Early September I spent most of a week in Portugal, to be exact in the home of Bev and Etienne Wenger-Trayner. I was there with our entire team at The Green Land, to participate in the 3-day Systems Convening workshop that Bev and Etienne host.

It was an intensive and special week to me. Special for multiple reasons.

  • The training was hosted at home by Bev and Etienne. This creates a special dynamic, as you are in someone’s private environment and in an informal setting, while taking a deep dive in professional topics. We shared meals together, took a swim, learned to operate the coffee machine ourselves. All this serves to create more and different connections between the participants, and creates a space for much more open interactions. It’s especially pleasing that this set-up is partly inspired by Bev having attended our first birthday unconference in 2008.
  • We participated with our whole team, and there also were other participants in the group. The first effect of this is that we all returned to work with the same experience, which makes actual adoption in our work by each of us easier. It created a shared language for something that me and others are experienced in but found hard to convey to our younger team members. The second effect was that because of the presenc of participants with very different backgrounds and activities, it wasn’t just about us, which allowed us to take a bit of distance to our own work, and get more varied feedback as well.
  • Systems convening, as a practice, is something that me and my colleague Frank do almost naturally. Exploring it more deeply and methodically in this course meant not just a boost for our individual work in client projects, but also a tremendous boost in our self-perception as a company. For my own perception of my current projects as well as where I think we can go as a company this was enormously valuable too. We spent three days deeply reflecting on our work and our practices.
  • Bev and Etienne’s approach towards learning and towards working change is something I too have deeply internalised over the years, also because my own journey and my own natural behaviour is very similar to their topics of interest. It felt like my team got the opportunity to look inside my own head for three days. The type of work I do and love to do, how it connects to my understanding of the world, the type of things that are dear to me in taking a stance professionally, it’s almost as if it was a course on ‘how Ton thinks about things’.

I’ve known Bev for a very long time, and Etienne’s work has been a key ingredient in my own work since the late nineties. It was such a pleasure to bring all my colleagues to their home, and do a deep dive on social learning theory and our own practices. The way that my personal network, deeply internalised practices, the value of our own current work, our team dynamics, how all those layers fully turned into a coherent meaningful single whole was spectacular and deeply touching to me.

During the course it became very clear to me (again? for the first time?) how deeply I am emotionally tied to and invested in social learning approaches and agency in the world.

This intense emotional connection to social learning and the change work I do, clarified for me how much of that is actually a core part of my internal personal identity. In the past months I had an intermittent conversation with my friend Peter about whether I am curious or lack curiosity, and how I tend to routinely distrust or dismiss my own motives behind how I operate in the world. The experience last month in Portugal makes me realise that there actually is not much reason to be that suspicious, and much more reason to actually embrace that about myself.

At work

All course participants with Bev and Etienne

Taking a swim, and drinking a glass of wine, in Bev and Etienne’s pool with sea view