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As a small organization, AMKRF staff worked in silos, focusing on distinct tasks with very little collaboration across the entire team.
During our pause for the cause year, we’ve made a deliberate effort to build a shared analysis of power, privilege, oppression, and liberation to ground our strategy and work moving forward. But before we could dive in, we realized we needed to build relationships with one another.
The Blueprint of We is a collaborative document that invites contributors to honestly share their experience of a team, their particular work styles, and the challenges of a group. As a team, we co-created strategies for navigating challenging moments and timelines for addressing conflict head on.
The impact of the process has been gorgeous. Our relationships are deeper, and as a result, there is greater generosity of spirit among us. Our work unfolds with greater ease, and we have a guide map for navigating hard conversations.
Here Ashley Cooper talked with Heather Laine Talley about the Blueprint of We–why it resonates with her and the impact she’s seen it have.
HLT: What led you to the Blueprint of We? Why does this tool resonate with you?
AC: I was introduced to Maureen McCarthy and Zelle Nelson, the founders of the Blueprint of We, through the Open Space Technology Listserve over 10 years ago (I don’t really know how long it’s been, I feel like I’ve known them for lifetimes!). I joined the listserve in 2002. This was my gateway into large group facilitation methods and introduction to organizational development practitioners. It was also where I found people from around the world operating at the intersections of practical action grounded in faith and driven by strategy that emerges from the wisdom of the group.
At the core of that learning community is a devotion to activating the collective intelligence that lives in groups of people and can serve some of the gnarly challenges of our times. When more than one person gathers, there is the potential to tap into wisdom, insight, innovation, and imagination that is beyond the contributions of individuals, but a potential that emerges because of the group that has formed.
The Blueprint of We resonated with me as a tool for activating collective wisdom. It provides a simple invitation and framework that can walk people into depth and intimacy, in service to collaboration.
HLT: What has been the most impactful group you’ve been a part of? What are some of the practices that ensures the wellbeing of the group? How have you navigated challenges as a group?
AC: I never imagined that an online email group could impact my life in the ways that the Open Space listserve did, connecting me to a network of people who, by sharing their own stories, asking provocative questions, and believing in one another, empowered me to find my own gifts and strengths in facilitation.
Then, there’s the classrooms of 3-5 year olds who changed my life, teaching me how to follow the threads of what is inspiring and motivating, what catches our attention, and to cultivate learning around those moments. They showed me that we are constantly navigating the personal challenges that arise internally and the interpersonal conflicts that can spark. With them, I experienced that taking the time to be present with one another, really listening and being heard by one another, can create space for healing and mending of relationships.
Another impactful group that comes to mind was a learning community I was a part of in the Pacific Northwest. Central to our wellbeing was the fact that we had a shared inquiry we were all deeply devoted to, and we were always able to return to that, How are we being called to evolve, in service to a more life-giving future? The individual relationships and friendships that developed between us were essential for providing support when challenges arose. A practice of “listening into the center” guided us and was core to our foundation. There was wisdom and information that none of us “knew” but that would arise from us being together and listening intentionally. This deepened our ability to be present with uncertainty because we knew that if we slowed down and listened together, more information would reveal itself. We also used practices to address conflict, such as going in rounds with each person saying, “It’s important for me to say…” and responding to that prompt as many times as was necessary, without dialogue, until all felt complete. We then began a round of “I appreciate…” until all was said and each person felt complete. From there if dialogue was needed, we would have it, but usually things worked themselves out in the first two rounds. And third person support was frequently valuable when two people were navigating interpersonal challenges.
HLT: One of the most powerful elements of completing the Blueprint was naming the interaction style and warning signs that indicate I’m stressed or overworked. My experience is that workplace dynamics aren’t always easy to discern, but knowing my colleagues more deeply has made our work more seamless. Why do so many workplaces insist that we leave ourselves at the office door? What do we lose by not going deep with the people we work with?
AC: I wish I knew the answers to those questions! I perceive that in so many professional realms there is the myth of neutrality or objectivity. The idea that we can set aside our subjective experience, the ways that life has and is influencing us, and show up “to get the job done.” This is a lie as far as I am concerned. We are always wrapped in the cloak of our socialization, the emotions that are coursing through us in a moment, the habits and patterns from our history, the file cabinet of interactions that we’ve stored up over our lifetime and project onto experiences and people.
I am fortunate that in my early years, through the Pacific Northwest learning network, I met Juanita Brown and the World Cafe community who introduced me to the concept of “co-evolving through friendship” and transformed my perception about “working with friends,” allowing my co-workers to be friends and family. I do believe that it is through our relationships and through our liking and caring about one another that we are actually more effective at taking action and staying committed, particularly when it’s hard. We do better work when we feel a sense of belonging and connection. We become invested, not just in the task at hand, but in the success of the people we are in the work with.
I think we lose access to creativity and innovation when we can’t go deep with the people we work with. We also lose sight of the imperative to care for one another, making sure that we are personally and collectively healthy as well as effective in getting the job done. If we aren’t attuned to one another at the deeper levels, we are more inclined to sit back as another suffers and allow them to make choices that are harmful in the long run, for them and for the system as a whole. Even worse, we don’t even notice.
HLT: This process has helped us assess what is realistic for our organization to accomplish, without compromising the integrity of our work. We are transforming our patterns of urgency and overwork into a culture that actually feels sustainable. What has the Blueprint of We made possible in the groups you’ve guided through the process? What culture shifts or personal transformations have you seen emerge in response to this process?
AC: My favorite experience was actually the first time I guided a business owner through using the Blueprint. She had just hired 2-3 new employees for her landscaping company, an expansion from working predominantly by herself. Business was going well, and she was ready to expand. She hired me as a coach, and I suggested she do a Blueprint with her new employees. After they completed the Blueprint, they all realized she had made a mistake and that the folks she had hired were actually not aligned with her personal and professional goals. While letting them go so quickly was not ideal, it was a profound learning for her and me about how many challenges can be avoided when we take the time to align on the front end.
Currently, I’m a part of a team where our Blueprint quickly revealed some possible areas of tension and stress. Some partners are invested in thoughtful process, and others get anxious by process and want to work efficiently towards tasks. We’ve been able to speak to those and be mindful as they show up (since the Blueprint indicated they probably would show up). I think this has allowed for more understanding and patience with one another.
The culture shift I always see is people opening to and even feeling encouraged about bringing more of their whole self into the collaboration. Often the process sparks a willingness to be curious about one another rather than jumping to assumptions or judgements. That said, I’ve also worked with and been a part of groups who’ve done the Blueprint and had amazing conversations on the front end, but have not been able to sustain the dialogue when conflict or challenges emerge.
Human dynamics are complex and intricate.No matter how powerful the tools might be, as soon as people give up on one another, stop being invested in working through the challenges to get to the healing, or isolate and turn away from the collective experience, the collaboration seems to go down hill and often relationships deteriorate. It’s the ongoing intention and attention to maintaining healthy relationships that has the most impact.
HLT: The Blueprint of We includes an exercise where the group creates a list of Questions for Peace and Possibility. These help a team navigate conflict and build even deeper relationships. As a team, we’re using questions like “What do you need right now to bring clarity and groundedness to our work?” and “Is there anything you’re not saying that is important for me to know?”
What are your favorite questions for peace and possibility?
AC: Here are a few that I’m using right now:
- What is not being said that needs to be said?
- What would help you feel supported right now?
- What do you see as the most important thing for us to focus on right now or stay focused on?
- What conversations/resolutions need to happen to move forward?
- Do you need to take a break and come back to this in a bit?
- Do you feel heard?
The key thing is the willingness to have a conversation when the relationship has moved out of a state of grace and is no longer in a space of peace and possibility. Too often tension builds and folks don’t turn to one another to address the tension, or circumstances make it so that one person does not feel safe or comfortable acknowledging or addressing the conflict or tension. There are so many personal and systemic factors that can cause this to be the case. I’m still looking for ways to navigate when conversation is not the ideal path, but a sense of dis-ease and conflict is present and is impacting a group or community.
To learn more the Blueprint of We, visit the Center for Collaborative Awareness https://www.collaborativeawareness.com/ and to learn more about Ashley Cooper or to schedule your own Blueprint of We experience, visit http://easilyamazed.com/.