The Art of Collaboration

We remove our wet boots at the entrance to L’Espace La Fontaine on a typical snowy February morning in Montreal. Located in the middle of a park with a skate rental shop downstairs and a frozen lake nearby, the upstairs of the building had been transformed to host about 115 men and women participating in The Art of Hosting – a three-day workshop exploring how to create spaces for meaningful conversations. In the wake of 2012 Quebec university student protests, the participants were eager to tackle social problems with fresh ideas.



Here are two highlights from the three-day workshop: connecting and harvesting

1.  Arriving, Connecting and Being Present

Overheard at a meeting near you: “The sooner we get down to business, the sooner we can get back to work”. Our fast-paced lives push us to jump straight into serious discussion at meetings, cutting the fat (small talk) to get to the meat (business). But how do rushed interactions affect the quality of collaborations and relationships? Ignoring the crucial step of settling in and establishing connection among fellow meeting participants can result in lost attention (manifested in the form of checking emails and tapping away on smartphones while others talk) and, over the longer-term, prevents deeper relationships and trust to form. In other words, not making time to connect makes effective collaboration very difficult and negates the whole point of coming together in the first place. Particularly in lab settings, where compressed timeframes are the norm and deep collaboration is necessary, building in time to connect is crucial.

I experienced both sides of the coin during one of the exercises at the training. All of the training participants separated into groups of three to work on a respective group member’s, real-life work challenge. Due to some confusion, though, my group of three arrived a half hour late to our designated table. We felt the time crunch (!) and began haphazardly proceeding through the exercise barely having taken off our jackets. That’s when we decided to stop and take a moment to properly ‘arrive’.  We each shared past experiences relevant to the project, enabling us to build a shared understanding of our individual lenses and connect with one another. By the end of the exercise, we were laughing with one another and had come up with actionable items to help our group member, Marco, move forward with his project. Taking a moment to settle in and connect made the remaining half hour productive and fun, reminding me that it doesn’t have to be one or the other.


Mackin Ink

Mackin Ink

2. Visual Learning and Harvesting

Incorporating illustrations and stories that anchor in emotions can make even dull meeting summaries and report-backs come to life. This is the premise behind the art of harvesting, a parallel practice to the art of hosting. What’s important about harvesting is: actively listening to the whole room, capturing the magic from conversation (quotes, stories, compelling points), synthesizing theses bits to pull out underlying messages and themes, and creating a meaningful record of the conversation that inspires action. Before attending the training, I understood harvesting to be synonymous with graphic recording (i.e. “capturing people’s ideas and expressions—in words, images and color—as they are being spoken in the moment” World Café definition). With so many creative people at the training, my eyes were opened to many forms I had never considered including: poetry and spoken word, photography, singing, ukulele playing, and improvised dance. It was unexpected and refreshing to experience a report back in such creative ways.

Some harvesting resources:

The Art of Hosting website has information about the underlying philosophies and upcoming trainings (another Montreal training will take place in Oct 2013 and some friends and I are working to bring a training to Toronto for around the same time). There are books (World Cafe, Open Space, Circle) and videos (Proaction Cafe, Storytelling Harvest) and PDFs (Strategic Harvest, Asking Good Questions, Hosting in a Hurry) that are very useful in unpacking the methodologies and the philosophies.

Memorable lines from the training

  • “what is set in stone and what is set in clay?” Tuesday Ryan-Hart referring to constraint and possibility
  • “we grow in the direction of the questions we ask” – David Cooperrider (Appreciative Inquiry Guru)
  • Organizational principals not as rules but rather as conversations we’d like to have (“how are we doing with transparency”)
  • “A person who cannot ask for help cannot be trusted”
  • “Let’s renew our vows with community”
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About Satsuko VanAntwerp

Satsuko is a business thinker who loves figuring out what makes people tick. She is a Partner and Business Ethnographer at InWithForward, a social enterprise that works with people, professionals, and policy-makers to turn social safety nets into trampolines. Prior to joining InWithForward, she was a manager at Social Innovation Generation, where she led the Lab program. She holds an International Masters of Business Administration from Schulich School of Business, with a minor in Social Entrepreneurship from Copenhagen Business School.


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  1. […] The art of collaboration by Satsuko VanAntwerp, from Social Innovation Generation in Toronto with a few memorable lines from the training: […]

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