Along with my co-facilitator Birgitt Williams, I’ve just finished facilitating the annual Genuine Contact Summer Academy. Our focus this year was on the Genuine Contact Organization module of the program. This module brings together the learning of all the other modules to explore how one can support organizational transformation the Genuine Contact way.
In this program, we looked at case studies spanning the last 30 years. We started with an exploration of a multi-service social service agency in Canada, moved on to NIIT Foundation in India, and finally looked at our own international Genuine Contact Organization.
While there are some key ingredients that support the development of organizations with this Genuine Contact Organization module, each organization is entirely unique. Not just in the products or services it offers, but also in the way it is developed.
The International Genuine Contact Organization
Our international Genuine Contact Organization is no different. I choose to believe that an organization is defined as “people working together towards a common purpose.” In the case of our GCO, the common purpose that people began to work together towards was the Genuine Contact way of working. This organization started to form in September 2001 during the first Train the Trainer.
From then to now, an organization has formed with purpose for existence, clear leadership model, and a vision of what we are working towards together. We have a growing community made up of formal members of the organization, people interested in Genuine Contact, and the clients who each of these people work with. And minimal liberating structures within a participatory architecture that are intended to support us all in experiencing that common purpose and moving together towards our vision successfully.
3 Areas of Focus Make Up our GCO
In working the Genuine Contact way, having a clear sense of purpose is the foundation for everything – for what an organization is, for how it functions, for developing business goals, for developing processes for achieving those goals. So it’s no wonder that people who are learning about Genuine Contact and our international organization spend a lot of time wondering “but what is this international Genuine Contact Organization anyway?”
When someone asks about why our GCO exists, I think about 3 main areas of focus. These 3 pillars are the essential focus of what we offer not just to our formal members but to everyone interested in working with Genuine Contact.
Co-creation has been a focus of the International Genuine Contact Organization since its inception. In September 2001, Birgitt Williams and Ward Williams taught the first Train the Trainer, authorizing 17 people to train others in the Genuine Contact Program modules. Starting with this first Train the Trainer, Birgitt and Ward knew that for Genuine Contact to be successfully developed, used, and taught in the world they would need to open up co-creation of the program to all authorized Trainers. Foundational givens were developed to create a container for this co-creation to happen and all Trainers were invited to participate.
Starting in September 2002, all authorized Trainers were invited to an annual mentoring circle in Raleigh for the purpose of continuing this co-creation. Whoever was able to attend could participate in recommending future actions and decision making. The way this co-creation has evolved in the last 20 years is a story for another day. Suffice it to say, co-creation remains an integral part of the International GCO.
In the present day, anyone who is interested in the Genuine Contact way of working can participate in this co-creation. Sometimes it is co-creation with our clients. That co-creation can then be shared back into the organization as a new way of working with the tools and processes that make up this way of working. Sometimes, it is co-creation that is more formal within the organization itself. Anyone with interest in Genuine Contact can start a working group to co-create something new together. Depending on the scope of the co-creation, a clear decision-making matrix guides how things move forward and who might need to be involved in making the decisions necessary to move ideas into action.
The organization is responsible for not just inviting to this co-creation, but also ensuring that optimal conditions are fostered for that co-creation to be successful.
With a growing group of people who were working with and training others to use Genuine Contact and an intentional model of co-creation, mentoring was a natural next step. People naturally came together to share their experiences, ask questions, and support one another with our growing collective wisdom. The mentoring experience is also intentional as a key component of the Genuine Contact way of working.
The International Genuine Contact Organization offers a variety of mentoring opportunities. These opportunities are both formal and structured like monthly meetings and regular topic-specific mentoring circles as well as informal like individual mentoring conversations that happen between our members on a daily basis somewhere in the world. Mentoring happens in collective ways like our email-based mentoring through “the list” on Google Groups (ongoing for 20+ years!). It also happens privately and individually in personal conversations.
The organization both offers mentoring opportunities directly and helps people to connect with opportunities being offered independently by our members.
For me, stewardship is a natural evolution of what happens when co-creation and mentoring around a common purpose are combined. Co-creation + mentoring = growth and change. Always. Stewardship supports that change to happen in the best ways possible.
The definition of stewardship I work from is: “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.” The picture in my head is like a medieval forest ranger, stewarding the land and its creatures through managing the boundaries of the territory, careful tending of new growth, cleaning out the deadwood, and ensuring animals were healthy and in reasonable populations.
Stewardship of Genuine Contact is not much different. Through the very nature of co-creation and mentoring, new growth is bound to happen. The International Genuine Contact Organization carries the responsibility of ensuring it happens within the boundaries created by our organizational givens, keeping a clear picture of the whole organization so that we can see where new growth may replace what was there before and taking action to clean up that deadwood, and supporting the health and balance of all of our members – both formal and informal – through the organizational structures and work processes that are developed.
The organization and its members are invited to be good stewards of Genuine Contact. When we do this well, as the Genuine Contact way of working and living grows it will always remain true to its essence, to its core beliefs, and its foundational givens. While respecting these boundaries that create the form of Genuine Contact, it will grow and adapt to our ever-changing understanding of organizations and the environment within which they operate. And through good stewardship, it will grow and adapt in the healthiest and most balanced way we know how.
A Side-Benefit: Our Organization as a Learning Playground
Co-creation, mentoring, and stewardship all work together to create the conditions for our organization to function as a learning playground. A lived experience of working within a Genuine Contact Organization. Our members don’t just support other organizations in working this way, we each have the lived experience of participating in an organization that has been developed and continues to be regenerated in this way too.
In working together, we each have the opportunity to learn more deeply about the Genuine Contact Way. We make plans for achieving our business goals and development goals, implement them, learn from them, and know how to keep improving our efforts in future.
Along with that experience comes all of the benefits we know are possible when working this way – collaboration, synergy, ease, strong relationships, and more. It also comes with the practical experience of what it is like to be leaders having the courage to work this way, and all of the mixed emotions, personal growth, and leadership development opportunities that come with it.
This is my experience of the international Genuine Contact Organization. My understanding of why it exists. Can you see your understanding and experience in what I’ve shared? Do you see your reasons for being connected to Genuine Contact? What surprises you? What do you notice? What would you add…or maybe take away?
Photo Credit: Vibha, Initiator-VibhaSpace, India