Unify Toronto Dialogues | 11.30.2015

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The Spiral Comes Full Circle: How Nation-to-Nation Relations with First Nations Can Lead to Economies that Work for All of Us

  • What would it be like for our human economy to be in harmony with the Earth’s economy?
  • What would our communities be like if we put energy into personalized and localized resources that benefit everyone around us?

In these times of accelerating crises – climate change, religious extremism, cyclic economic collapse – it has never been more important to think how to address their common underlying causes, many of which we have been the subjects of our dialogues over the past year.

In this final Unify Toronto Dialogue of 2015 we will recapitulate and deepen our year long enquiry into money and meaning inspired by the learnings from our Remaking a Living dialogue series. Enriched by those dialogues, we will come back to the questions that catalyzed the series and ask:

What have we learned from the practices of community stewardship, reciprocal caring economies, and transformation (e.g., Theory U) that we’ve explored that might guide our design of enlivening, human-scale economic systems?

In particular in this session we will ground ourselves again in the indigenous world views that laid the foundation for our series with our initial context-setting session on Idle No More.

Almost a year after that January dialogue, our new government has promised ‘nation-to-nation relations’ with First Nations in Canada, committed to adopt all the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and pledged to implement the  UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

We will explore how fulfilling these commitments in the fullest sense would also mean realizing the promise of regenerative, just and caring economies that we have been dreaming into being through this year’s dialogues.

Read the Leap manifesto and discussion at Unify Toronto.

About the Host 

Kevin Best will return to bookend the series, and hopes to bring with him other indigenous people deeply rooted in their culture. Kevin has focused on how to create a sustainable world through activism, innovative business and restoring Indigenous society for over four decades. He has worked with Indigenous people throughout Turtle Island, consulted to Greenpeace and pioneered green energy in Ontario. He is currently working on a start-up called Odenaansan (Village or “the little places where my heart is”), an integrated, culturally-based approach to restoring Minobimadzin (the good life) through sustainable food, energy, housing and water in Anishinabe communities. Ceremonially adopted into Bkejwanong (Walpole Island) in the late 1990’s, Kevin is a member of the Martin clan and is Neegunneechgun (the one who goes before the people). He is passionate about decolonization and re-indigenization and committed to spreading understanding of these life-giving possibilities.

Register at Eventbrite 

Improvising Breakthroughs in Difficult Conversations

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How can we engage in difficult conversations in a way that is productive, satisfying, and even FUN?

How can we open ourselves to learn something new about the other person’s perspective?

What is the difference between a response and a reaction?


Lauren Stein presented an interactive, experiential exploration of “difficult conversations” at November’s DwD, engaging about 30 people in playful ways to approach these conversations – expressed as speaking and listening to concerns about criticism, personal emotions, relationships, money, and fears. Using the tools and experiences of improvisational theatre, Lauren showed us how to slow down conversations to separate reactions from responses. The goal of experiential learning was to identify and use internal information, both intellectual and emotional, to construct respectful responses rather than triggered or knee-jerk reactions.

Lauren emphasized the  philosophy of “Yes/And” as a relational tool, a way to stay on the same side of the other person, even if we disagree about a particular issue.  The exercises – from opening circle to improvisational conversation theatre – all reinforced the importance of an open and curious attitude.

From the very start, the OCADU Auditorium was buzzing with discussions, from the introductions, to paired exchanges into questions, to exercises exhausting the imaginative space of asking questions.

Some participants were asked deep questions and discovered things they did not know about themselves. People learned and took home new games for conversational exploration, such as the Curiosity Game and the Questions Game (based on the idea of asking your partner about anything you’re curious about). One couple even reportedly resolved a personal dispute just by using the improv principle of “Yes, And.”


The final exercise involved volunteer demonstrations of improvised conversations between participants acting out scenes drawn from their own feeling states.

Here two DwD participants, Hobeen and Peter improvise an emotional exchange between a worn-out boxer and his coach, both struggling with the will to win and the meaning of the match. Lauren skillfully set up the pair to adopt postures and positions, wait for the impulse, and to create the context and conversation as it emerged.

Lauren reminds us that sometimes the highest we can achieve from a difficult conversation is to understand the other person’s point of view and remain respectful.


About the Host

Warrior Woman-sm

Lauren Stein is director of Laurentina’s Improv Club, where she performs and facilitates improvisational theatre experiences. She has taught and performed all over the world, including Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Ireland, and Switzerland. With a Master’s in Expressive Arts Therapy from European Graduate School, she helps people awaken their creativity and overcome life’s hurdles through play.

Collaborative Synergy – Mapping team communication with Sociomapping

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Stephen Sillett facilitated a contextual drama activity with 5 brave and generous DwD volunteers to explore the theme of “team communication and synergy”. The drama activity also provided a safe opportunity to develop characters who could input data into a software visualisation tool called Team Sociomapping. Stephen came across Sociomapping in 2010 and contacted Pauline Willis to learn more about it’s potential application. In 2011, he visited the offices of QED Group in Prague, whose founder Radvan Bahbouh developed Sociomapping – during that trip, Pauline Willis provided an opportunity for participants from a Scenofest workshop, to visit the QED Group offices and unpack their group interactions using an early form of Sociomapping software. Since then Stephen has been looking at ways to bring Sociomapping and other visualisation tools into his practice, and learning from organisational development practitioners that specialise in team dynamics.

Background: thoughts on session theme

  •  How do we observe and intervene in the way groups interact?
  • How can we help organizations and teams improve their performance while relying less on top-down, command and control approaches?

When we look at dialogue between members of a small-medium size team, we may think that discussions are more about task type, resources, skills and goals. However, there are softer, less tangible group dynamics at play which can have significant impact on performance. The way that members of such groups interact, and the team dynamics at play, particularly when groups are separated by time and space, can be difficult to probe, monitor and make sense of.

The session

The Sociomapping tool, has key utility in looking at changes in team/group dynamics over a time frame of months. For the purpose of the session we will use participatory drama simulations of groups, so that we can compress time, and explore how dynamics of groups can change through a couple of scenario interventions that our actors will represent. Stephen Sillett led our DwD group through what I many think of as a simulation workshop in which a team of performers played out a ‘set of scenarios’ involving a project a corporate publication team was assigned to complete. Stephen referred to the scenario as in terms of being a Contextual Drama session, and asked those attending the workshop to imagine that they are looking in on the action much like a fishbowl. This contrast to the normal way we think of theatre, where we are an audience watching a performance that has been designed with the audience in mind. In this “Contextual Drama”, the team in the scenario comprised of a millennial junior designer (Patricia), an efficiency-driven IT Lead (Tim), a new production team team leader (Kelly), a perfectionist Graphic Designer (Lauren), and their hyper-competitive Head of Sales and Marketing (Geoff).

Session Reflections from Farzad Sedghipour

The first part of the exercise was for the audience to identify one of the characters in the scene and follow them on their journey, looking at their relational perspective. In doing so they would see ‘what was happening’ from an outsider’s perspective, and reflect what we might have done were we involved in similar situations ourselves.


Photo by Farzad Sedghipour

What became noticeable for me observing the team simulation was how siloed and self-centered each team member was, and how in obsessing about their own interests and the project deliveries assigned, they missed the bigger picture and the relationships needed for the team to accomplish its collective goals. The story of ‘The Blind Men and the Elephant’ came to mind. This team was actually less than the sum of its parts – a team scenario I admittedly have been a player in more often than I would like to admit. This simulation reminded me that in times of such frustration with team (under) performance, it is important to seek to acknowledge my frustrations, take personal responsibility for having played a role in creating them, and to seek to understand the points of view of my other teammates’, instead of running to conclusions about their intentions and competencies.

Visualisation with Team Sociomapping

After the theatre scenarios were complete, every team member was asked to two questions: 1) to rank how ‘mutually positive’ their relationship had been with each colleague? and 2) how happy were they with the position they had at work?

These results were then visualized through the Sociomapping tool, which showed a sort of topographic ‘map like’ illustration of how each member connected with their fellow teammates, providing each member a view of how they themselves were perceived by the other members of their team.


For us the purpose of the Visualization tool was not diagnostic per say, but as a sense-making tool; it was proposed that instead of analyzing the results, the team members stand up and play out the their places with respect to each other on the floor, as the Socio-map illustrated on the computer screen.

We found this approach helpful in taking us away from ‘analytical judgement’ towards opening the space for understanding and co-creation. For example, the IT Lead could voice “I really hate that I’m so far from the New Project Manager and wish we could have a better relationship together.”

This interest-led approach opened up the space for authentic inquiry into the obstacles that had created distances between team members, and how the team could overcome these challenges in the future – connecting each team member’s point of view to see the whole elephant. This process would enable the team to design ‘interventions’ from within the group itself that might benefit the group’s behaviour and dynamic, and run them for 1-month intervals before re-assessing to evaluate if the intervention had been successful at helping the team develop, with the goal of becoming greater than the sum of their parts.

Suggested areas of further research included ways to ensure team members felt safe in answering the Socio-mapping questionnaire truthfully, and ways to explore power dynamics and how they might be addressed with the help of this tool.

About the Host and explorers/actors

ssillettStephen Sillett is co-executive director of Aiding Dramatic Change ~ in Development (ADCID), and helps the organization research, facilitate and direct dialogue, drama and art processes for healing and community development. He directs InFusion Labs where theatre artists, therapists, scientists and social practitioners explore spatial approaches to exploration and discovery.

The actors in the team were Patricia Kambitsch, Tim Lloyd, Geoff Foulds, Lauren Stein, Kelly Okamura. Pam Patel stepped into the scenario as a disruptor character, but was not mapped as part of the team dynamics.

If you see potential for such teams development in your areas of practice please email Stephen.

The Art & Practice of Regenerative Leadership

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Michael Jones and Michelle Holiday presented an exploration of regenerative leadership based on their living systems model on Sept 9. Engaging nearly 40 participants in a close circle, Michelle started off with a cycle of connections and engagement. The context was set to explore questions of engaged leadership, including:

  • What new ways of thinking and seeing are needed within the many participatory organizing structures that are emerging?
  • How can we integrate living systems principles as we explore the leadership that is needed now in our organizations and communities?
  • What are our new practice grounds – spaces and times of shared learning, renewal and relationship that deepen our connection with both people and place?





Michael and Michelle drew from their own experience in community and strategic dialogue work, as well as from their recent article published in the current issue of The Spanda Journal, Living Systems Theory and the Practice of Stewarding Change.

Michelle presented a core case story of their developmental work with the Montreal museum organization now known as Espace pour la Vie (Space for Life), a project which combined the Botanical Gardens, Planetarium, Biodome and Insectarium into a new biosciences museum group. As an evolving living system organization, the results of the journey are impressively real in the growing value the new combined museums have to the regional and scientific communities.

Michael Jones shared his stories, dialogue and music over the course of the evening, including insights from the four-step model in his book, The Soul of Place. The two revealed their combined four timeless patterns that shape all living, creative, expressive systems. We worked in small groups to find and share how these four patterns emerged in our own leadership work in the context of regenerative living organizations.


Michelle’s four patterns were drawn from years of study and development of living, biological systems. The nature of life “itself” is represented by four classic patterns that describe any non-mechanical system:

1. The parts, components, divergent members of a living context.

2. Their relationships with one another, how they connect and create new patterns.

3. Their convergence as a whole system, a unitary holon with its own wholeness of identity and distinct form.

4. The self-integration of life as an animating force that imbues a living system with its vitality.


Underlying the four patterns is a deep connection with place. Any living system is rooted in and nourished by the place where it grows, and we and our organizations and communities are no exception. Michael presented his four patterns from The Soul of Place, and through his stories of relationship with place, music and practice, and his own life, he showed how his four patterns connect neatly to the living system:

1. Homecoming, or the pattern of return of individuals to a place of recognition or home.

2. Belonging, the making of relationships among ourselves.

3. Regenerativity, the creative practice of leadership and acknowledgement of one’s role and source, form a place.

4. Carnival, transformative celebration, the expression of shared vitality (life) and possibility.

We explored the areas of practice offering the most fertile soil for these new possibilities to take root. A series of questions prompted exercises to reflect in small groups on possible applications and starting points.

What are (or could be) your practices for sensing and supporting what life calls for? What practice grounds are needed?

What do you feel called to steward? what could that look like, given the 4 patterns we explored?

Where do you see regenerative leadership coming ever more vibrantly to life? What is being done? How are the patterns present and cultivated?

What kind of greenhouse or Solarium do we need to create to cultivate regenerative leadership in ourselves and our communities?

The four phases of the evening’s session are described in Patricia Kambitsch’s sketch of the dialogue. Here the imagery moves from left to right, from the participant’s experiences in “feeling most alive” to the discussion of patterns and relationships in living systems (creating conditions for life to thrive) to the sets of patterns, and final dialogue.

About the Hosts

Michael Jones is a leadership educator, dialogue facilitator, writer and Juno-nominated pianist/composer.  His most recent book, The Soul of Place, is the third in a series on Re-imagining Leadership.  Others in the series include Artful Leadership and the award-winning  Creating an Imaginative Life.  Michael has also been a thought leader with the MIT Dialogue Project and Dialogos and other prominent leading edge universities and centres.










He has co-chaired several place-based initiatives and spoken on the leader’s emerging role as  placemaker in a variety of forums including The Authentic Leadership in Action Conferences (ALIA), The Society  for Organizational  Learning (SoL) and many others. As a pianist/composer Michael has composed and recorded fifteen CD’s of his original piano compositions and performed as a solo pianist across North America  as well as Korea and Japan.  He has been integrating his music in his leadership and dialogue work for over twenty years. See www.pianoscapes.com to learn more about Michael and his work.

Michelle Holliday is a facilitator, organizational consultant, researcher and writer. Her work centers around “thrivability” — a set of perspectives, intentions and practices based on a view of organizations as living systems. To this end, she brings people together and helps them discover ways they can feel more alive, connect more meaningfully with each other, and serve life more powerfully through their work. This generally takes the form of designing and hosting transformative events, as well as delivering talks and workshops. Michelle also writes regularly, including a forthcoming book, The Age of Thrivability. Her research is summarized in a slideshow called Humanity 4.0, as well as in a TEDx presentation.

Don Officer on Living & Dying through Change & Transformation

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Something about August reminds us of those unseen tipping points that mark the change of seasons in the year, in our lives, in our organizations and ultimately cultures. The fruits of summer need shorter days and colder nights to ripen. All are harbingers of harvests but likewise endings soon enough to come. So it was timely that Vanessa Reid opened up a conversation to the 30 or so DwD participants in the Lambert Room on Wednesday, August 12 around the perpetual mystery and wisdom of transitions.

Such conversations take courage. Everything about our culture is designed to downplay two obvious, but annoying details. First, we all change through our lives and experiences. With the passage of years we can do less or fewer of some things and more of others. These slow but inexorable alterations do not usually comply with expectations. If that weren’t annoying enough, the many parts of the world around us move along on their own cycles and rhythms. Vanessa gave us a framework for that, a systems approach called panarchy.

Panarchy is a philosophical and methodological approach with a history some of you will recognize. In human terms we feel the perpetual tension between stability and disturbance in every aspect of life. This personal aspect was Vanessa’s focus at the DwD session. Relating her own experiences as a daughter, an agent for social change and institutional steward Vanessa illustrated how she came to appreciate panarchy from the inside out. As the invitation explains she has been immersed in creating  (and sometimes extinguishing we discovered) broadly aligned cultures. All this she accomplished while immersing herself in some very extended, old yet highly contended global cultures from India to Jerusalem to Greece.

The evening was designed to be interactive. Conversing as individuals in a circle, sometimes in twos or threes, participants pondered aloud their own cycles of growth, transformation and death or disappearance in their lives. Throughout the session process shifts between expression and reflection were felt and consolidated. Living in our hard driving high-energy compulsorily optimistic culture, we feel a powerful resistance to accepting personal or social decline’s inevitable consequences as we, along with our personal cocoons, are overtaken by the power of change from without as well as within.

Some of these ideas did indeed sink in during our three hours together. Closing thoughts from the circle reminded the whole group of the ambivalences that big changes intermingled with tenacious continuances visit on everyone. Vanessa is a living model for acceptance of panarchy’s swirling curves as it describes its sideways figure eight of infinity. Perpetuity is of course not always a consolation when we must give up something or a person dear and meaningful to us. Consciousness does not always let matters go gently into that good night. Moving on is nonetheless active and dynamic. Awareness of the call to close is step one.

Donald Officer