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On January 16 2002 I was sitting in the banquet room of a golf club in suburban Greater Vancouver watching 40 people struggle through an Open Space meeting that none of them seemed to want to have. The participants, most of them senior managers, were from a regional health authority and they were in the middle of a period of brutal funding cuts and leadership change at the top of the organization. The anxiety arising from the uncertainty was palpable. The grief in the room was raw and present.

I had been invited to host an Open Space gathering that was intended to introduce these senior managers to Open Space as part of a larger organizational learning program, and provide them with time and space to deal with their personal reactions to the issues of change. My notes from the day recollect an atmosphere of loss and despair and several people were worried that their sense of powerlessness in the face of the budget and service reductions would lead to a choice to leave their work.

As the day progressed and the reality of the grief became more apparent, I sat trying to consider how I would end the day. I felt like I could offer very little to this group, except to invite them to inquire as to how they organized themselves during the day in Open Space and see if they noticed something different. In searching for ideas and inspiration I found, on my hard drive, a copy of The Inviting Organization Emerges. Since I had been establishing a connection with Michael over the previous four months, I had downloaded the book but hadn't yet read it. In a desperate search to help me prepare some final remarks I opened the file and started reading.

The map immediately spoke to me, and the entire book immediately spoke to the situation I had found myself in. We were in an Open Space but there was no invitation in the organization anywhere, there was no support for the work that might get started on the day and action was such a distant possibility that very few people had expectations that anything could work. The day had been half conceived as a learning day, half designed to talk about powerful issues, but there wasn't enough juice in either of those invitations to ground anything effectively.

But in these quadrants, and in this mysterious play of interiors and exteriors, and individuals and collectives, there was something we could use. I carefully took four pieces of paper, labeled them Purpose, Story, Structure and Action and placed them around the inside of the circle of chairs, ready for the closing.

As people reconvened I told the story of the inviting organization, as I had read it just then. It was the first time all day there had been any kind of excitement present in the room. Eyes lit up, people sat forward a little in their chairs. Here were four magic words lying on the floor, and here I was talking about each quadrant and what would happen if we were to move towards spirited work in each quadrant.

There was a hum in the room, even at the end of a long and dispirited day. A few comments and questions were offered about the model, and finally one person said “This is what I need. I need my hospital to be an inviting workplace. I don't care about the cuts anymore, I just want people to feel invited to come to work.”

I was awestruck at the deep response to such a simple model. Part of it was the integrity of the quadrants themselves, focusing on all aspects of organizational life. Part of it too was that this map, like all good maps, helps us get oriented on the landscape and gives us clues about where we might go. And like big maps, the map of the inviting organization also inspires us to travel to the horizons, into the realm of spirited work and deeper being in the world.

The story itself travels well, and I found myself using it to help people figure out where they were stuck. I started noticing that the story itself flows nicely from Purpose to Story to Structure to Action. Seen in this progression, it articulated the ways ideas originate as inspiration and move through planning and implementation to become action. This use of the map helped me once when I was facilitating a strategic planning session with an environmental group in Whistler, BC. The group had been founded by environmental activists and was becoming more and more mainstream, with many people now joining from established businesses for whom instituting a recycling program was a big step forwards.

The group was meeting to plan what they might do over the next year, but our conversations about action seemed not to be getting to the core of some of the underlying issues. In order to find out where we were stuck, I walked the group through the quadrants model. The purpose was pretty clear, and no one seemed stuck on the vision. But when I asked the structure question – how to we get where we want to go? - a skirmish broke out.

“THAT is the fundamental problem,” said one group member. “Some of us want to use activist techniques, and the new people want us to be more 'respectable.' As far as I'm concerned that's a sell out.”

A new board member responded. “As far as I'm concerned this group's move to the middle in terms of tactics is responsible for me joining. I wouldn't be a board member of a radical group.”

From there the stage was set for the real conversation the group needed to have. Could we balance approaches to environmental issues in a way which invited inclusion and effectiveness?

While the quadrants themselves provide as useful tool for looking at organizational dynamics, the promise of evolution through these quadrants became an inspiring story for me as well. As I looked at how one might travel around the quadrants while moving out at the same time through the levels of matter, body, mind, soul and spirit, I realized that we could chart the evolution of almost any organization or community. And not only could we use the quadrants/levels story to trace history, but also to give us some perspective on where we might go. I took the theory of this story and, over a year or so, re wrote it into the story of the donut shop that changed the world. And briefly the story goes like this:

[coming soon...]


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Last edited May 1, 2006 4:26 pm CentralTimeUSA by ChrisCorrigan
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© 1998-2017 Michael Herman and www.michaelherman.com, unless signed by another author or organization. Please do not reprint or distribute for commercial purposes without permission and full attribution, including web address and this copyright notice. Permission has always been granted gladly to those who contact me and say something about themselves, their work, and their use of these materials. Thank you and good luck! - Michael