Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The power and threat of deep relationship

There is a stream of change work that puts a very high value on the power of relationship to affect change. This comes from an observation and a belief that impactful work arises out of meaningful conversations and relationships. If there aren't good conversations going on, how can we expect good decisions to be made or effective action to occur?

This emphasis on personal relationship leads to designing change processes that intentionally strengthen these relationships within the system. Circle practice is the primal example of a process that can strengthen relationships and deepen conversations. There are many other processes that achieve this as well, and they can be incredibly potent.

Yet the "power" cultures of business, government, etc have a certain resistance to processes like circle. "If I break out a talking piece at our next boardroom meeting I'll be crucified!"

There is a level of skillfulness that can be applied to work with this resistance. It is not necessary to use a talking piece at the boardroom table, but simply going around and each person saying what they hope to accomplish at the meeting might be perfectly workable, if a little unusual.

Altering the processes to fit the context we are working in while keeping true to the heart and power of the process is of course essential. And there is also a deeper dynamic going on that should be recognized. The fundamental belief that deep personal relationship is crucial for success is not necessarily shared. In fact, deepening personal relationships may actually be threatening in some contexts and cultures.

If you believe (as I do) that deep personal relationships and networks are essential (though not sufficient) for change work, then a primary goal will be to create the spaces and processes that nurture these relationships. Yet that very space that is so essential can actually be a stumbling block.

I expect the skillful way to work with this dichotomy involves an uncompromising commitment to the power of relationship, coupled with a complete openness and acceptance of where people are without trying to change or convince them of the rightness of another view. Maybe holding this dichotomy is part of the personal practice and journey of leadership for social innovation.