Grassroots Teams Help Sun Micorsystems
Raise Customer Satisfaction
Coming Full Circle
Measuring and Improving Organizational
Externalization, Change Management Key
Just Do It!
A Step by Step Overview ofa 1950's
Organizational Tool Experiencing a 1990's
Hope Is Where You Find
Sorry We're Closed: Diary of a
Views for a Change
The Quality Tool I Never Use
Letters to the Editor
Calendar of Events
Hope Is Where You Find
By Peter Block
I attended a meeting a few months ago
that was quite startling. It was a two day meeting
convened by the Pacific Southwest Region of the USDA
Forest Service. The meeting was part of an effort to find
ways to engage new people and resources in the success of
the Forest Service ... a reinvention project, pardon the
In the room there were some friends of the service and
also people who had spent a good part of their lives
fighting it, plus members of the Forest Service who had
spent a lot of resources fighting back. In addition to
the Forest Service members, there were lumber company
owners, environmentalists, biologists, river guides,
lawyers for the lumber companies, a magazine publisher,
federal policy leaders, libertarians, a sports clothing
manufacturer and an environmental law policy professor.
It was a group more used to confrontation than
Enter High Interaction
The meeting was run by Gifford Pinchot, author,
consultant, good soul and his associates. Despite some
concern, the tension they feared never arrived. I think
it was the structure of the event that allowed these
groups to talk in a different way.
First, they were really invited, not sent or nominated.
Each could say no. They were invited with a phone call.
Inefficient, but human. And they were asked to help
create a future, not to solve the past. Plus a demand was
made in the invitation: “You must come for two
days, and come to participate, not to
The structure of the meeting had everyone look at the
Forest Service as a whole. Everyone took the perspective
of top management. We discussed what was pressuring it,
how it has been responding, what was its history and what
was our vision for the Service in 2020.
Instead of one vision, we created five visions with
different themes. One was about saving the land and its
ecology, another was the land as an educational
experience, another was about the spirituality of the
forest, another about the economy of the system and its
water, recreational and wood resources and finally there
was a vision that the service was a chance to build
community. Why limit ourselves to only one vision of what
tomorrow can become?
The effort continues. Many of the connections among
unlikely suitors made in the meeting have been sustained.
The work has taken more focus now aimed at the use and
preservation of the water resources on forest land. They
are also planning to address this issue in a similar
high-engagement meeting. Some of the patterns remain
unchanged, some of the participants are probably still
wary, but if nothing else, it has infused some hope into
the organization and started to change the pattern that
hung like a cloud for a long time.
The Point For
What was significant about this government meeting about
a volatile issue was:
- No legislation or new mandates were called for to
pressure some other group into falling into line with a
future we had in mind.
- It was a meeting with no speeches or presentations. No
keynote address, no question and answer sessions where
the person standing has an answer and the audience only
- Five visions of the future were created. Each quite
different with a unique focus and set of values and
concerns underlying it. No one demanded that we have to
decide, pick only one vision, make the tough choices and
make them now. The group recognized the legitimacy and
compatibility of alternative visions.
- It became a pluralistic society. Diversity of viewpoint
was valued as much as the diversity we all long for in
- The regional leadership of the Forest Service fully
joined the discussion as members. They were not silenced,
but they did not drive the discussion in some pre-planned
direction. They were sponsors of the meeting. They
participated in the design of the meeting and the
decision about who would run the meeting. They provided
insider knowledge when it was required, but they had the
faith that this group would define directions that they
could commit to.
- Forest Service employees from many levels were also
participants: middle and lower level managers, some
workers. They all brought their voice into the room. They
were even selected because they would speak up.
- There were no common vows of action and next steps.
Each person defined for themselves what a meaningful
action would be. They made a bet that it would be their
emotional commitment and the healing experience of the
session that would drive follow-up. We did not go through
the motion of next steps, lists of actions and their
measures. We know by now that the traditional
“day-timer” tactics have not particularly
worked in the past to bring about changes in attitude or
- No electronic technology was required. We were able to
meet without the usual tools of persuasion:
teleconferencing, leader videos, slides, overhead
projectors or PowerPoint. Y2K was no sword over our
- We were dependent on social technology. For
- Great attention was given to who was at each table. At
times I sat with strangers, other times with people of
- Great attention was given to respecting the past. They
created a timeline with butcher paper across a long wall,
marking the beginning of the Forest Service all the way
to the present. Then we were invited to note on the
timelines events we were a part of or events that were
profound. In silence, our history was written on the
- Great attention was given to focusing on the future.
What do we want to create together? In pictures, in
words, from small group to large.
- There was time for real conversation. Dialogue took
precedence over schedule. We spoke without negotiation,
without final answers.
For me personally, my mind was changed. I found lumber
company executives who cared about the environment.
Environmental activists who were reasonable and ate meat.
Government employees and executives who listened, made no
speeches. A river guide who wanted to make some real
money. Academics that were deeply involved in their
community and cared more about learning than teaching.
And one woman whose family lumber business ended in the
debris of the spotted owl battle, and decided to give her
life towards building a viable community.
Leadership for a
The event was significant for more than its service to
our national forests. It demonstrated what leadership
could be. The bosses convened this group and then joined
it. They decided to use their power for dialogue and
common cause rather than mandate and direction and more
policy. They were not a role model, they did not keep
asking how to measure progress, they knew change takes a
while and each step has value.
They also held this conference on their own, indifferent
to how much support they got from their bosses. They did
not defend their past, and finally, they were personally
and emotionally committed to the purpose of the
institution. This is what bosses should be doing. And
there must be more of them around.
The experience also showed that we have all the social
technology and skill required to change our world. It was
an example of the power of a different language. One
where forgiveness, calling, choice and restoration were
legal and present. For some reason we think we need
permission to build on language like this and design
rooms where it belongs.
This meeting affirmed that we know what the new
conversation is and the outline of a new story. We know
how to bring adversarial parties together to create hope,
how to create meetings where all voices are heard, where
listening is allowed. And where action follows
understanding and reflection rather than preceding
It is good to know that our government has the capacity
to bring people together in a way that supports
connection and activism and common interest. These
stories of our government rarely get told.