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A Dance with Heat: How I Facilitate Evolutionary Emergence in Teams and Organizations

Updated: Apr 11

I chose Evolutionary Emergence as the name of my business for a very particular reason: it's what I do, and it's what my life is about. How do I facilitate evolutionary emergence in groups, teams, and organizations? It's helpful to find inspiration in nature, observing how growth occurs organically through both vertical and horizontal development. Think of Vertical Development as an acorn growing into a sapling and then an oak tree, whereas Horizontal Development is a tree growing branches or leaves.

Horizontal development involves expanding a team's skills and capabilities. For instance, I'm currently training a team in Crucial Conversations, a comprehensive model for effective communication. This approach provides clear, step-by-step instructions for handling situations involving opposing opinions, strong emotions, and high stakes. Throughout the past couple of years, we've implemented various skill-building exercises to enhance communication within the company -- for example, separating facts from stories, clarifying your intention, or asking the other person for their perspective on a difficult issue.

However, horizontal development alone doesn't empower individuals to value effective communication or to spontaneously use these newfound skills effectively. This is where Vertical Development comes into play. To promote vertical development, I encourage self-reflection, critical thinking, and the engagement of the mind to make sense of what we learn. One way I facilitate this is by organizing monthly "lunch and learn" sessions where we share thought-provoking TED talks, videos, or ideas, and invite discussion. This allows everyone to apply their knowledge to their personal experiences and lives.

Another aspect of vertical development involves experiential learning, which I refer to as "heat experiences" based on Nick Petrie’s use of the term. These are situations in which we challenge team members to solve problems on the fly with minimal guidance. The emphasis is on learning from both successes and failures in a safe and supportive environment. By pushing individuals out of their comfort zones, we trigger changes in their body-mind chemistry, open up new ways of seeing themselves, and help them grow and adapt to various circumstances.

To illustrate, in one exercise, each team member had 15 minutes to review a previously learned training module and then present the material in pairs in front of the group using just two pieces of flip chart paper. This exercise encouraged them to recover and apply their knowledge under pressure, with a partner, fostering a sense of accomplishment and a peak experience of their own deeper capacities.

Additionally, I've introduced "breakthrough initiatives" to the company's leadership development program. I credit Gail Hochachka from One Sky Institute of Sustainable Living with this concept we used in Nigeria back in 2009. These initiatives challenge leaders to plan and execute projects that go beyond business-as-usual. Examples may include holding crucial conversations with another department, rolling out a new piece of software, or delegating more tasks to their team. The goal is to push boundaries, embrace discomfort, and learn from the process, regardless of success or failure. The key is to value both performance and learning equally.

My overall aim as a facilitator of evolutionary emergence is to create a ripple effect of positive change. When I touch someone's life through my presence, words, or challenges, it triggers a chain reaction that influences others around them. Based on my personal experiences and what I’ve learned from Ken Wilber and Dr. Marc Gafni, I believe that all individuals are interconnected in a unified field of information, energy, love, and consciousness, and that every personal transformation contributes to the evolution of the whole. This is evolutionary emergence.

I want to leave you with the idea that evolutionary emergence is not about predictable planning and execution, but rather about a dance with a mysterious process and an intent to grow. Let's dance with reality and respond to the call of evolution within our own heart. All of us can embrace opportunities to grow, evolve, and make an impact on the world around us, whether formally part of a leadership development program or not. Thank you for joining me on this journey of growth and exploration. May you find meaningful ways to dance with reality and respond to the universe’s love story of evolution.


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