by Jim Wiegel

Gathering of ToP Practitioners in Guatemala in 2004

Gathering of ToP Practitioners in Guatemala in 2004

“I and mine do not convince by arguments, similes, rhymes.  We convince by our presence.”

This line, from the American poet, Walt Whitman, was used by a ToP colleague here in Arizona, as part of what he called a “Facilitator’s Invocation”, seeking to express the spirit in which we do our work with groups.

Sometimes, . . . no, often, I experience this work we do of assisting groups of people to engage with one another more energetically, more productively,  as slow work.  As watching grass grow.

In the midst of a facilitation, as well right before and right after the pace of the work is brisk — arranging the tables, checking the snacks, pacing the questions, moving half sheets around, orchestrating small groups, checking in with the champion who hired you, report outs, reflections.  Sometimes very brisk.  For example, on a rainy Thursday, halfway through a day long planning on a thorny and contentious issue with the contending players in the room, someone checked their iPhone and announced, “the river is coming to a flood stage and the bridge is being closed in an hour.”  Suddenly we had 20 minutes left of a full afternoon.  And it worked.  The 30 plus people in the room responded, and worked it through.

That was brisk.

What made that possible?  Well, in the morning, we’d done introductions, the room was set so everyone could see everyone, small groups had worked to identify the full range of issues and we had organized and prioritized them.  The folks who came in protest were being heard and engaged.  The folks with hard data were sharing it.  Because of what had happened, the champion who had hired me (herself a ToP practitioner) was confident.  The board chair was confident.  The participants around the table were confident (and also worried about getting home that night).  The facilitator (yours truly) was a bit uncertain in the moment which actually seemed to further increase the level of confidence in the room.  So, in twenty minutes we walked out of the room with the decision written out on a flip chart and duly photo documented.

A strange, but recognizable, band we are; ToP Facilitators. Spread across the country and the world, we are always eager for one more conversation to fine tune the agenda, to make sure the questions are just right.  We tell the venue to raise up the projection screen and replace it with a bold sticky wall.  We spend extra time setting the room, moving the tables closer so participants can see the cards on the wall as well as each other. We come with good dark markers and a stack of half sheets. We work in teams. We get the participants talking right away. The sessions we facilitate have a characteristic flow (ORID). We smile when participants tell us how well the session is going.

Mostly, we facilitate events — meetings, retreats, gatherings, etc.  The champions among us, the CEO’s, department heads, board chairs, team leaders, members of leadership teams are also risking to make this higher level of participation present and effective in the day to day, all the while balancing the complexities of organizational life and levels as they go.

Who are we here in Arizona and the Southwest? There are about 600 of us using ToP methods and values around the state. It is hard to keep count. According to the latest informal review 30% of us met ToP in the last 3-4 years, another 30% go back a decade or more and about 10% have been using ToP since the last century!  About 70% of us use ToP as part of our job; over 50% of us use ToP in multiple aspects of our lives (work, community, family, etc.). Many of us are ToP champions who are integrating these methods and values in our organizations, teams and departments and recommending them to others whether or not we are the ones who facilitate.

To break it down more exactly, within this sample 40% of us identified as consultants / facilitators while 16% as organizational leaders. We operate across all facets of society with 10% business, 10% education, 20% government, 20% non-profit, and 31% ‘multiple sector’ identified.

When asked what are the most evident results we produce, top answers included:

  1.  The Topics and issues addressed are being dealt with
  2.  The Systems  or teams we work with are more focused on results
  3. There is a Greater sense of active collaboration with both internal and external stakeholders

And this work goes on all over this state with particular mentions of  Bisbee, Bullhead City, Chinle, Coolidge, Flagstaff, Glendale, Globe, Goodyear, Kayenta, Kykotsmovi, Mesa, Phoenix, Prescott, Safford, San Luis, Scottsdale, Show Low, Supai, Tempe, Tolleson, Tuba City, Tucson, Williams, Winslow and Yuma.

This network is one of my greatest professional rewards. Through it I have built a sense of planetary reach, connecting with people all over the country and world dedicated to the same values and using the same methods. It also exposes me to hidden treasures, helping me discover wonderful treasureable things happening when I take the time to ask. And I am always delighted by the wiliness of our champions, the great people who hire us their cleverness as they engage me to the circumstances that occasion positive change.