Social Presencing for Inclusion: An Case Study

Creating an Inclusive Workplace For Aging Women to Thrive

For women age 50+ full participation in paid, meaningful and innovative work can be a challenge. The Bureau of Labor Statistics chart below shows data through 2013.

women age 50+, full participation in paid, meaningful and innovative work is a challenge

Recent data shows that women age 55+  represent the single fastest growing age-gender segment and will account for more than a third of all additional workers entering the labor force by 2026. How will they thrive?

In response to this question, Stela Lupushor, an expert in future of work and people analytics, recently founded a New York based NGO called Her mission is to expand the work horizon for women by transforming the mistaken narrative about aging and innovation.  “We will redefine inclusive workplaces and equip women at any age to thrive in them.”

Tapping into Team Wisdom

The team was open to exploring a new method of tapping into their team’s wisdom and in May of 2018, they invested an afternoon in experiential learning.

They practiced a group dynamics modeling approach developed at MIT’s Presencing Institute called Social Presencing. Social Presencing (SP) is a sensing practice whereby members of a group embody a Stuck. A Stuck is a system challenge.

During SP exercises, group members allow shapes or gestures to arise in their bodies that represent a system challenge they are currently part of.

The practice is social and is done as a group. The human shapes form sculptures or models. 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 (Leading from the Emerging Future, Scharmer, Kaeufer, 2013, p.19). The social sculptures that arise as a result reveal something of importance in a system where it was not visible before.

SP may also be referred to as a body-based, experiential learning toolkit, 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 an interview in Strategy & Business magazine, (Kleiner, 2017).

Read on below the video to learn more about the social sculptures experienced…


Social Sculptures Experienced

Two SP exercises, Village and Ecosystem Stuck, were used to model the ecosystem of 50+ women’s participation and relationship to the workforce during the workshop. Each exercise resulted in different social sculptures, insights and ideas for prototypes for creating a desired future.

The Village Exercise

The team first envisioned the qualities of a future workplace ecosystem (a Village). They wrote down words including caring, appreciation, discovery, empathy, visibility, exploration, kindness, consciousness and empathy. Participants then prepared for the exercise with a short body-centering meditation.

In the Village exercise, the team co-created a village (social sculpture) in silence, for ten minutes, using the body as a 360 degree sensor. The village rules allowed walking, running, standing, sitting, lying down, turning and greeting each other in the room.

Participants noted the following reflections on the village:

  • I felt kindness and over time I sensed compassion.
  • There was a shift from autonomous to group thinking.
  • At first it felt simple and stupid in the village, then I appreciated it and had fun
  • I was asking myself, what are we doing here?  Then I had curiosity and the density of the energy grew, lying on the floor with other people, even not knowing them.
  • At the end of the village, I noticed people shifting from center and moving to the periphery again, to the original starting shape of a circle.
  • I observed the village energy and I wondered,  what if there were no rules, and what if I break the rules, and how can I change the rules or create exceptions?
  • First I could not sense the social body but then I felt included.

Ecosystem Stuck

To prepare for the Ecosystem Stuck exercise, leadership defined the following Stuck in advance of the workshop:

Women age 50+ continue to face pay gaps and low employment prospects due to workplace bias, lack of inclusive workplace design and lack of  investments in education and upskilling. 

This exercise takes a holistic view of the workplace ecosystem women find themselves in with the following stakeholders included:

  • Highest Potential of the System – In 2021, aging women are very successful through meaningful work that is fairly rewarded.
  • Marginalized women such as widows or divorcees with insufficient savings to survive without full-employment
  • Corporate & organizational leadership
  • Hiring Manager
  • Venture Capitalist
  • Adult educational institutions
  • Government
  • Networks
  • New York City
  • Boards/Sponsors/funding/philanthropy

Workshop participants were either stakeholders or mindful observers (safe space-holders).  Observers formed a circle around the space, with the intention to see the sculptures with present awareness, i.e. attention.

Stakeholders embodied their felt sense of the system Stuck in their own physical bodies and allowed a shape to emerge.  At the same time, stakeholders positioned themselves in the system sculpture in terms of proximity to other stakeholders, at a low or high level (sitting, kneeling, standing, lying down, etc.) in relation to their felt sense of power in the system and with attention to the direction faced.

They each made a statement from the “I” voice:

  • Corporate/Organization leadership: I am running at top speed to execute and keep top performance
  • Hiring manager: Anything you say, anything  (bowing)
  • Venture Capitalist: I only want young fresh ideas
  • Board: I know what is best for the company
  • City of New York: Go On!
  • Government:  I am the power 
  • Educational institutions: I am disconnected
  • Networks: I am here to connect you but make sure you are like the rest of us
  • Highest potential: I have been defined by and completely unfree and dependent on all this
  • Marginalized woman: I have immense potential and can help all of you but none of you can see me (sitting down)

Then the stakeholders exaggerated the felt sense of the Stuck until the body moved into a future state.

They then each made a statement from the “I” voice in the future state:

  • Networks: I am here to make sure we’re talking to each other
  • Hiring manager: I am here to support building the company with best people and best potential
  • Board: I know what is best for the company and I can collaborate with others
  • Corporate/Organization Leadership: I know I need to help but need to give a different type of help
  • Government: I am open here to unite the power
  • Education: I am seeing the need to support marginalized women
  • Marginalized Women: If I can be connected into the organization, can help the company be successful
  • Venture Capitalist: I do not recognize the potential
  • City of New York: I will hold you here and connect with other roles
  • Highest potential: I see a recreated dependency. I am about freedom, inner strength and independence. 

Main Insights Arising

The following insights emerged during silent journaling by all participants immediately after the exercise.

  • The city of New York was so distanced throughout
  • Hiring managers bowed
  • There is a difference in support versus empowerment
  • The venture capitalist never changed
  • Networks can be keeping women back as they maintain the status quo
  • The marginalized woman went from Invisible to visible
  • Leadership is more difficult to convince than the boards

The Prototypes

Next, participants engaged in small group generative dialogue and documentation of ideas for four major prototypes.

The prototype is a disposable tool used not only to validate ideas but to generate them.  Many ideas were generated. After the session, leadership shortlisted the most tangible ideas in order to start testing, sharing and questioning the ideas, in order to build upon them.  The team is developing a plan to begin testing the following prototype ideas:

1. Personas:

Build specific and tangible personas is targeting.

  • A design thinking session, Design the Design, was held at IBM NYC (June 25, 2018) to design three personas:
    • woman returning to the workforce after a career break (re-entry);
    • woman who wants to pivot to a different field or career path (pivot);
    • woman who wants to start a new business (entrepreneur)
  • An ongoing research effort was launched whereby a design thinking volunteer  conducts interviews aligned with each of the three personas to enhance them.

2. Needs Map and Lexicon:

Understand what personas want (resources, services, purpose, connections, skills etc.) and how they prefer to find out about these resources and be engaged in the conversation.

  • At Design the Design, the team articulated the initial set of persona needs and the types of questions the women might ask when researching their next step;
  • The team is developing a “facilitator kit” for a training session called “Understanding Artificial Intelligence in a Non-Artificial Way” that is used to train participants about design thinking and AI development in comfortable and welcoming environment. Participants will then apply both of these skills to co-create a chatbot ( that is responsive to the needs of women 50+. The chatbot algorithm can be continuously expanded and refined with new questions and curated recommendations.

3. Conversation Tree:

Where do I start? Identify the key areas of support for women 50+ at a career crossroads and help them find a starting point for their journey.

  • At Design the Design the team identified areas that women 50+ might want to explore when starting their re-entry, pivot, or start-up phases. These will become the conversation nodes that will be built into the lexicon of the

4. Corporate Action Initiative:

Raise awareness about challenges and bias women 50+ encounter in the workplace. Launch the movement, “The Shades Of Amazing Challenge” to raise awareness about recognizing the wealth of experience and maturity women 50+ bring to their jobs and enroll men as allies. Men will demonstrate their support by wearing red glasses (the color of’s logo), taking a selfie and sharing it with our challenge hashtag #shadesofamazing.

Tapping Into GrantBook’s Field of the Future

GrantBook, a Toronto based Benefit Corporation, helps philanthropic foundations embrace technology to improve grantmaking.  In 2018, one of the Directors was facing the challenge of envisioning GrantBook’s future revenue streams.

The Director and team practiced the Field of the Future exercise to bring new insights on future possibilities and priorities for revenue generation.

What is the Field of the Future Exercise?

The Field of the Future is a mindful group embodiment and sensing exercise (in Theory U’s Social Presencing toolkit), using the social body to bring a future vision into practice through creative expression, resulting in concrete next steps.  The group size is four to five people. Timing is one and a half to three hours.

Why Try It?

Often ideas of what we want to create in the world are muddled by hidden agendas, notions of success, etc., disabling our ability to envision the future.  This exercise allows participants to get out of the mind and into the body to source new questions, ideas and insights.

How GrantBook Applied It:

  1. In the Field of the Future, the GrantBook director defined four elements that impact revenues (money, team, clients, partners.)  He embodied the future state of revenue generation and invited people to embody one of the defined elements, instructing them where in the space, at what level, in what shape and in what direction to face.  The group held the future state shape and then sat back down.
  2. Then the groups formed a current reality sculpture together.  The director embodied the current state and placed the others as elements into the current state sculpture.  The current state shape was held in silence and the group continued to hold the shape, sensing the social body and allowing movement to arise until a new Field of the Future group sculpture arrived. This time, each person made a statement from the “I” voice.
  3. Participants engaged in generative dialogue via the following questions (Hayashi, Presencing Institute, 2018):
  • “What were differences in relationship of the elements in Field of the Future vs. current reality?”
  • “Where did movement begin?”
  • “What surprised you?”
  • “What did you learn?”
  • “What seed(s) of your future did you see in the sculpture?”
  • “How is your future intention clarified going forward?”
  • “What next steps related to any or all of the elements will you take?”

To protect the confidentiality of GrantBook, details on the resulting content is not revealed here.

How to Use Visual Models for Future Workplace Perspectives

Four Months. 300+ Teams. One Transformation Lab.

In this second post about ET Group’s journey through MIT’s Presencing Institute Societal Transformation Lab (s-lab), a new Theory U Practice, 3D Mapping, is presented.  The s-lab is a four month program bringing together 300+ change teams across the world. Each team uses Theory U methods and tools on a project they collectively care deeply about. ET Group (ETG) has provided collaborative technology solutions to clients for over 40 years. Above all, ETG is evolving to help unleash human and organizational potential. The key is weaving people, space, and technology together.

ET Group 3D model

Current Workplace Visual Model

ETG’s intention is to help organizations meet complex challenges by enabling collaboration. Therefore, the s-lab is the platform of choice to transform social and digital experiences in the workplace. Each month, teams use Theory U tools in support of the transformation they are enabling. For example, the team created visual models using a Theory U tool called 3D mapping.

Because new perspectives arise out of 3D mapping, ETG realized several workplace opportunities. ETG can improve its own physical space and virtual experiences. There is opportunity to integrate technologies and invite clients into the journey.
Teams of 5-8 people created current state maps of the ETG workplace. Toys and other objects represented aspects of the workplace. For example, legos, a lemon, toy cars, umbrellas and figure are pictured in the photo of a current state map above.

Gaining New Workplace Perspectives

Once the current state model was complete, the team moved around the table and paused at each corner. As a result, they gained a new perspective and articulated what they saw from each direction.

Drawing, Presencing Institute

Firstly, teams stand in the East with a focus on feelings and relationships. Questions answered include, “What do you love? What ignites your energy?” Secondly, they move to the South for the perspective of truth and action. “What are the key conflicts and hard truths you need to face to move forward?” Thirdly, barriers which are stopping the current system from moving forward arise in the West. Finally, teams move North for the deeper purpose view.  They answer, “What is wanting to die? What is wanting to be born?”

An Emerging Future Workplace

Next, team members moved objects towards a future state of high potential. Each team member stated what the object and its movement represented in that future. The team continued to move objects around until the future state felt complete.
A minute of silence allowed the team to absorb a sense of their high potential future workplace. After that, they engaged in reflective dialogue about the future state. Specifics about the model structure, the model building process, and leverage points for transformation were articulated.

Presencing Institute Photo

ET Group Insights

As a result of two 3D models, new insights about the workplace experience became visible.  Similarly, new questions arose.  Insights related to A) model structure,  B) object movements, C) key interventions and D) transformation leverage points.
A. Structural differences between current and future state models included:
  • Objects are moving in a new common direction, versus moving in opposite directions. Fast change is possible.
  • People were no longer scattered. All face in the same direction, positioned towards new tools.
  • The workplace is now a bridge, something people use. The physical space is not a barrier. Removal of both physical and mental barriers is possible.

ET Group 3D Model

B.  The object representing virtual workplace collaboration moved first. It was placed in the middle, connected to the meeting spaces, linking physical and virtual. Therefore, barriers were removed and a bridge was built.

C. Key interventions to build the future state included bringing clients onboard. As a result there was no longer a separation between team and clients. Lots of people made the journey, with no exclusions.

D. The teams discovered leverage points to move their workplace transformation forward, including actions to
-Change the physical space
-Adopt and integrate the technologies
-Improve the Virtual space – creating more connections with existing or new tools
-Focus on the the ETG self
-Invite clients into the journey.

Next Steps

In March 2019, ETG will continue to apply Theory U practices to support workplace transformation. They will use embodiment practices called Social Presencing to access deeper collective wisdom. In the following month, the team will generate prototype ideas in related to technology and people. Stay tuned!

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.”

Tapping into Team Wisdom at Nathan Cummings Foundation

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.


Case Background

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.

The Challenge

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.  

  • Group Stuck:  “NCF has been trying to change and innovate the grants management process for several years…but has been unable, collectively,  to move toward a future state vision for grants management.”
  • Ecosystem Stuck (4D Map): “NCF’s work enables grantees to achieve incremental, point in time impact………but long term impact goals, i.e. long term systems change, is not enabled.”  
    • The stakeholders in the 4D Map included: NCF leadership team and board, similar Foundations, Grantees, Corporate sector, NCF grants/programs department, Government.

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.

    • 71.4% responded 4 or 5 (scale 1-5) that
      • The quality of my attention was higher than usual.  I was fully present with the group and in the moment.
      • My intention for the day was set and top of mind for most of the session.
      • When body and mind are synchronized, we have access to additional information.
    • At the end of the session I felt
      • Energized and motivated (71.4%)
      • More connected to the group (71.4%)
      • Tired or neutral (28.6%)
    • Some participants noted what surprised them during the workshop:
      • “How much movement spoke to a different part of my experience.”
      • “The level of mutual respect and equality in the room.”
      • “It brought out some unexpected tensions.”
      • “The emotional response I had to others’ movements.”
      • “The empathy I experienced during the session.”
      • “The lack of connection I felt between our overall mission, work and purpose of the activities.
    • Some participants noted “aha” moments during or after the session:
      • Increased sense of empathy and shared responsibility with the team.”
      • “It was obvious how incredibly stressed out everyone was.”
      • “The recognition that we need more time for play.”
      • “Physical expression can lead to greater understanding.”
  • The Individual Stuck left most participants unsure about new realizations or how to overcome their Stuck.  
  • The Group Stuck in contrast, resulted in 100% of participants realizing something about the group, their role or themselves they did not know before.

New Actions

Participants expressed the following changes in behaviour since the session:

  • Paying attention to others differently (28.6%)
  • Noticing how you are in your body (14.3%)
  • Paying attention to the feeling of the body on the ground (28.6%)
  • Paying attention to the body as a 360° sensing organ (0%)
  • No change in behaviour (28.6%)

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., facilitated the session.  Janet Disla, Senior Grants Manager,, provided content.


  • Presencing Institute (2018). Tools.
  • Scharmer, O., Kaeufer, K. (2013). Leading from the Emerging Future, Oakland, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.