Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Group Works: Power of Place

This entry continues a series in which I'm exploring concepts encapsulated in a set of 91 cards called Group Works, developed by Tree Bressen, Dave Pollard, and Sue Woehrlin. The deck represents "A Pattern Language for Bringing Life to Meetings and Other Gatherings."

In each blog, I'll examine a single card and what that elicits in me as a professional who works in the field of cooperative group dynamics. My intention in this series is to share what each pattern means to me. I am not suggesting a different ordering or different patterns—I will simply reflect on what the Group Works folks have put together.

The cards have been organized into nine groupings, and I'll tackle them in the order presented in the manual that accompanies the deck:

1. Intention
2. Context
3. Relationship
4. Flow
5. Creativity
6. Perspective
7. Modeling
8. Inquiry & Synthesis
9. Faith

In the Context segment there are eight cards. The seventh pattern in this segment is labeled Power of Place. Here is the image and text from that card:

The location, setting, and beauty of the site for an event have a major impact on the group's energy, attentiveness, and ability to connect. Do your best to choose a place that is the right fit and expression for your intention.

We live in a time of human history where people have never been less rooted; where we are adrift from connection to place. I think this profoundly affects our ability to be centered, to be connected to the Earth, to be connected with each other, and even to be connected with ourselves. 

While the impact of this includes the quality of work we do together in meetings, as is suggested by this card, it extends way beyond that to touch our mental health and even our identity.

As our connection to place has weakened, we engage more with our heads and less from our hearts and bellies. It's a problem. Being more conscious about meeting places—as this card admonishes us to do—can help.

As a community member, a process consultant, and the FIC administrator, I am in lots of meetings. Because I'm on the road half the time, I am in many different meeting places. Not surprisingly, some are better than others.

What works best are places where the dimensions are congruent with the number of people attending; where the sight lines are good for all; where there is adequate fresh air and the temperature is not the main thing you're paying attention to. The lighting needs to be good enough to see people's faces; if there are supporting visuals to be used during the meeting, then the lighting has to be good enough to see them clearly from across the room.

While the pattern bravely calls for beautiful places, that beauty needs to imbue the space without being a distraction. A meeting is not a trip to a museum, or a church, or an art installation. The space should be a container that helps to focus the energy and to ground the participants; it should not be the focus.

I am drawn to the round edges of the building in the image (in contrast, I have never felt comfortable in A-frames, because the high sloping walls focus the energy to a point that is beyond our scale and doesn't fit the human shape; I always feel tension in my body in rooms with acute angles). While square corners are easy to build, and relatively easy to fit furniture into, round walls and the natural curves of unfinished wood are more pleasing to the psyche. By extension, hexagons and octagons are gentler on the soul than squares, and I've always been drawn to arches, both catenary and those with a constant radius.

To be sure, people can nest in a place to create focus and invoke meaning that is not infused in the structure or location. They can bring with them relics, mementos, icons, and rituals that make that place special for that event, yet the card suggests something grander—the careful selection of place to match the size and intention of the gathering. This can be anything from Stonehenge to a breakfast nook. 

Some of this can come from prior things that have occurred in that location—memories or history specific to place—yet it can be as simple as a place that just feels right for the business at hand. The point is to give that selection intention; to purposefully invoke the power inherent in place, with a view toward coupling with it in service to purpose.

Aim for something more than adequate; aim for exquisite. Don't settle for exhalation; aspire to exaltation.

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