Cultural Patterns of Generative Engagement

This is the second in a series of blogs where Royce Holladay and Mary Nations explore the dynamics of Generative Engagement.

In today’s blog, Royce and Mary invite you to explore specific system-wide patterns that they believe will emerge across a system that set conditions of shared identity, shared power, and shared voice.

In the last blog in this series, Generative Engagement: Leverage Dynamics of Interaction, I talked about a set of conditions Mary Nations and I believe can shape system-wide patterns that ensure purposeful, meaningful dialogue; support productivity across differences; and build highly adaptive relationships. As we explored our shared interest in creating inclusive and productive systems, Mary and I sought answers to shared questions:

  • 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 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?

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 came when we arrived at a new question: what patterns of behavior show up when people are dealing well with differences? We created a long list of what we believed we would see, and considered carefully what conditions would shape those myriad patterns. We identified the conditions I shared in my last blog:

  • Shared identity – Members of the system see themselves as sharing some perspective or experience of participating together in a system, without giving up their own identity.
  • Shared Power  - In generative relationships, members of a system recognize that power is about how they influence others, even as they allow others to influence them, regardless of positional authority or accountability.
  • Shared Voice – Individuals and groups in systems must share information and other resources in ways that others can hear and understand what they need. They “generate voice” to be heard and understood; they “grant voice” as they listen to others with the intention of deep understanding.

In today's blog, I invite you to explore specific system-wide patterns that we believe will emerge across a system that set conditions of shared identity, shared power, and shared voice. In our diagram to represent Generative Engagement, we chose to use three circles to represent a set of conditions that will shape system-wide patterns. The overlap of those circles represents that system-wide patterns. The next iteration of the model adds those patterns by describing a pattern that could logically emerge when each pair of condition interact together.

Reciprocity – When power and identity are shared inside a human system, people work toward shared goals or outcomes. They give each other support, feedback, and energy as they contribute skills and knowledge for the good of the whole.

When we simultaneously receive support, feedback, and energy as we accept others’ contributions of skills and knowledge, we engage in a reciprocal relationship that benefits us all.

Authenticity – When people grant and generate voice inside a shared identity, they can bring their whole “selves” to the interactions. They can be honest about who they are and what they need. They give fully of themselves, creating space for others to be authentic. This does not, however, grant license to be tyrannical, demanding one’s needs be met. Balance must exist between granting and generating voice inside shared identity.

If I demand my needs be met at the expense of others, I am neither generating voice others can hear, nor am I granting voice to their needs. If I demand my needs be met at the expense of others, I’m counting my goals and identity as separate from others’.

Justice  When people allow themselves to be influenced by others and at the same time, they grant and generate voice, they generate patterns of justice in their relationships. If individuals influence others’ decisions, even as they are influenced by those others, it means that they are granting and generating voice. This shared, mutual influence and voice make it more likely that the system will generate patterns of justice for all participants.

We think of justice as access—to resources, participation, respect, and engagement. We each get what we need, and our contributions are accepted and honored.

Mary and I have worked in the last few years with groups to help them set conditions for these patterns to form, and we have seen them create generative engagements – patterns of behavior that promote co-evolution for the system at all scales.

  • In classrooms teachers and students use generative engagement to talk about their needs and what they have to offer the whole class. They can talk about how leaders from history and literature shape generative patterns in their worlds. They can see and discuss patterns that disrupt their learning ecology, which makes it possible for them to come to shared decisions about what to do instead.
  • In non-profit organizations adults use the ideas of generative engagement to build strong relationships and to build inclusive activities and expectations.
  • In service organizations, staff use the ideas of generative engagement to shape their customer service responses and support.

We continue to explore a vast array of culture formation, culture change, and diversity and inclusion issues with these three conditions. We have found this model to be applicable to many types of relationships in all sorts of settings - organizational or governmental, global and local, classrooms, customer service, communities, and families. Grounded deeply in HSD, this approach to working across difference creates more generative relationships, allowing greater adaptability and sustainability in any system where humans live, work and play together.

Try creating generative engagements with others in your work or community and let us know how it goes.

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