But in practice master plans fail . . . They are too rigid; they cannot easily adapt to the natural and unpredictable changes that inevitably arise in the life of a community.

— Christopher Alexander

There is no single methodology that works to improve organizational relationships. Why? Because both the people who we relate with, and the field in which that relationships happen are always dynamic. The complexity of human relationships mean that strategies don’t work. We cannot set an objective, devise a plan, execute on that plan, and expect to further relationships. The minute we get “strategic” with relationships, we step outside of the relational field, and detract from the relationship.

Instead of prescribing a methodology or strategy, we begin with principles. From principles, we tap into a reservoir of patterns that are deep and capable of generating engagement in relationship. This toolbox of patterns leads to practices that are contextual for the client’s situation and needs.

Referencing the wisdom of architect Christopher Alexander, these tools are akin to pattern languages. A pattern language is a method of describing good design practices within a field of expertise. A pattern language is a network of patterns that call upon one another. A pattern language is an attempt to express the deeper wisdom of what brings aliveness within a particular field of human endeavor, through a set of interconnected expressions arising from that wisdom. Aliveness is one placeholder term for “the quality that has no name”: a sense of wholeness, spirit, or grace.

Alexander believes that the living environment is not created by the architect, but by the interaction of a diverse set of people designing, building, and using the environment. The idea expressed in a pattern should be general enough to be applied in very different systems within its context, but still specific enough to give constructive guidance.

The architect has been incredibly influential in not just his field, but in any field where we are working within relationships and design. It’s in inclusive and collaborative process that taps into the internal wisdom of the stakeholders and the deep wisdom of experience.

Patterns are linked, just as purpose, trust, and flow are linked. In the process of working with clients, we choose a set of patterns, then choose the practices that emerge from those patterns.

Examples of Tools

Feedback LoopsExploring ImpactMappingLearning Modes
Appreciative InquiryMicro-MovesInverting RolesCollaborative Platforms
Shifting EnvironmentsLocating ResponsibilityClearing the AirRoutines & Rituals
Protected SpacesLook to NatureSharing ModesIterating
Reflective ModesWhole System in the RoomGo to the EdgesCelebration
AestheticsCircles & CyclesRecognizing ComplexitySimplify
Mixing DisciplinesOutsider PerspectivesEmbodimentMembership
Exploring ValuesIncentivesPolarity AwarenessOpening Up
MeasurementPlayArchivingDeep Listening