How to Model a Workplace of the Future – Through the Social Body

Four Months. 300+ Teams. One Transformation Lab.

This is the first in a series of writings on ET Group’s (ETG) journey through MIT*’s Presencing Institute hosted Societal Transformation Lab (s-lab).  ET Group is an organization that has provided collaborative technology solutions for over 40 years. Now they are on an evolutionary journey to help solve key organizational challenges by weaving people, space, and technology together, unleashing human and organizational potential.   The s-lab is a four month program bringing together 300+ teams across the world. Each team applies Theory U methods and tools to prototype a project they care deeply about, collectively.  

Shaping an Intention to Transform the Workplace of the Future

The intention ETG’s s-lab is, “to nourish the evolution of organizations to meet complex challenges by prototyping the social and digital into the physical to inspire collaboration.”  ETG is prototyping a social-digital-physical workplace of the future on themselves, and sharing that journey with the world.


The ETG’s s-lab was born in Toronto on November 22, 2018 during a company visioning session in which team members used Social Presencing to model the world of work and workplace.  The group created a physical model with their bodies to depict a global workplace challenge they want to change.  The systemic challenge was framed as

Change in the world of work continues to speed up, while the WAY work happens, to a great extent is not moving forward.”  

Roles in the model included:

1) Highest Potential of the system
2) vulnerable stakeholder – employees
3) ETG as a whole
4) audio visual integrators
5) consulting firms
6) clients
7) technology.  

Participants Allow Feelings to Arise in the Physical Body

The Social Presencing exercise applied is known as 4D mapping.  The 4D map in this case was the world of work and workplace. Seven participants allowed the felt sense of the systemic challenge to arise in the physical body from the perspective of their role.  The remaining participants served as observers and space holders, mindfully holding intention and attention, in silence, during the exercise.

First, participants allowed the current state 4D map to arise.  Next, they physically exaggerated, or leaned into, the social sculpture and individual shapes that had formed, until the current state model transitioned into an emerging future state.  Observers and participants debriefed on the felt and seen experiences in the current state, the transitioning state and the emerging future state.

Getting out of the head and into the body

Getting “out of the head and into the body” allowed ETG to tap into collective wisdom.  Social Presencing is an insight practice ideally suited for innovation and systems change because it augments the intelligence of teams by surfacing that team’s inherent wisdom.

Too much thinking, talking, and messaging is the norm.

In the Western world, linear, analytical thinking dominates. Bill George, Harvard Senior Fellow, emphasized this during an interview in the documentary film Innsaei, The Power of Intuition,

“In the last 20-25 years of my life we have seen the dominance of rational thought. It’s dominated a lot of our academic institutions, the media, and it’s taken away from the capacity to advance intuitive skills. Now for the first time we are starting to realize that problems are not getting any better.  We have to step back and take a whole new approach to these problems. One of the challenges we have recently had in business is by going to the fully rational side and by focusing everything on near term measurement, analytical tools, we have ground out or expunged creativity from our companies and 100 billions dollars are being wasted”.

Uncovering Major Aha Moments

Thus, ETG’s 4D map exercise resulted in a deeply generative dialogue, with many diverse insights arising.  The major “aha’s” for the group were,

  • “We are so focused on the client we don’t see the employee.”
  • “The employee was so far away from the other stakeholders and facing away from the rest of the group.”
  • “Employees really want care, empathy, attention.”  
  • “Employees as individuals are key.”

New Insightful questions arose

  • “How do we bring the employees closer to other stakeholders?”
  • “How does the employee really feel about the workplace revolution?”
  • “Do we focus on the the client too much?”
  • “What’s the future that feels right for everyone?”

New Opportunities Became Clear

  • “The real opportunity  and need is with employees as people.”
  • “There is an opportunity to re-prioritize and reconnect/re-engage clients and staff/team.”

New Actions

In summary, ETG realized that there is imbalance in the amount of energy and attention towards clients vs. employees.  Employees feel that they left behind. Thus, the collective team decided to change that and created a project to innovate ETG’s own workplace of the future including its people, the space and technology.  At the same time, the Presencing Institute was launching its first Societal Transformation Lab. ETG’s application was accepted and it is now part of “a multi-local innovation journey for teams who are co‑shaping more sustainable and equitable social systems worldwide.”