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Communities of Practice — Minimal Structure and Minimal Practice

Last week I was in Edmonton, Alberta. It is my hometown. It was the second time I have co-hosted an Art of Hosting training there in the last four months. I find it fascinating to observe hometown culture, now through my eyes of having lived and traveled in several places for many years.

One of the Open Space sessions I joined was on the third day, focussed on growing a community of practice in Northern Alberta. About 12 people gathered. What I saw was people interested in carrying forward the learning, working, and relationships that were being created at this training. There was real hunger. And even more, a sense of real possibility. Powerful, yet simple. I love it when this moment arrives.

Of course there are many choices of how to do that. I was happy to share some of what I have seen working and offer a few inspirations on minimal structure and practice. In the spirit of “minimal elegance” as I’ve often heard from Juanita Brown, Tom Hurley, and David Isaacs at The World Cafe.

As Minimal Structure…
  1. Meet Monthly for an Evening: A couple of hours together. First to explore what is possible in a deliberate community of practice, what people yearn for. And then later to move into sharing work together. An evening on which the focus is someone’s particular project. Listen and learn as friends and colleagues. Offer help. No doubt, gain a few insights that apply to other projects.
  2. Meet Quarterly for a Broader Community Share: A half day or six hours together. Enough to hear more from many people and to share some of the journey of current projects. Enough to be reflective with each other about knowns and unknowns. Enough to be in inquiry together about underlying patterns of hosting as it is showing up in projects and in the community.
  3. Meet Annually as a Full Learning Village: Come together for 3-4 days in the pattern of the Art of Hosting. To add to the energy that is there. To welcome new people in. To bring colleagues or clients. To drink deeply from the place of community in learning.
As Minimal Practice for Monthly Gatherings…
  1. Check-In: Practice the principle of slowing down to speed up. Of story-telling with each other. Of inviting the energy of possibility.
  2. Rotate Leadership: Though it typically takes a couple of people to steward initial monthly meetings, support immediately the group creation. Just take turns. Similarly for quarterly learning gatherings. With annual learning villages, bring in an Art of Hosting stewards team. And grow / practice together so that the local community gains more of the capacity to host the whole of such a gathering.
  3. Focus on Work: I’ve noticed that initially, people are very happy just to get together and renew aquaintances. This isn’t minor. I find many of us need support in working from a different pattern. At some point, however, most want to move into work together. Or just learn about applied practice together. To give a group the space to share a project (or design, or meeting format, or wild idea…) is simply the invitation to be wise. I’m delighted when people notice who they can experiment with working together.
  4. Meet in Circle: As the group grows it can be moved into additional formats. But practicing meeting in circle is just the best way I know to create a deep center. It’s the kind of center that doesn’t require coercive invitations. People come because it helps them go to the deeper place individually and together. And because it helps them in their needs.
  5. Check-Out: Seal the time together with deliberateness. Honor the difference between the social space and this deep listening space. A simple question works: What are you leaving with? Or, what has been the gift of the time together for you?
  6. Stay Simple: Have the courage to be simple. In the places you choose to meet. In the preparation. Rely on the fundamental resource of human beings turning to one another.

Thanks to Corinna, Chantal, Mary, and all that joined this conversation, both from Edmonton and from Calgary. It was a gift for me to feel a simplicity and clarity that feels like a massive container for good work and capacity-growing. These very qualities of a culture — simplicity, clarity, container, good work, community — they are, in fact, home, wherever that shows up geographically.

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