A version of this article was previously posted on LinkedIn. It has been updated and edited for this site.
For several years, my most popular course has been the Conscious Contracts Masterclass. It takes the new thinking of business – conscious business, values approaches – and incorporates ideas social technology from spiral dynamics, Reinventing Organizations, and several other disciplines. It is part of a multidisciplinary, holistic approach known as integrative law which parallels approaches developing in companies. The specific contract portions draw from my work, from Discovering Agreement by Linda Alvarez, The Book of Agreement by Stewart Levine, and The Blueprint of We collaboration document.
In 2016, I began to work with an innovative group in Spain. They were combining design thinking with collaborative practice. We began to explore the idea of using design thinking with my contracts training. We met in person earlier this year to test some of our ideas and have continued to work together via internet. I arrived a week early to work on translations of materials and finalizing the collaboration with the design thinking leader.
Alex Carrascosa, the artist and designer, created a structure for conversations that will lead to an agreement. It looks like a board game.
Our event was opened by two local high ranking public administrators from the Basque government. Among the 60+ participants were: lawyers from as far away as Madrid, Big Law lawyers, SMEs, and solos, entrepreneurs in start-ups and consulting, president of legal foundation, health practitioners, tax and business lawyers, a Public Notary, family lawyers and leaders more than one Collaborative Practice Association, and many public administrators.
The first day of the training began with an overview of Paradigm Shifts. Using images to help illustrate how we often have to look at things from a different angle to see what is later obvious, we began to practice what it was like to leave our first impressions and try something new. From Doughnut Economics to New Media, Conscious Capitalism to Patient-Centered and Integrative Medicine, Technology to Education, I introduced innovations in many disciplines. Most were probably new to participants and lay the foundation for what was to come.
Having reviewed the paradigm shifts happening across disciplines on the global scale, I began to focus on the evolution of the legal profession. Most conversations about innovation in law are about technology. As an early adopter of most technology (I built my first website in the 1990s), I love a new tool as much as anyone. However, our focus was to be on the advances in human technology, how we will build relationships and work together on behalf of a better world for everyone.
With a fast-paced slide presentation, each slide was a full workshop shown in a few seconds. I introduced restorative justice, collaborative practice, therapeutic jurisprudence, earth jurisprudence, values-based estate planning, and many others. We explored what new skills were needed for these new approaches and the values they share.
Then, we got more specific to contracts. I introduced the 12 distinguishing characteristics of the Conscious Contracts process and document.
The twelve characteristics are adapted from this article. For fun, I used images of a dozen doughnuts. We later had a snack of colorful doughnuts (not an easy find in Spain!) It was a multi-sensory experience!
Over the years I have learned that the characteristics of the contracts cannot stand alone. The context of the change and the shifting values lay a foundation of understanding. Otherwise, people see them as a checklist and not the full shift that is required.
In the afternoon of Day 1, we practiced some of the skills of the contract formation process. Participants began with identifying their own values. We then shared those values with the whole group and organized ourselves into small groups of like-valued people. As we began to go deeper in the exploration, one lawyer exclaimed, “I’ve found my people!”
In groups with those who shared their values, participants designed an office space and procedures to align with those values. It was good practice for working together on a common values-based task. Then, we designed a process for Addressing Change and Engaging Disagreement (the “ACED”) which could be activated as an early intervention, thereby preventing more serious conflicts. The ACED provides a framework for staying conscious in times of stress and challenge. Just as each company is different, each ACED is different, tailored to the company.
In Spain, all meetings begin or end with food. At the end of the first day, die-hards took a break after the workshop and went to dinner a few hours later. My housemate returned home after midnight…or so I think. I was in bed long before she arrived.
On the second day, we began with an introduction to Design Thinking, then we used our design tool to go step-by-step, little-by-little, toward an agreement. Since I had led the first day’s program, I sat with participants while Alex led the second day. I was pleased to actually use the tool and evaluate it from a different perspective. My group acknowledged that we had an advantage on the other groups. I had co-designed the tool and knew its secrets.
Most contracts begin with a set idea and the process is tied to making that idea happen. We wanted to illustrate the power of exploring and bringing to light ideas that might not have been discovered in a more directed process.
We began with our values from Day 1 as we set out to discover what we would be and could be doing together.
We practiced listening to each other, more deeply exploring our values. As we listened, we were invited to draw or write down impressions and resonant themes. With four in the group, we had several rounds of storytelling with each round getting clearer and deeper. We ended up with quite a large stack of notes on small slips of paper.
Our next step was to identify common values among the group. After the deep listening, this was easy for us. We took the stacks of themes and sorted out the common values. We discussed the values which were not common and also looked for ways to honor (and especially not contradict) those. We put our slips of paper with common values on the Harvard Pie, around the second circle.
At this point, Alex introduced our hypothetical assignment: to create a project that would make the world a better place. In my group, two of the team members had strongly voiced that they were local, not global thinkers. We decided that we would focus on small actions, helping those closest to us, and therefore settled that making the world a better place would begin very locally, by making the room a better place.
We made a list of several ways we could contribute to a better room. Someone suggested that opening the window and letting in some fresh air would improve things. Finding some bottles of water and filling glasses was another. Sharing a smile or teaching a skill were also offered. In our storytelling, we all had shared about teaching and learning so we decided to focus there.
At this point, we realized we’d been pretty cerebral. We had words but no images in our pile of papers. My group members balked at the idea of drawing. Admitting I was no artist, I was reluctant to write on paper but a paper towel on the table seemed safe. After all, it wasn’t a real canvas. I started with a dot in the middle: we all valued personal growth and transformation so our drawing started there. Family, also a common value, surrounded and supported us. A group member said, “We need a framework!” so I built a box around the circle. Each side of the box was a value, our framework. When I finished the drawing, another group member placed it on a pen and our group had a flag! (Don’t judge my drawing, please.)
The next stage of our process was to identify our group’s resources and strengths, to help us flesh out how to contribute. Since I am monolingual, the members of our group were chosen because they could all speak English. Members of the group also spoke Spanish, Basque, and even French. With those resources available to us, we devised a project to visit each of the other groups. One member would introduce our project in Spanish, inviting the other groups to join us in making the room (and thus, our world) a better place.We’d explain that we wanted to teach a few words (the same sentence) in each language. Since a smile always improves our day, I would then smile at each member of the group. Then, we would encourage each group to adopt one of the other ideas we had for improving the room.
Our task continued with the clarification of our action steps, roles, and operating principles. We decided that we would limit our interruption of the other groups to less than 2 minutes, honoring our shared value of showing respect. We then checked with Alex, honoring the group rules, and had an opportunity to address an unexpected change: he didn’t want us to interrupt but offered to allow us to speak to all the groups after lunch.
Our final step was to capture how we addressed change and resolved conflict. One member of our group playfully refused to participate so we could practice different scenarios and write them down. She’d been raising objections before but when given permission, she really let loose. Even in role play, she was surprised at how persuasive it was when we went back and explored our values together as part of the conversation to create our ACED.
The completed process had uncovered a shared mission and common, more specific vision for our group project, elements of the Conscious Contract process that naturally emerged in the exercises. Four strangers had aligned to create and even execute a project together while having fun, honoring our strengths and contributions, and even playing together. We had discovered our own unique ways of getting along, working together, sharing resources, and honoring values. Even I was impressed at how easily it had unfolded.
Our group finished our assignment hours ahead of the others. Many of the other groups were bogged down in details and high-minded and complex projects. After lunch, we fulfilled our mission by sharing our process, including our smiles and language lessons with the group.The sharing of the project also made the room a better place by breaking through a lot of the complexity in the other groups. A member of another group later declared that her group had gotten what it meant to really discover an agreement: their impasse was broken when they allowed the conversations to flow. They ended up creating a project to use swing dancing to align the energy in the room. Their presentation at the end of the day used music and dance. Look at the photo and imagine that we are all swaying to the music. They indeed made our room a better and happier place!
This has been a long and somewhat detailed post. Several people saw social media posts about our events and asked to know more, so I decided to write this to share the process.
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