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Sep062011

Generative Engagement is about co-creating patterns of authenticity, reciprocity, and justice 

How can we work well across differences, towards productive and peaceful outcomes, regardless of differences that divide us in any given moment?

How do we find fit together to bring our best to each interaction?

How can people who bring diverse experiences, beliefs, and dispositions together to generate new and shared perspectives and interests?

How can people co-evolve across the differences that divide them to move into generative, sustainable relationships?

These questions brought Royce and me together several years ago. Royce has an extensive background in education and peace work; I’ve been immersed in organization development and diversity/inclusion work. We realized we were both frustrated by similar recurring complex issues:

  • Organizations that don’t make effective use of the talent their members bring.
  • Groups that exclude others (internally and externally) from influencing their perspectives or actions.
  • Individuals who cannot fully participate–who do not feel heard or included—at work, in their communities, within their families

We realized these, and other, complex issues emerge from the presence of differences at varying scales across the system. Some examples of patterns that show up in different settings:

We asked questions about these persistent patterns, exploring reasons for failure of the myriad approaches we had been trained to use. They simply did not appear to be up to the task of helping improve engagement across all levels without fail. Sometimes approaches worked in one locale, but not in another. Some effectively set organizational expectations, without really changing interpersonal interactions.

We sought new answers in our studies of Human Systems Dynamics (HSD), a discipline built on the exploration of patterns of human engagement. HSD offers a collection of models and methods that help make sense of the patterns that emerge from the chaos when people interact.  We worked together to learn how HSD could help us approach this complex issue differently.

A turning point was when we arrived at a new question: what patterns of behavior show up when people are dealing well with differences? Specifically, what patterns would lead to creating and enabling sustainable relationships? By considering a broad range of settings, we named three patterns as essential no matter the scale or circumstance:

  • Authenticity - being authentic, genuine, real and true to self
  • Reciprocity - exchanging time, energy, talent and other resources with others for mutual benefit
  • Justice - providing fair, reasonable, and equal access to resources and each other

If we can successfully set the conditions for these patterns to form, we can create generative engagements – patterns of behavior that promote co-evolution for the system at all scales.

The Eoyang CDE model, a cornerstone of the HSD field, asks three big questions to identify the conditions that shape patterns of human interaction:

To create key patterns of generative engagements, we fine-tuned these questions to consider:

  • Who are we? - What is our shared identity among our multiple, fluid individual identities?
  • What matters to us? - How do we share power to enable mutual influence in the system?
  • How do we connect? - How do we grant and generate voice by reaching out to others and by allowing them to influence us?

These questions inform us that shared identity, shared power, and shared voice are key elements for forming generative engagements moment by moment:

Identity: We can retain our individuality in our relationships, and we stand in shared space.  We identify together around ideas and principles, share geographical location, or share affinities.  To be in a productive relationship requires that we share direction and goals.  The more strongly we share a common identity, the stronger our relationship is. This is scalable to any level - Individual/group/organizational/system/global.

Power: We define power as “the ability to influence."  Who has power to influence and who doesn’t?  How is power assigned or earned?  Is power balanced across time or space? The issue in relationships is about how easily we influence each other.  Do I listen to you with a willingness to be informed?  Do you hold bias and prejudices that prevent you from taking me seriously?  Do my decisions consider your wants, needs, and/or opinions?  Do your decisions consider mine?  That’s what we are talking about when we say that power is balanced.  We each come to a relationship with as much willingness to be influenced as to influence. We share power to bring about change without giving up responsibility or accountability.

Voice: The critical factor in sharing information and other resources lies in how we grant and generate voice.  We engage each other as we speak and listen, act and observe, give and receive.  When we grant voice to others, we listen for meaning, observe without bias, and receive graciously.  When we generate voice, we speak so others can understand, act in ways they can perceive our meaning, and give in ways that are timely and considerate. Generative engagements require that participants are constantly vigilant to grant and generate voice simultaneously.

We can look at a vast array of culture formation, culture change, and diversity and inclusion issues with these three conditions.

Identity, power, and voice are interdependent and massively entangled - you cannot ever ignore the impact of one condition on the interaction of the other two. Consider the patterns that emerge between the questions asked in the Eoyang CDE Model:

  • Who are we, and what matters to us? This is about sharing reciprocity in relationship
  • Who are we and how do we connect? This is about sharing authenticity in relationship
  • What matters to us, and how do we connect? This is about sharing justice—each having voice to influence the relationship and access to use that voice.

This model is applicable to all types of relationships in all sorts of settings - organizational or governmental level, global level, classrooms, customer service lines, associations, and families. Grounded deeply in HSD, this new approach to diversity work creates more generative relationships, allowing greater adaptability and sustainability in any system where humans live, work and play together.

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References (5)

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