Recently I gave a presentation to about 220 people about the origins and theory behind The Grove Consultant International’s Team Performance System (TPS). I did it on my 80th birthday, May 29, as a first part of what we at The Grove are calling the “Sourcecode Project.” Its focus is to explore our foundational understandings about how groups and organizations work that can provide a stable basis for our collective future. While many are experiencing massive amounts of change (not to mention AI, climate change and rising authoritarianism), there are some things that don’t change as much, and might provide navigational guidance, much the way a gyrocompass does for a ship in the fog. The ideas underlying the TPS are those kinds of ideas. They have guided The Grove’s methodological and tools development since 1977 when the company began.

Here is a link to a full video of the presentation on The Grove’s You Tube Channel if you want to experience it first hand. I gave it using a new streaming studio I am creating that allows for good storytelling through a teleprompter camera, tablet work, writing on PowerPoint, and integrating actual work on a wall. Now I’m using text. During the Zoom talk I told the story of my ten years of development conversations with Allan Drexler, a true expert on teams. I also shared the story of how Arthur M. Young’s Theory of Process shaped my own understanding of process and provided a template for our eventual Team Performance Model. And twice during the talk I opened up to questions, using real paper and an easel as shown here to support the interaction. I noticed how being freed from the presentation technology of PowerPoint let my stories come alive. Here is a picture of the questions that Joran Oppelt and Erik Rolland, my two Grove colleagues, harvested from the chat. I noted them on large sticky notes. tp-questions

I’ll let the video answer some of these questions if you want to dig into this topic. Here I want to use writing to answer some of the questions that didn’t get a response. I start with some application questions.

To what extent is this model also valid for teams in Start-ups/ scale- ups?

If you appreciate this kind of model as a framework and each challenge as a kind of “lens” of perception, then you can look at anything and get insight. The model illustrates the most fundamental elements of teaming on the left and the levels of higher performance possible on the right, but does NOT imply that teams go through the challenges in precisely this order. It’s designed to show a default process, since many times beginning with fundamentals is a smart way to go. But some teams jump into Commitment or Implementation well before understanding that is foundational for these to be resolved. The arc of process can help a person look at any level of scale.

How does a team flow through the model when the teams that have “churn” in team membership, i.e. people going in and out of the team on a regular basis?

In my experience having a common language in an organization is even more important if there is a lot of churn. And having a visual model that can be explained easily also helps when new people join.

I believe Is there any thought around translating the model into other languages?

The full system is available in German through TMS Zentrum. The model has been translated into other languages as well, mostly in books like Meryem LeSage’ts Manager Intuitive in France.

How do you navigate different levels of sense making with leaders and teams (and how they use these tools), and meeting them where they are? 

The system is designed to provide a basis for exchange and inquiry about what people perceive looking through each of the seven challenges. Leaders with more developmental understanding will see a lot more. Different levels will also have different kinds of practices available for meeting the challenges. While the “resolved” and “unresolved” keys to each challenge are written generically, arguing with them is the best way to get people to talk about how they personally understand the challenges at whatever level they work. Keep in mind that “teaming” is shaped by culture, and culture by language, and the variations are significant. Having a starting point for engagement that takes a systemic perspective from the beginning is the purpose of the TP System and quite helpful.  

How might we make a case with groups for using graphic charting on paper on walls– it can be viewed as outdated and suspect?

I love this question, and another that wondered how I made the case for using graphics with Allan. Since humans have trouble keeping more than 4-5 things in mind without some kind of visual support, most people see the value right away, if you simply use charting without making a fuss about it. But a way to frame this in a more contemporary way is to say something like “let’s talk informally at this point to support our being more personal and creative. I’ll just take notes here on this chart. We can type it all up later.” This is more difficult in applications like Miro and Mural, which bias toward typing, but the drawing functions do work pretty well if you learn how to use them. In any event you need to be convinced of the value of slowing down and thinking more deeply, which is what handwriting allows.


What definition of trust do you use? How much is that definition provided or is it created by the clients?  May have missed that earlier.

Allan and my definition of trust is embedded in the “keys”—Mutual respect, forthrightness, and competence. Jack Gibb feels that trust arises from people being authentic with each other, beyond roles and requirements. However, I would bias toward getting the team involved in answering the question themselves. We often teach about this by having small groups share about their best team experience, and then generalize about what cuts across the stories. Trust is always present and there would be good examples of what it means.

Can you please clarify again the AEIO descriptions?

AEIO are names for the four levels behind the model. In some ways these are four levels of “reality” or four worlds of perception. ATTENTION is imaginary, in that it is only “real”  inside our light sensitive nervous systems. ENERGY can be felt directly, but not always consciously. Its reality is its intensity, force, and direction. But these are not objective realities. They are sensed. INFORMATION is symbolic—words, images, or numbers, and the patterns of connection within display formats, grammars, and data frameworks. This reality is shaped by the rules of language, but always subject to interpretation and connotation arising from personal experience. OPERATIONS refers to the reality of the physical world and the infrastructures we count on. It includes our use of time as governed by timekeeping devices. It is objective and subject to cause and effect. Arthur M. Young liked to distinguish these mathematically  by the levels of constraint that is present in a physical sense. Level IV, the “O” is 3D constrained. Level III, the “” is 2D. Level II, “E” is 1D constrained,  and level I, the “A” has O constraint.

I have a comment and a request. I’ve used David’s model for 40 plus years and have found that conflict increases as you approach the turn. This has been valuable in working with groups and I’d appreciate his speaking to it.

Constraint increases with materialization of any project, and constraint can lead to conflict. One colleague, Sam Kaner, calls the turn the “groan zone” for this reason. But some people get more energized as things begin to materialize and feel conflicted earlier if things aren’t heading toward some kind of realization. The Tuckman model of teaming—Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing— suggests that a kind of conflict comes earlier. So much of this is dependent on context that I wouldn’t say it’s built into the model. Allan and I argued about this and chose the word “Trust” as the key second step. Constraint increases but not necessarily conflict. A lot depends on the maturity of the people involved.

What’s in the spaces between the balls? Are they liminal spaces?

I hadn’t thought of that but it feels right. Although this question suggests that the balls are actual spaces that have some constancy and coherence as entities. In a team experience that plans meetings and activities that correspond to the different challenges, the in-between times would be liminal periods, since it is a real shift to go from recruiting a team to figuring out plans to going for a budget. And there can be liminal times when implementation falters and the team is thrown back into reconsidering the basics on the left side. Seen as lenses instead of “spaces” the liminal idea isn’t so key.

How do you see artificial intelligence impacting this type of work?

This question invites me to understand what the questioner means by “this type of work.” If this means being conscious of group processes then AI is going to jump all of us into being more conscious (hopefully). At the same time I don’t underestimate human being’s attraction to certainty, especially the certainty of logical, validated, answers provided by real authorities. The impact of AI will have a lot to do with how much authority these tools gain. Will we trust Waymo in the future more than human drivers? Will we trust AI financial analysis more than our CFO’s and accountants? AI could be very helpful as a kind of librarian regarding best practices, and could even be programmed to become culturally sensitive about variations. But will it be a partner in our teaming or be  a bully whip for people who are trying to get others to produce more? I don’t think the need to cooperate and understand our workmates will decrease.

I love this model because it supports the dynamic nature of agility and change that is constant.  How do we overlay the change management model?  And, how can we make both  more visible in the model?

Overlaying mental models is like a musician blending two types of music. Each has its biases and flavors. If you know both, then overlaying can be very stimulating and creative, especially if you remain clear that these are not really “models” in the sense of describing how things actually play out, but are “frameworks” for understanding, and asking questions, and observing. I think the TPS would yield a rich amount of insight brought to bear on a change management challenge. Likewise change management tools can help inform how to sustain team performance after the change. 

David, are you in contact and exchange of ideas  with Otto Scharmer about the (in my eyes obvious) connections between the TEAM PERFORMANCE MODEL and the Theory U?

I am not in touch directly with Otto Sharmer although I have recorded sessions with him  about Theory U back at MIT in the 1990s when it was developing. There are some key differences. Suggesting that the “turn” is a smooth slide through, as the Theory U graphic implies, doesn’t yield as much insight for me as seeing a real “bounce,” a true turn in direction. But this is a matter of graphic preferences. Another difference is putting thinking above heart in the model. I appreciate that people come into many situations needing to “download what they know,” which is often informational, and don’t open to the heart until later. But I think the heart comes in earlier even if unconscious. Having Will at the bottom is interesting, since one of the graphic confusion in the TPS is flattening the torus pattern, and not seeing that having our consciousness (or will) come in at the point of greatest constraint at stage 4 is how the turn happens. I like the fact that the TPS is resonant with the arc of evolutionary process as described by science.

I learned from you, David, that the TPM is much more than a model: It’s based on a philosophy of the universe and a key to unlock universal power within a team/organization! What do you think, David: Why is the “toroidal pattern“ and the theory of process hardly received and taught? Is the time not yet ripe? Too “esoteric“ in a scientific and materialistic world???

As I said in the presentation I think the answer is in the question. It is hard to underestimate how much we are attached to materialism and materialistic explanations. However this all seems to be coming into question in our era of professional political mud wrestling and linguistic and social media free form bearing little relationship to objective fact. Our breathing follows a circulating, toroidal pattern. So does the Earth’s gravity field. Compression and expansion drives our machines. Maybe this idea is too basic.

Few models subsume materialism and consciousness as the elemental concepts. Please comment.

At the heart of this challenge is the evolution of ways of talking and representing all the four levels of “reality” that function like separate languages. Most of the words that point at these things have layers and layers of associated meaning. This problem is one of the things I like about Young’s representations using visual, geometric angles and patterns to hold the distinctions. They aren’t so overloaded with interpretation.

With the current pressures in business (and possibly the expectations around AI) it seems that leaders are moving away from this people-centric view to more of a production mentality……are you experiencing this as well? If so, do you have thoughts around this “boomerang” effect?

It’s possible that there is a general trend although I have no personal data to validate it. My own bias is toward the value of taking people seriously and that is the kind of world I’m hoping to support in my work. I’d keep doing that in the darkest of times I believe.

I would be curious to hear how facilitators that use the survey (like me) share the results? Do they share all results/a part/at what stage in the process (for example prior to/during/after/partly during a team development session?

Generally the survey results are shared with the team leader ahead of time, if there is one and especially if there are questions about the leader. It isn’t helpful to have them surprised in a team improvement meeting. Then the results are shared in the session. Reading and discussing the survey after being oriented is part of how the learning soaks in.

Question:  what are the “precursor” questions a team or a leader needs to ask before using this process model?

The TP Model could be introduced any time a group news some common language about teaming. The four page brochure has enough information to get conversations started. I’ll sometimes use this for an initial, intuitive diagnosis by asking a team where the current focus of attention is on the model. A precursor to using the survey would be to make sure that there are not problematic issues that require real discipline or even changes in assignment. We encourage clients to handle these things before a team improvement meeting.

For more information please check out The Grove’s Team Performance services at this link.

In his book American Soul, philosopher Jacob Needleman wrote, “The art form of the future is the group. The intelligence and benevolence we need can only come from the group, from associations of men and women seeking to struggle against the impulses of illusion, egoism and fear.” This quote animated Alan Briskin’s exploration of the headwaters of this idea at the first Leading as Sacred Practice (LASP) gathering in 2016 at Holger Scholz’s Beuerhof Retreat Farm in the Vulkan Eifle region of Germany. To support the dialogue that resulted, we co-created this graphic of thought leaders we knew resonated with this idea.


The four of us guiding Leading as Sacred Practice (Gisela Wendling, Alan, Holger and I) had begun calling ourselves a facilitation “Ensemble.” We shared a deep interest in collaboration and supporting a mindset that values the whole human being— spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical— AND avoiding religiosity, ideology, and blind faith.

This first retreat sparked a shift in our work, and ignited a path of co-discovery. We have been meeting and working as an ensemble ever since through two more gatherings in 2017 at IONs Earthrise Retreat Center in Petaluma, and then in 2018 back at the Beuerhof.

We decided to take a gap year in 2019, and then for 2020 planned a larger conference. But COVID appeared and we delayed again. The pandemic pushed us to create a virtual version to continue the work, and the publishing of some of our findings so far in our LASP eBook. (We are giving this away for free in the description of our series of six LASP Online Exchanges starting April 23). Our learning focuses on six “ways” we have found to lead as sacred practice.

What is an Ensemble?

I was describing our ensemble experience to a close friend, Joe Ruffato, a musician and member of a Medicine Community that I am also a member of. I could explain the “ensemble idea” easily since the medicine community is very collaborative and Joe understands what this means musically. An ensemble is a group of musicians who play together. What is not embodied in the formal definition is the meaning that is understood by professional musicians. Joe told me a story that made the point.

“When I produced my first CD I worked with three professional musicians who brought piano, base, and drums to my guitar playing and singing of my songs. We worked through several studio sessions and produced a draft version. I then had a chance to talk to our producer about it and asked him what he thought. ‘Do you really want to know,” the man replied. ‘Yes,’ I said. “He then told me that I was over strumming and doing some other things that didn’t completely balance, “ Joe said. “I came away and put the CD on hold. So I practiced and then after some months came back with a completely up-leveled performance.”

Joe went on to describe what he learned from the three musicians he had worked with. They all were very skilled in what they did, and all shared a sensitivity to the “ensemble” level of play. “They never filled the space to the detriment of the other musical voices,” Joe said. “I realized that’s what it means to be a pro.”

And I realized in Joe’s story this is what is means to be a good ensemble—to never fill the space in a way that works to detriment of another player. This means honoring the rotation of the spotlight in jazz. It means not over playing. It means listening to the whole.

Ensemble as An Artform for the Future

Having spent my adult life facilitating group process, I realized that the Ensemble idea we have used to guide our Leading as Sacred Practice work, might also be a form that could be replicated and even celebrated professionally in other group work settings.

More and more it seems that one of the shifts that we need to make as we come out of shelter-at-home and move into other escalating global issues like global warming, is to open to more imaginative “we” forms of working together. No single person is expert enough to respond to the systemic challenges we face. No solo player can lead the transformation changes necessary to work with them. Collaborative networks, action learning teams, and yes “ensembles” are needed to allow pooling of knowledge and learning as we move forward.

Groups can be the art form of the future.

Join us for the Leading as Sacred Practice Online Exchange Series. April 23, 2021, and experience one.

A recent communication from the Organizational Development Network that outlined a definition of the field and its core values led me to think about the evolution of my own thinking about the field. I’m writing here to futureofodshare this reflection, and to share my hope for the future of the field. I’m not writing a history of OD, but of the quilt of understanding that provides me with direction as a process consultant, and might be useful to other practitioners who work in or with organizations.


My “training,” or should I say first experiences with OD, were at OD Network conferences in the 1970s.  I didn’t know what the field was back then but found out about it when trying to hire Sandra Florstedt for our Coro Leadership program in San Francisco. She worked at Kaiser as an OD Practitioner and explained to me OD was an application of behavioral science theory for organizations, working to see the whole organization as a living organism and creating conditions that would allow people to find solutions to their own problems from within. I remember her telling a story about early practitioners drawing on the work of biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy, crediting him with founding general systems theory. He was trying to understand open systems in nature. She also shared about Kurt Lewin, a German who helped found social psychology, arguing that a values orientation and democratic processes were critical to achieving planned change. I had been working to get Coro Fellows to understand the city as a whole system and Lewin’s advocacy of action learning and group dialogue was inspiring. Sandra subsequently introduced me to the OD Network conference at Snowmass in 1976 where I presented about Arthur M. Young’s Theory of Process and Group Graphics and became a practicing member of the network.

Evolving a Personal Perspective on OD

The seed idea of seeing organizations as living systems, and seeing change as a social process quickly put down roots in my work as I began to develop a practice. Initial work as a graphic facilitator evolved to supporting teams and developing the Drexler/Sibbet Team Performance Model,  then learning and facilitating strategic planning with Rob Eskridge and Ed Claassen, and now doing change consulting and multi-stakeholder processes on large systems. My current work with Gisela Wendling and The Grove’s new Global Learning & Exchange Network (GLEN) is living at the edge of inquiry into collaborative methodology. It is all driving back to the seed thought that open, living systems need different kinds of support than machines. In the process  my quilt of understanding pulled in ideas from complexity theory, cognitive psychology, social constructionism, Tibetan Buddhism, and Earth Wisdom practices. And always, tracking the tension and sometimes polarization between a materialistic and a holistic way of thinking about organizations and change.

Still Thinking About Whole Systems

My graphic work is inherently about making systemic sense out of people’s thinking, so the seed impulse for OD is still strong, but I’ve reached out to other thinkers beyond the field of OD.

I’ve been personally deeply inspired by the holistic work of Arthur M. Young’s Theory of Process. He didn’t deal with organizations, but as a cosmologist set out to reconcile the knowing from metaphysics with the best findings of physics and mathematics. He was a systemic thinker through and through, but insisted that purpose and process are more fundamental than objective structure, though purpose and process need these structures to express themselves.

I also discovered that researchers in complexity sciences support his orientation, finding that living systems organize around flows of energy from which structures emerge and embrace open, not closed, rule sets for interaction. Flows include money, information, constituencies, climate, and people themselves.

This process orientation has led to my paying attention to Frederick Laloix’s Reinventing Organizations , inspired by Spiral Dynamics, an orientation that is developmental at its core. It’s popular in Europe and leading people to experiment with much less hierarchical organizations out of trust that if people are taken seriously, they can manage and solve problems in a more “emergent” way. (There are missing elements I will explore in later writing). I also think that Theory “U” in its inclusive embrace of spirit, soul, mind and body is a clearly process oriented methodology that is very compelling.

Past Reflections, CURRENT EDGES

As the crises rising from climate change and accompanying mass migrations accelerate, I can’t help but believe that a huge amount of adaptation and change will be required in the future. People could (and are) reverting to img_5446fear-driven authoritarianism, simplistic, bunkered responses but might also be (and are) called to step up to higher level of collaboration. It’s not a given. What will support    this second option?

Will the lessons from neuroscience and social psychology about brain biases and hi-jack reactions help practitioners create safe spaces for collaborative co-creation of new alternatives and avoid numbing and dissociation?

Will reclaiming the role of ritual and ceremony and traditional practices bring nourishment and feeling into systems wrung out with efficiency? (My current life partner, Gisela’s, work on liminality and change is now recasting many of my assumptions about traditional OD approaches as I see how shut down people become without attention to the inner process of change or the creativity that lies in the in-between spaces where cultures meet.)

Will learning from Earth-wisdom practices and indigenous methods help restore our connection to nature and each other?

Under it all I wonder if somehow we can transform the deeply entrenched materialistic paradigm into something that respects relationship and spirit as much as objective truths? Can we reclaim an anchoring in core values that are deeply moral?

The original thinking of the founders of OD reflect many of these perspectives, reacting as they were to the trauma of world wars. But methods birthed in humanism have become canonized and abstracted to a degree that some of the original curiosity and experimentation gets lost. There are  exceptions. Lisa Kimball, a pioneer in computer conferencing and former OD thought leader, advocated an approach called Liberating Structures that deliberately mixes and matches different modalities to stimulate new awareness and jump out of siloed thinking. Bob Marshak and Gervase Bushe surveyed many new OD approaches is their book, Dialogic OD:The Theory and Practice of Transformational Change.  They see World Café, Open Space, Future Search Conferences, The Art of Convening, and other high engagement methods focusing more on new narratives and emergent, generative imagery than on diagnostic processes.

Are Organizations Even the Right Focus?

But deep down I’m personally awakening to the possibility that organizations may not be the most relevant focus for those of us who work for and within organizations. Today people and organizations are so interconnected and interdependent— embedded in overlapping networks and consortia, fields of practice, value webs, and a booming world of free agents—amid constant change—that “context” may be a more important frame for attention. And by context, I mean much more than paying attention to customers and constituents. It includes the environment, cultures and their values, other sectors and organizations, and larger social networks and relationships.

Some of my current GLEN colleagues’ are working explicitly with energetic fields and collective intelligence, using the learning from neuroscience to create “safe” environments for engagement and using design thinking for social change. Philanthropic organizations are funding for collective impact, asking for NGOs to cooperate and collaborate in facing important issues. Multisector collaborations and networks are arising to face systemic issues. The adaptation requirements of global warming will force us all into levels of reinvention we’ve never even imagined, well beyond nicely bounded organizations.

I also wonder how my and others’ years of focusing on “the organization” has contributed to our field supporting many organizations just becoming better at maximizing the extraction of value from people and the land and avoiding responsibility for impacts, and completely ignoring context.

What if OD Were…nasanorthamerica

So, wrapped in this quilt of reflection, I wrote out my own definition for a field of OD that I could live into.

“The field of Organization Development is inspired by the question of how to support human systems that are alive, evolving, and more like true ecosystems than mechanisms, although they depend on these for expression.

We help leaders, teams, organizations, communities, and larger networks learn to connect with purpose, motivate themselves to act, find appropriate processes to guide collaboration and co-creation, and create results that both improve the effectiveness of their organizations and contribute to the quality of their communities and the Earth as a whole..

We are not afraid of the complexity and inquiry required to respond to these questions. We learn by doing and do to learn. We continue to seek out and test theory that helps our clients make connections in the midst of turbulence and fragmentation. We are capable of being, at heart, a community of practitioners, schools, and networks believing that humans have only just begun to tap the full potential of people working together for the common good.”

I want to be part of a future in a field that differentiates itself not by the value of its answers for organizations alone, but by the depth and sensitivity of its questions in service of the whole.

I sustain a keen interest in metaphors and plausible narratives about where we are headed as a society, and frankly, I am worried. I was rocked recently by a close reading of sociobiologist and futurist Rebecca Costa’s0-watchmansrattle 2012 best seller, The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse. (She has a new book, also a best seller, called On the Verge, which I haven’t read.) Costa has a long history in Silicon Valley and a polymath’s appetite for large-scale thinking. My reading, in the context of seeing our country spiraling into policy chaos, is that her 2012 message is even more relevant in 2018.

Her “new theory” is that civilizations collapse when complexity outstrips human’s cognitive ability to grasp what is going on. More interestingly, she identifies the symptoms that suggest collapse is beginning. I’m not wanting to believe we are collapsing, as I am much more interested in growth and development and what our field of process consulting and visual practice can do in response. Yet her argument is persuasive.

Let me summarize what she is talking about. Drawing from both evolutionary biology and new findings in neuroscience, Costa describes in detail how the Mayans, Romans, Germans and others expanded and collapsed. Collapse begins with gridlock—simply too many conflicting forces and events compounding—and continues with the substitution of belief for facts.

In most civilizations, Costa observes, there is a balance between untethered beliefs and scientifically or experientially validated knowledge. We use beliefs to deal with the ineffable and non-objective, and we have (at least for the last many hundreds of years) looked to science for help with being objective, particularly regarding the physical world. Yet when complexity begins to overwhelm people’s cognitive abilities, beliefs take over and attention to facts disappears.

For the Mayans facing severe drought, their engineering of cisterns and other water strategies gave way to human sacrifice. For the Germans after World War I, the complexity of their post-war fractured economy gave way to fascism and blame and World War II.  Sound familiar?Read more…