This is the first in a series of cases highlighting the application of experiential group dynamics modelling to address an organizational or social system challenge from a different perspective. These practices take us out of our minds and into the wisdom of the human bodies that comprise a team.
The Nathan Cummings Foundation (NCF) is a New York based family foundation, working to create a more just, vibrant, sustainable and democratic society. They are pursuing justice for people and planet and supporting social movements and catalytic solutions for climate change and inequality.
In October 2017, the foundation was embarking on the selection and implementation of a new Grants Management System (GMS). To facilitate team alignment on the future state of grants management, part of the project team (10 people) spent a half-day applying embodiment practices to inform their project from a different perspective.
A highly motivated GMS project team, keen to optimize technology, processes, and their ability to collaborate, was nevertheless feeling frustrated, overwhelmed from lack of time, and stressed. There had been many changes to process in a relatively short time as new staff joined during the previous year. Internal communication and coordination was a challenge resulting in a desire to include a broader program team to shape the future-state.
Tapping into Team Wisdom
The NCF team was interested in exploring a new method of tapping into their team’s wisdom. The highly intelligent group was used to meetings, discussion, and analysis for addressing their challenges. Instead of a half day talking meeting, the team invested an afternoon exploring an experiential group dynamics modelling approach developed at MIT’s (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Presencing Institute called Social Presencing.
Social Presencing – Definition
Social Presencing is a sensing practice whereby members of a group embody (i.e. give a concrete form to; represent or exemplify within the physical human body) a Stuck, i.e. something a team is trying to create, change or innovate. A group does this by allowing shapes or gestures to arise in their bodies that represent or model a system or challenge they are currently in.
The practice is social, i.e. is done as a group activity. Participants allow movement to arise in the body, together, to form social sculptures or models. During the activity, the principles of presencing are applied. Presencing is a hybrid of presence, the state of being in the present moment, and sensing, feeling the future possibility (Scharmer, Kaeufer, 2013, p.19). The social sculptures reveal something of importance in a system where it was not visible before.
Social Presencing may also be referred to as a body-based, experiential learning toolkit, currently consisting of eight exercises, which contributes to organizational learning. “It is a method for helping organizations and larger social systems get in touch with the knowledge they already have about the deep interpersonal structures that inhibit real changes from happening,” stated Otto Scharmer in a recent interview in Strategy & Business.
The NCF Social Sculptures
During the workshop, NCF participants prepared with meditation and a warm-up exercise for noticing physical sensations in the body. Then the team formed social sculptures (models) via two exercises, Group Stuck and 4D or Ecosystem Mapping. Please click here for an example video of Stuck and 4D Mapping.
NCF defined their team Stucks in advance of the workshop as follows.
Main Insights Arising
The NCF participants shared feedback after practicing Social Presencing for the first time via a post-workshop survey. Some of the main insights are summarized below.
Participants expressed the following changes in behaviour since the session:
85.7% participants recommended Social Presencing as a useful tool for building empathy and insight and/or would want to practice Social Presencing again.
Michelle N. Moore, Founder, www. mindequity.ca, facilitated the session. Janet Disla, Senior Grants Manager, Nathancummings.org, provided content.