a delicious conversation with my good friend and partner Jerry Nagel. We were discussing upcoming work in California, Brazil and Minnesota just after he’d been listening to an interview with Rosanne Cash. She spoke about working with her muse – the muse being the source of inspiration for creative work.  She said she works with her muse all the time.  All the time.  Not just sometimes.  All the time.  A discipline.  A practice.   In little whispers along the way and in more structured forms.

She also noted how performing in front of an audience is not a one-way street although she used to think that early on in her performing career.  Now she knows through experience there is an energetic exchange between the performer and the audience.  Tuning into the energetics.  Fuelling and being fuelled.

My conversation with Jerry started with a curiosity about how working with the muse relates to the work we were going to do in Brazil in Hosting From a Deeper Place with two Brazilian friends, and definitely applies to the purpose of this latest offering of Growing Hosting Artistry.  Perhaps it is about how we each individually work with and cultivate our muse, our source of inspiration.  How we move technique to art or if we are already in art, how we grow our artistry in our work and life? Because it is a practice.  It is a discipline.  It is not just present some of the time.  It is present most or all of the time.

We then moved into an exploration of what we do in Art of Hosting trainings, in our work with clients and what’s happening in the field in Minnesota where over a thousand people have been to an Art of Hosting training in the last couple of years with some stepping into a deeper journey but wondering really, what is the path to artistry and what does it take to get to the field beyond good technical skill?

People will often say they come to an Art of Hosting training for a technique – like World Cafe or Open Space Technology.  Or, as we often hear, “to expand their tool kit”.  And technique, particularly good technique, is fundamentally important to what we do and what we offer.  We need to know and practice the foundation or the fundamentals to get good.  An artist practices technique – whether with paint, music chords, performance basics, fitness basics.  I wonder if artists talk about expanding their took kit or if they talk about growing their craft?

Most of us don’t just sit down at a piano and have beautiful music come out unless we are some sort of musical prodigy.  Nor would we expect that.  We would expect, if we were inspired enough, to learn the foundations and know that after we learn the foundation then we have the opportunity to become more and more intricate with the music, the style, the mix of technique.

Some never move into artistry from being a technician and, for sure, not everyone must. However, there is a quality we can observe, hear or sense, that lets us know when we are listening to music from a good technician and when we are listening to music from an artist.  It comes from the heart, from the soul.

It seems to come when we can relax in the technique and live in the art – just as true in hosting work as any other kind of artistry.  Art  bolstered by working with the muse all the time.  Even, maybe especially, when we are not working with groups, we are working with the muse.  Developing a discipline of practice. The practice is the work.  The practic is holistic – involving fitness, health, spiritual and personal practice that allows us to know ourselves – the first fold in the four fold practice – hosting self, being present.  The more we know ourselves, really know ourselves, in addition to the solid foundation of knowing the technique, the more we dip into artistry.

The difference between being a technician and an artist is subtle and dramatic at the same time.  It is something we sense but can’t always name.  It is tuning into this energetic exchange between host and hosted.  Sensing what is there rather than looking for it.  In the looking for it we sometimes miss what’s really there.  In tuning in, we sense the subtleties in the room, in the energy that is present that requires hosting in quiet and/or more obvious ways.  We become like a well tuned instrument.  And it can take years of intentional practice for this to happen.

With practice, the discipline begins to call on the host.  Time to exercise.  Time to meditate.  Time to invite a conversation – to host and be hosted.  Time to be curious.

Hosting from a deeper place is what happens as we move beyond being good technicians into artistry.  There’s a reason why, when we name a training, workshop or intensive, we often call it the “art of…” The first or surface invitation is into technique and process.  The deeper invitation is into practice and discipline that tips us over into artistry, the understanding of the deeper patterns, the energetic architectures and sensing into the subtleties that show intervention points that are much harder to grow awareness or understanding of when we are in the technical learning of our craft.  It is why one art of hosting training does not a practitioner make.

Technical competence and expertise?  Yes we need it.  It builds a strong foundation.  Artistry?  Where and how does your soul call you into growing your hosting artistry and what are the subtleties you notice – in others, in yourself – as you tip over?  What muse inspires you to deeper places in your being and invites you to bring more of who you are to what you do?  What journey do you need to embark on to host for a deeper place?

(Originally published at Shape Shift on August 12, 2012)