How To Run a Practice Program

Over 2020 & 2021 Rich Bartlett & Nati Lombardo organised a series of "practice programs" to introduce people to microsolidarity and to initiate new collaborations. If you want to introduce microsolidarity to an existing group, you could take inspiration from our process design.

We prefer to work with 20-30 people at once: small enough to feel intimate, big enough to create many different interpersonal connections. We meet on a video call once per week, for 90 minutes, for 4 weeks. We "never host alone", i.e. always have at least 2 facilitators working together.

Theoretical content is delivered asynchronously: everyone is giving a suggested reading list (or video/podcast list) to work through in their own time. For example, your suggested reading list could be some of the articles on this website, or other videos or readings you find inspiring.

There’s no "lecture content" delivered on the calls, our meeting time is exclusively used for practicing different relational modalities.

Here’s a sketch of our process design:

Cohort-based program

Call 1

Call 1 is a kind of "speed dating" event where you get to meet a lot of new people in brief 1-to-1 encounters. It’s also a kind of “relationship yoga” where you can cultivate a more mindful awareness of what it feels like to relate with people, and practice different ways of showing up. You can stretch your “listening muscles” and “curiosity muscles”. For example, the “listen & loop” method rapidly accelerates the depth of connection you can experience with someone new, in just a few minutes.

After meeting 3 or 4 new people in these brief encounters, we bring the full group back together into the main meeting room. We take a few minutes in silence for people to write in their journals, asking questions like "How did it feel today to be in the different groups? What did you notice about the different relational practices? What did you notice about yourself? How does it feel to meet someone new?"

After a few minutes of silence we close by asking a few people to share some of their reflections out loud.

See also the Authentic Relating Games Manual for lots more ideas about how to host “get to know you” meetings like this one.

Call 2

We start with silent reflection: "It's one year from today, you're in the best possible community/network/group. What does it look like?"

People share their answers in a group of 3 or 4. After each share, listening partners reflect back what they hear is important to the speaker, e.g. ideals, principles, values, desires, needs...

Back in the main meeting room, another silent reflection/journaling about blocks: "What's blocking you from having the community that you want?"

Then we use the "Troika Consulting" practice from Liberating Structures to give each other support to work through the blocks. Troika works in groups of 3, each person takes about 15 minutes to be the centre of attention while the other two coach them.

After the Troika practice, when everyone’s back in the main meeting room, have a stretch or a dance break to get back into our bodies, then we finish with silent reflection & sharing like we did on Call 1.

The Liberating Structures website has heaps of great practices for creating much more lively meetings.

Call 3

By this stage, people have participated in a "speed dating / relationship yoga" session, and everyone has been on the giving- and receiving-end of a rapid-fire peer-support session with the Troika practice. So for the third call, we go into a deep peer-support process.

We use the Case Clinic method from Theory U. It takes a little over an hour, and is focused on just one person (the "case-giver") being supported by 4 or 5 peers. The process is designed to access collective wisdom and to help the case-giver respond to an important and concrete challenge they are facing. The idea is not to give them advice exactly, but to accompany them in their challenge, to deeply empathise with what it is like to be them, and to help them clarify their situation and see new perspectives.

In our experience, Case Clinic is uniquely effective at producing insight (both for the case-giver and the peer-coaches), and developing a sense of connection between people. It’s especially effective when people are "softened up" by Call 1 and Call 2.

See also: Theory U is a massive world to explore; their free online course is fantastic.

Call 4

The final call is a "retrospective" i.e. looking back on our time together to take note of what we’ve learned and commit to some actions to take next.

We ask people to reflect on personal questions and then share in small groups. E.g. "What's your learning edge: e.g. are there new skills or behaviours you want to practice? Is there one insight that struck you, that you want to remember? Action/Intention: what is your next step to practicing microsolidarity? What support do you need to make this happen?"

We also ask for detailed feedback on every aspect of the Practice Program, from the facilitation to the digital tools. We ask "What worked well?" and “What didn’t?” and we look for one or two concrete changes we can make to improve the next program. This is partly for us to keep improving our craft, but more importantly, it demonstrates one of the fundamental practices for creating consistent learning and continuous improvement in groups. (We recommend that high performing collaborative teams spend at least 10% of their time in retrospective mode.)

Finally, we have a closing round, where we hear final remarks from everyone in the meeting. This is the first and only time that the whole group really gets a chance to see itself as a full circle.

Over the course of 4 calls we progress up the ladder of scale, from 2 people, to 3, to 5, to the full group of 20 or 30. In this way, people get to experience the unique affordances and challenges in groups of different sizes.

You can read more details about our approach to hosting excellent online meetings in this article about Technical Facilitation.

If you use this guide, please get in touch and let us know about your experience! It will be excellent to improve these resources based on your feedback.

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