A conversation with Anna Jackson, Principal of Alpinista Consulting.
“Fallow is such an eco-cyclical idea but I feel that it’s very underrated. So I’ve been thinking about the value. We think about moving through creative destruction into periods of renewal, there is a space and time that is fallow. Things are sort of resting and they’re quiet. And there are different ideas and different sorts of notions or learnings that are sort of dormant in us. And then they come out at these times and you’re like, well, that’s been waiting to just emerge as this delightful piece of tacit knowledge, and then it becomes more explicit knowledge. But I love the idea that there are these things simmering. They’re all part of the compost. They’re all part of the soil.”-Anna Jackson
In this episode of Control the Room, I had the pleasure of speaking with Anna Jackson about her experience helping groups work together on what matters most to them, often facilitating collaborative learning experiences, and as a partner for people who want to learn Liberating Structures. We explore why it’s ok to be fallow at times and methods for understanding the needs of clients. We then discuss the differences in group work and individual work. Listen in to learn about the mechanisms of systems thinking, transitional facilitation, and learning partnerships.
[5:35] Finding A Just Right Learning Fit
[10:30] Leaving Space To Be Fallow
[23:40] Client Needs And Expectations Enquiry[28:10] Establishing Facilitation Partnerships
[33:50] How To Approach Systems Thinking
Links | Resources
About the Guest
Anna Jackson is a consultant that specializes in collaborative learning, strategy development and implementation, capacity building, program design and evaluation, and adventurous leadership development. Liberating Structures (LS) are participatory methods that are central to Alpinista’s offerings. Anna first adopted the LS repertoire in 2011 and now works with others as they integrate LS into their everyday and strategic practices, using the repertoire to help individuals and groups imagine new possibilities for their work and move toward the future together. She incorporates a social justice framework in her practice, and has worked in mental health, youth engagement, leadership development, experiential education, healthcare services and systems change, and international domestic violence and human trafficking prevention and intervention.
About Voltage Control
Voltage Control is a change agency that helps enterprises sustain innovation and teams work better together with custom-designed meetings and workshops, both in-person and virtual. Our master facilitators offer trusted guidance and custom coaching to companies who want to transform ineffective meetings, reignite stalled projects, and cut through assumptions. Based in Austin, Voltage Control designs and leads public and private workshops that range from small meetings to large conference-style gatherings.
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Douglas: Welcome to the Control the Room Podcast, a series devoted to the exploration of meeting culture and uncovering cures for the common meeting. Some meetings have tight control, and others are loose. To control the room means achieving outcomes while striking a balance between imposing and removing structure, asserting and distributing power. leaning in and leaning out, all in the service of having a truly magical meeting.
Thanks for listening. If you’d like to join us live for a session sometime, you can join our weekly Control the Room facilitation lab. It’s a free event to meet fellow facilitators and explore new techniques so you can apply the things you learn in the podcast in real time with other facilitators. Sign up today at voltagecontrol.com/facilitation-lab. If you’d like to learn more about my new book, Magical Meetings, you can download the Magical Meetings quick start guide, a free PDF reference with some of the most important pieces of advice from the book.
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Today, I’m with Anna Jackson at Alpinista Consulting, where she helps groups work together on what matters most to them, often facilitating collaborative learning experiences as a partner for people who want to learn liberating structures. Welcome to the show, Anna.
Anna: Thanks. I’m really happy to be here. It’s Friday afternoon. I’m taking a vacation next week.
Douglas: What? Where are you going?
Anna: In a really good pre-vacation state? I’m going to Marfa, so we’re going to be in west Texas. Great place when you’re feeling contemplative, or if you need to feel contemplative. Big sky, good horizons. And with the rain, there are different bodies of water than are usually there. So I’m very excited.
Douglas: Wow. How emergent. A little liberating structure joke for those that don’t know.
Anna: So emergent.
Douglas: So how did you get your start? How did you get into this work of facilitation and teaching liberating structures?
Anna: Yeah. I think the best way to trace the line over and thread things over to liberating structures is to start way back with my very first job, which was working at a summer camp in the Sierra Nevada. And I led backpacking trips. I was doing essentially like you do fully immersive week-long experiences with groups of people of different ages. So I really learned a lot about working with groups, being outside and you’re just living with people for a week that you don’t know.
And you’re doing that out in the wilderness. So it brings out a lot in people and in you. And yeah, that was my very first job. So I think I learned a lot about facilitation doing that. And then sort of over the years, I went through different pieces of work related to groups. So I worked in a high school and I did a lot of group facilitation working with youth and really following youth leadership and trying to support that.
And then I went to grad school. I went to get my master’s in social work. And in that program, I did some of the pieces that were more clinical and my favorite was always groups, always working clinically, therapeutically around group process. And then also I did sort of the macro lens around organizations. And I realized that no matter what context, I just like to be with groups of people. I don’t do that much that’s one-on-one.
So after my grad program, I went into doing work across Texas around mental health and all of that work was really related to kind of trying to change the mental health system. So it followed people and their experience and could really draw on that wisdom. And that was all consultative work. Doing mental health work in organizations across Texas is really, really complex work. And that’s when I found liberating structures.
One of my colleagues was very good friends and had done a lot of work with Keith McCandless. And that was in 2011, maybe 2010. So after I was first introduced to Keith into liberating structures, we started to bring liberating structures into everything we did, because it was just so helpful to have so many different tools to work with the complexity of the change we were trying to bring about.
And then 2014, I started my own practice. And I still do a lot in mental health, but I get to work with folks in all different kinds of settings. I still work a lot in health and I do a lot of community-based work, but I think one of the sweet things about getting to work with people on liberating structures is you can really partner with just about anybody on the work that matters to them and really help them learn and find themselves in that repertoire and in those principles and how they want to apply them. So yeah, that’s been the last, I don’t know, 15. It’s been 10 years of working with liberating structures and maybe like 15, 20 years of working with groups.
Douglas: It’s really interesting just how liberating structures has risen in popularity. And so that in itself has brought about these opportunities to kind of almost be industry agnostic or kind of fluidly move from industry to industry, which I found kind of fun.
Anna: It’s so fun. I think for those of us that work with liberating structures, I think any of us who are facilitating or in any of our work just as humans, I think, always looking for our… The occupational therapist I know refer to it as the just right learning fit. So it’s like the just right challenge that creates enough stress that it’s a like intrigue. And I think one thing about liberating structures is you can develop a sense of that repertoire and continue growing your edge with that repertoire.
But you put yourself in a new context with new people and it gets very exciting and you immediately have that sort of level of learning that comes with a change in context, which can be quite exciting. So I think the best learning partnerships are those in which we’re both really learning a lot and you know that you are offering a particular thing. So I might be offering how is it that you might bring liberating structures sort of meaningfully here.
And then the people that are doing that learning are in also sort of sharing with me their worlds and their contexts. And I have to learn what that is in order to meaningfully work with them. And that’s a very sweet thing about doing consulting work, I think, is that part of it.
Douglas: I was just chatting with someone about this reverse mentorship and often the mentee is exposing the mentor to a whole new perspective, a whole new lens on the world. And I think you kind of just touched on that a bit, right? If we’re attuning to the needs, we’re going to serve them better and they’re going to turn us onto a whole new way of thinking, which in turn help us them better because we can kind of not quite see the world to their eyes, but come as close to it as we can.
Anna: Yeah. So in the last maybe six months to a year, I’ve been doing all of these projects that are called learning histories, and they’re really retrospectives through the lens of learning. So what did we learn and how did we learn it? One of these groups that I work with is the Episcopal Health Foundation, which is a foundation they’re based in Houston, but they work across 57 counties in Texas.
And the group we work with inside of that foundation is the congregational engagement team. And so we’re working with all of the people in congregations who are trying to work within their communities around mental health and really thinking about promoting mental health. And I am not someone who has any experience whatsoever around congregations and the work that they do in communities.
And so I am on this huge learning curve of what it means to partner meaningfully and what it means to be in a congregation or to be a congregational leader. And then what does that mean to bring facilitative practice into that work? And what does it mean to be meaningfully listening in their community? And as I think about learning partnerships, that has been such an interesting and wonderful, like surprising learning partnership for me over the years.
Like, how did I ever imagine that I would be working with all of these fabulous Episcopalians across Texas to like try to remote mental health in a way that’s complexity informed? That’s a pretty good surprise. For me, when I do the retrospective with them and their learning, I can track my own learning alongside it, which is very special. It feels really lovely.
But yeah, flipping that idea of who is mentoring and who’s the learner and what is that exchange like I think feels increasingly part of the conversation, which I’m glad. I don’t mean to suggest that we wouldn’t… Like if there’s a power differential in a mentorship. There’s always power dynamics in play in any of our learning partnerships or the work that we do. And I think the more available we are to that mutuality, the more beneficial and engaged I think we can be across the work.
That idea of mutuality is something that is very central to mental health, peer work, peer leadership, and peer support. So the idea that we are mutually influencing one another and we are learning from one another is really central to that. I don’t know that I held that as such a principle before I was doing that work.
So that feels like something I’m able to carry with me out of that specific body of work that I’ve been doing over the last decade. And I get to carry that with me into other spaces, which is also a nice thing to track, right? Like, how did that group influence you and how is that changing what you’re bringing into the other spaces?
Douglas: The thing that just surfaced for me as you were talking was this idea that we might get exposed to something or learn something. We might know it, but it may not really surface in our work until some later period. And I think that’s a kind of a beautiful thing, right? Like, oh, there it is. It’s been waiting. Now we can make use of it.
Anna: Yeah. One of my really good friends who is an artist that I adore is Shawn Sides. Shawn Sides is with Rude Mechanicals and they are performers. They’re a theater-making group in Austin, Texas. And I remember Shawn went through this period of like a year when she was very clear that her word, the state that she was in was fallow. Okay? It was her word. She was like, how’s it going? It’s just fallow.
So we mentioned liberating structures earlier. It is such an eco-cyclical idea, fallow, but I feel that it’s very underrated. So I’ve been thinking about the value. So we think about moving sort of through creative destruction into periods of renewal, there is a space and time that is fallow. Things are sort of resting and they’re quiet. And there are different ideas and different sort of notions or learnings that are sort of dormant in us.
And then they come out at these times and you’re like, well, that’s been waiting to just emerge as this delightful piece of… Keith talks about it as tacit knowledge, and then it becomes more explicit knowledge. But I think it’s also so principles and ways of work. It’s lots of things. But I love the idea that there are these things simmering. They’re all part of the compost. They’re all part of the soil.
And then in the right moments, they’re met up with something else and it becomes more generative than you realized you even had the availability to be. And that is just so special. I think so much of that comes out of these relationships with people and the ways in which they influence us over time. It’s not predictable usually, I think, which is quite sweet. Yeah. I’ve been thinking about that notion of fallow a lot.
It’s like harvest time. It feels like fall. And I’ve just been thinking about… I’m actually very busy with work right now and it’s very like concretely generative. But emotionally I think I’m in a period of what feels very… I wouldn’t say fully burnt out, but it’s in a restful… I’ve been doing a lot of interviews and focus groups and I’ve just been taking in a lot of information and listening and it’s just kind of resting.
And I’m like, okay, I’m going to go to west Texas, I’m going to look at that horizon and I’m going to be restful. And then we’ll see if that information is ready to integrate and move when I get back. But yeah. Can I be comfortable with it if it’s not like… How long do we let things incubate and let them start?
Douglas: Yeah. It’s interesting because there are cycles that we might go through where things are sitting, we’re walking going around with it and we don’t know when it’s going to rear up again. But there are also I think times when we can take control and create space for reflection. And I see that to be missing on a lot of teams. I was just talking with someone about this recently and just creating space for people to be a little more thought about what’s happening? What just happened? What does that mean? Reflect, contemplate the future, because then that’s how we can make meaningful change versus just constantly in the hamster wheel of, hey, this is the way we do things.
Anna: That is so resonant for me right now. I will say this, I am having a lot of people invite me or ask to part partner around very contemplative sessions. So I think this period that we’re in, we don’t know what will happen. And I think it feels transitional somehow. Transitional into what, we’re not sure. But I think a lot of people are sort of wanting to take space and allow themselves to have more reflect.
There’s one group that specifically… They were kind of hilarious about it, but they were like, “Let’s bring some zest back to our work.” But then when we dug into it, what they really wanted was contemplative time together. And then there are other groups that may be more spiritually oriented. They really want to think about how to hold grief together and loss and how to move through this time with all the different kinds of grief that we’re holding. And that feels really helpful and relevant.
And then there are other groups that are looking for small ways to integrate a more contemplative moment or set of moments or habit into the way that they work together. And that’s when you can bring in things like just making it a habit to do some writing or some drawing or some sort of in your sessions together or at the end of a period of time, really doing some of the more reflective.
Not just retrospective in the way that’s very tangible producing, but like really reflecting for yourself what it has meant for you and what it’s meant for the work that you find meaningful in your life, the work that you do. And I think that that is something I have never had as much of in this work, even doing mental health work, which can be quite contemplative at times.
But I think this pandemic is maybe in some ways just asking a lot of us in a lot of different ways. And because I work in healthcare, so many people are becoming… Everyone’s compassion fatigue is there, like you and me and those of us that don’t do healthcare work. And for people that are providing care in a particular kind of way I think are beyond stretched. So I think they are recognizing that finding ways to care for themselves will continue to be important. But it has been hard to give themselves permission, I think, too, to do some of that work during this time, because there’s so much pressure.
Douglas: It’s interesting this notion of cycles, where you mentioned the eco cycle and how we might go through phases where this doesn’t feel right for me right now. That doesn’t feel like a good fit. But it doesn’t mean that I won’t ever say no to this kind of work. I think the other day you mentioned not particularly enjoying strategy planning, for instance.
Anna: There are some different ways that I find myself thinking about whether partnering with a particular group on something is a match for me. And some of it is about the language that we each use and figuring out like a colleague of mine will often say, “We don’t have to be on the same page, but can we get into the same library?” Our meaning making is different.
What you see in a word is very different than what I see, no matter what. And so can we just try to get to the same building in general? Or is it so far that I don’t know if I’m going to be able to communicate meaningfully with you? And then there are sort of the nature of the work that speaks to me at different times or feels more meaningful at different times. So yeah, if a group came to me and there’s certain periods where I go through that, I get asked to do a lot of strategic planning.
And at times I really like to do strategic planning. I really like to get very concrete and sort of develop the kinds of plans that groups are looking for. But there are also periods, especially over this last year when there was so much uncertainty in the work that folks are doing that if you say you want a strategic plan, like we really got to talk about, what does that mean to you?
And can it mean a variety of things depending on what the context and what the uncertainties that you face might mean for planning? And that has been something that I think my sense of doing a half day retreat where folks want to do what they’re calling strategic planning just is hard for me to feel like I can deliver well. And I really want to make sure that anytime I work with a group, it’s going to produce a really quality experience. And then whatever their objectives are, the outputs they want, that we can generate those together.
And I think that’s something that no matter who is inviting you in or what the work is, I think we just have to ask ourselves, am I the right fit for this? I’ve said I come out of social work. I work in healthcare a lot. If there are groups that come that are specifically looking for product development and planning and they want to use LS for that, you better bet your ass I’m going to find the right partner for that.
I’m not going to go in the deep end with a group that like… And I’m probably just going to find someone who can do it. I’m probably just not going to do that work. Not because I don’t think it could be really exciting and it could be really meaningful if we partnered. But a lot of times that person can just do it as one person and they can do it meaningfully and they’re going to be a great fit.
If a healthcare group wants me to run a session with their team around exploring their own desires for how things move forward, I’m probably a great fit. In social work, there’s a code of ethics and we talk a lot about scope of practice, and really a lot of that refers to if you’re not a clinical social worker, don’t be doing diagnosing work. And if you’re not in a clinical role, don’t be doing political work. So it’s just about role fit.
But the same principles for me are really they come into play and it’s both about that meaningful, like the quality, but it’s also about, am I qualified? And how do I know if I’m qualified? And really having to explore that. And then there’s the match. Am I going to be excited to do this? I better be excited. If I’m not excited to work with this group, I need to find someone who can just love it and do great with it and be so, so excited.
So I think that gets overlooked. I think when you have the pressure of having a business or feeling like you need to respond to that relationship in a way that they want, there are a lot of different kinds of pressures we face. And I think it’s okay to just stop and consider whether we’re well-matched through a few different lenses. It’s hard to do.
Douglas: A lot of it comes back to these assumptions that the client or prospect might have. Because if they come at asking for something, I often find that I got to do a little bit of inquiry to figure out what’s really behind these words that they’re curious about and do they really understand the range of possibilities? I think that’s something that we were talking about the other day. I’m curious, what’s your process for inquiring… When you put on your inquiry hat, what are some of the things you’re asking? What could other facilitators kind of borrow from that process that you use?
Anna: Yeah. I think there’s the backdrop and the context, which is like, what’s my portfolio like right now? So there’s all the contextual stuff that I know I’m holding. There’s also as part of that context my network and my relationships and who I know that does different kinds of things well and work in certain domains. And importantly, I think. too, this is maybe where we’re getting into like the actual questions about match, but there are different kinds of facilitation.
And liberating structures facilitative practice is highly participatory and it has principles that are really grounding the practice. And there are times when a group may be looking for something that is not matched to my specific skillset. So for example, they may be looking for conflict mediation and I don’t do conflict mediation. So I’m going to try to connect them to someone who does that could do a good job with that.
So I was trying to rule out the stuff that is not… So initial ruling out, there’s keywords that are being used. Then I might be able to pick up pretty early that it may not be a match. But the harder piece is the piece that you’re naming, which is there are often assumptions that are being made about the role of a facilitator or a consultant.
And we have to ask a variety of questions to understand what the expectations are that people are bringing into our conversations with them. And that for me is pretty individualized. So if I know you referred someone, if somebody reaches out to me or you email a connection and say, “Hey, Anna could be a really nice fit. See if y’all want to chat.” Then I would have a certain set of lenses that I would imagine and I’d probably ask you about it. So I’d try to get information.
But then the other thing I think is the difference between a more directive or highly structured way of working and then folks that are looking for more conversational or relational. And there are times that I’m pretty much in the middle ground around that. But if somebody wants something highly structured and more expert-oriented and that really is what they want and need, I’m not going to be a great fit for them.
I’m going to be looking for messy conversations, uncertainties, and sort of making the way through that. And I’m well-suited to that work. So I might look for someone that I work with who really likes doing work that sort of brings forward that structure and they’re good at it and they’re very happy to do it. So a lot of it is personal style, but some of it is the tools you use.
Liberating structures really are a core part of my toolbox. They’re complexity informed and I do facilitate in a certain way. And then there are other folks that are like, “I certified…” The more… And I’m not going to say traditional, but that’s like the very widely known and recognized sort of way of doing facilitative practice. And it’s going to include an agenda that looks a particular way and you can expect certain things from planning.
So I think what I have to do when I first talk to people, I’ll almost always get on a phone call with people. That’s just the easiest way for me to get a feel for it, is to try to understand what they are coming in with and what their need is. And then also what are some of the underlying needs that they might not feel as comfortable sharing over email, but are totally essential to understanding whether or not the group that they want to work with can make progress on what they care about.
And then what the scope of that work might need to look like to make that progress. So for example, you might discover on a phone call that there’s a lot of conflict in the team. That it’s not been very generative. It could be generative, but it’s not yet. Or there are two people on the team that haven’t spoken to each other in two years. I’m sure you’ve encountered something like that.
I’ve absolutely encountered situations like that or things that are very, very complex that you have to do some leading work to group work. So there’s a lot that you can uncover. The set of lenses around that are usually related to the level of structure or expertise or sort of… And I mean authority in an appreciative way. They want someone to give them directions that they can follow in a way that feels sure.
Douglas: What’s the roadmap?
Anna: Yeah. That feels good. It’s like, can you just tell us what to do? Like please just… And I can give people structure. But there are folks that are very willing to go through a very specific… To some extent, even design sprints offer that. It’s really nicely structured. It’s very grounded. It is a process. And so I think, yeah, if that’s what folks are looking for, great. I got the right people for you.
And if they’re looking to do something that’s sort of longer range or they’re looking to do learning design or they’re looking for something that is going to be a little bit more about the liminal state that things are in, those are all going to be well-matched to me at certain times. So yeah, it’s more about the lenses, not the questions. Sorry. I’m not offering very many concrete questions. It might sound different for different people.
Douglas: Yeah. Well, to me, the quintessential question is always, why? Because you got to get past the jargon. Because someone might say conflict mediation, but then you just find out, oh, these two people haven’t been talking to each other. But there’s lots of potential here. No one’s actually struck anybody. We just got some simple things to work through and talk through. It’s not going to require a board certified clinician to do this work. And so I think to me, there’s like always a discovery phase, no matter what it is. So often people will come in and say they need a design print. And it’s like, okay, what have you read? Why do you think you need this?
Anna: Yeah. I think that question of like, how did you find me? What have you been reading? If people are coming in with a lot of ideas, I always want to hear what they’re thinking about. And then if someone referred you, what did they tell you? Because it may not be the way that you understand your work, which is fine. We were talking about this. I think one of the things that is great about facilitation is that people may not realize it, but everyone has an orientation to group work and facilitation.
It may have come through school. That may be the main place that they got it. But there’s some point of reference. And so as you go into conversations with people, you can figure out like, what are their points of reference for group work and how process can look and how conversations can feel? And that’s all really important. But yeah, ultimately, the deeper why and like why now I think is a really important part of it too. What’s happening?
It’s the strategy, not working questions in some way. If I had to set up a set of questions, those are probably the implicit questions. So we can share them. But they’re what’s happening all around you right now that demand your adaptation or demands a change from this group or demands that you make progress. What are some of the complex challenges you face? Where are we starting?
Where are we in all of this? So those kinds of questions definitely help me get a feel for… Yeah. I guess I am using those. I’m not even thinking about it. Those are a lot… I wouldn’t language it that way exactly, but those are the kinds of questions that we’re…
Douglas: It’s second nature. So what are you noticing people are asking for right now? What’s pertinent for folks?
Anna: There are a lot of people asking for things that are making me wonder, what can I learn from doulas right now? There is a big set of transitions that people are going through and it feels like they’re asking me to partner with them as they’re going through that. And that makes me think about doulas or midwives.
These people that are partnering with others to shepherd them through them. And I’m like I don’t know that I could be the right partner. So for example, I think a lot of groups are starting to go back to the office or they’re planning it. And they’re like, oh my gosh, we have new team members that have never been around each other in person. So we want to connect personally, or we’re about to launch something new, or we are reflecting now on the way that we are changed.
So how are we going to be and how do we want to be in this new phase of time? I wouldn’t say it’s liminal, but it feels transitional. So in that way, it’s like everything that we’re doing is also highly speculative because we don’t really know what horizons we aren’t seeing. So that feels very present in almost every conversation with every group. There are some groups that are sort of not wanting to talk very much about the impacts of COVID or the pandemic or all of these big shifts. And that is okay, too.
I think different groups need different things at different times. So if you think about that eco cyclical nature, they’re just in a different place. But yeah, there are a lot of groups that I’m like, what can I be learning from farmers? What can I be learning from all those people that help support others through these big transitions? And I guess that’s always the work of facilitation.
That’s so much of what we do, but it sure feels like a big part of what we’re up to right now, doing that meaningfully and doing it in ways that are like very centered on the people in those groups. The other thing that is coming up sort of a new are design and practice lenses. So when we think about methods, one of the set of lenses that I think we both share is the DNA that is shared as part of liberating structures.
So that’s invitation, time, space, participation in groups. And I think people are thinking a lot about time and space right now. So how do we pace things? Do we slow them down? Do we crank them up so it feels like we’re making momentum? Do you know what I mean? How do we treat that? And space. Are we going to do hybrid? Are we going to be in person? Will it be online? And what does that mean for space together? And so those lenses.
I think people are really oriented too. And there are also more like once you have a design, the other lenses. So what’s the amount of variability? What’s the amount of emotionality? What’s the amount of relationally oriented methods? What are the number of like sensorially versus verbal or cerebral? So there’s been a lot, I think, but this is all related to the feeling of transition?
What do people need as we go through this time in terms of the timing, in terms of the relationships on this team? All of that feels very related to… I don’t know what we’re transitioning to, but it feels like everyone has a sense that we’ve been through a thing. And we may just go through another round of that thing and another round of it. But it sure feels like people are wanting to orient to each other now.
Douglas: That strikes a chord to me. This year’s theme for Control the Room is shifts. And we really liked that because we’ve had to make so many shifts in our practice over the last two years. Also I think it’s a core skill of facilitators because you have to shift the perspective often of your attendees or your participants. And you have to be willing to even shift your practice at a moment’s notice based on what’s emerging in the room.
Douglas: So I’m really curious to see where our presentations come in. Because you’re right, we don’t know what we’re transitioning to. So what’s on everyone’s minds around what shifts they’ve had to make, what’s coming, how do we prepare it for them even if we don’t know what it is that’s coming around the corner?
Anna: I love that. That’s such a great theme. That’ll be so fun to see what people bring into that. Because yeah, we’ve just become very practiced at shifting. I can’t tell you how many sessions we’ve dropped into. You start, you think you know what your design is, but you also have so many different things you can pivot to depending on how people show up. Just that checking in at the beginning of sessions, I will say, my practice around that has really, really shifted.
The need to tune really quickly and deeply at the front end of sessions so that we can figure out if the design that we worked on and all the variations within it still feels like what we’re here to do, or if there has been some proper, real crisis or trauma or loss that people need to orient around together. And then what’s the conversation now that we need to have? So yeah, that’s going to be a great set of conversations. I look forward to seeing what people bring into that. That’s great.
Douglas: Absolutely. One final question before I have you leave our listeners with a final thought, it is around this focus you have on group work. And I often see there are facilitators and definitely coaches that tend to work one on one with folks. And a lot of facilitation work is group based. Your comments around what can I learn from doulas made me almost think that some of that emerging work might even be one-on-one potentially.
But I’m curious, the thing I’ve noticed is as a facilitator, especially when we’re teaching, training or just doing difficult work with a client, often there needs to be a one-on-one component because we have to downshift and look at what happens integrating at the individual level so that the group work can continue on, especially if there’s a champion or something we need to support so that they come back and continue it. So I’m just wondering how individual work shows up in your group work. And yeah, I’m of curious since you gravitate toward the group work, how that even shows up at all and how you feel about it.
Anna: Yeah. I definitely work with folks one-on-one as part of group work. And it’s very rare that I work with someone… I might do some design consultation with someone one-on-one, but that’s always connected to a group they’re working with. So there’s a context that they are a part of. In social work education, you think about people inside of systems, right?
And the ways in which we have learned and developed and grown and relate and connect with others shows up in the way that we are in our day to day life. And so a lot times if I’m thinking about, even when I’m working with an individual, I’m always trying to think about the connectedness that they have to others and the work that they’re doing and the ways in which the systems and the sort of communities around them they are influencing and influenced by.
It’s not to say I don’t have one-on-one calls or conversations or relationships. I definitely do. I think for me, it’s very difficult to de-link people. I hesitate to say this, but I’ll say it. It’s a little bit panarchichal. So it’s like me inside of my family, me inside of my community, and then all the systems inside of me. It’s just systems thinking in a way. And so the unit that I enjoy working in most is groups.
I have the most fun facilitate with groups. But I work with a lot of different facilitators and practitioners as they are doing that practice. And that is very meaningful to get to think and sort of learn alongside them as they’re developing their practice with that and their aesthetic and their style and sort of begin to play with different choices and options they have as practitioners.
And a lot of my work has been around developing the development of workforces and the practice and practitioners of different kinds. And so I think I’m always thinking about the practitioner in context. And that’s humans. That’s other groups of people. So I do work with individuals, but I will say I definitely have the most fun when I get to be in a group context.
Douglas: The system’s thinking makes a lot of sense. Because even if you’re community-focused as your group work, often that means kind of shifting to the individuals that might go and do more community work. And so you’re the community work through that vector, if you will.
Anna: Totally. Yeah.
Douglas: That’s cool.
Anna: Yeah. The interconnections are everywhere and the relationships are everywhere. So we have to, again, sort of work with all different dimensions at different times. And I think some people… Like you’re good at doing these enormous group things. And I so deeply appreciate that about you. And if somebody comes to me and wants to do a thousand person event, I’m going to be like, “That is not my most pleasing space.
I do know someone who really loves to do that.” Do you know what I mean? So it is just about finding those spaces that bring you the most satisfaction and the most delight. And it’s not to say that thousand person group doesn’t matter. It matters a lot. But once it gets past like 200, I’m kind of like I know people who love that. I’m going to find… The person really, really, really matters and each person has to find their way in the group and as a practitioner, their own aesthetic and ways of working.
And they are part of larger sets of relationships that we have to attend to. And that’s part of also the work that I do in the liberating structures network is that it’s more like thinking about the network and all of those communities and sub communities as a whole, instead of necessarily only individual practitioners. If we neglected to look at the groups of people practicing together, then we wouldn’t have a very good sense of much.
Not that we do, because that network is so distributed. And at this point, it’s people all over the world practicing in lots and lots of different ways. But yeah, I think if I was just paying attention to each individual and not paying attention to the ways that people are learning from each other, I’d be missing on most of what’s happening out there.
Douglas: So good. Well, we do have to come to an end. So I want to just transition to our final thoughts. So I’m just going to give you an opportunity to close out with the final message for our listeners.
Anna: I’ll say this, if you are like many people in this moment feeling a sense of or noticing what is fallow, don’t underestimate its power. Having that period of that fertile void in a way, that time and space of just letting it rest before it… I loved how you said that earlier, it just pops up again. Or maybe you are ready to pop up again and be in the work in the ways that make you happiest. It’s okay to let it be fallow for a little bit or let different parts of your work be fallow for a little bit, because they do return and they do renew and new things emerge and they create quite lovely surprises. So it’s okay to let it be that way. It needs to.
Douglas: Awesome. Thank you so much for the conversation, Anna. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you today.
Anna: You too. Thank you.
Douglas: Thanks for joining me for another episode of Control the Room. Don’t forget to subscribe to receive updates when new episodes are released. And if you want more, head over to our blog, where I post weekly articles and resources about working better together. Voltagecontrol.com.