Responsive Organisations and Host Leadership

I am looking forward to attending the inaugural Responsive Organisations ‘unconference’ in London this weekend.  It looks like there will be a very interesting group gathering to explore the next generation of organisational paradigms, as part of the movement from hierarchies and rigidity to dynamic and participative thinking in the workplace (which by the way now seems to be pretty much anyplace).  You can read the Responsive Organisations manifesto here.

Going into the conference, I am thinking that the Host as Leader idea has a lot to offer in this kind of setting.  One of the key aspects of the manifesto is that this way of working means ‘participation, but not consensus’.  This is music to my ears.  Hosts (and leaders) have a role to engage and encourage participation.  They do this by inviting people well, preparing a great space, connecting the participants and so on.  What they don’t do, and cannot do, is insist that everyone thinks the same.

I spent last weekend at another conference – the first international Sunday Assembly meeting, also in London.  This network of ‘godless congregations’ offers a non-religious way to gather, celebrate life, offer community action and take a moment to wonder at just how awesome the world is.  Right now there are over 20 Sunday Assemblies around the world, with a target of 100 by the end of the year.  I have been designing a governance process, to help everyone work together, know how decisions are made, have their say and so on.  This has been a fascinating and fraught process – many different ideas and perspectives emerged.  I worked very hard to get a proposal to which all the existing groups could agree.  In the end it came down to a vote – When we voted, one group voted against.  Does this mean that we can’t move forwards?  Of course not – there is of course still work to do and discussions to be had, but participation need not and cannot mean stagnation.

Difference and the ways difference is handled is a key role for leaders.  I hope that in the Sunday Assembly process I have handled it constructively.  Taking an emergent and agile perspective, nothing is for ever.  There is always a next step, there are always future challenges which we can’t see or even imagine.  As Stephen Rose wrote in his excellent book Lifelines: Life Beyond the Gene  (in a paraphrase of Karl Marx) “We create our own futures – but not in circumstances of our own choosing”.

More on the responsive organisation movement at


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