Infrastructure matters


374% more people biked to work in Portland in 2017 than in 2000.


This wasn’t mandated by law; nor was it done by sheer will-power. There was a constellation of interactions that led to the building of infrastructure to support increased ridership. And because of that the hurdle to get on your bike became a bit lower, leading more people cycling, and therefore more people advocating for good infrastructure. And the ratchet emerges.


My work as a consultant and facilitator is about creating the conditions where the relational infrastructure of teams and organizations can become more robust and resilient. We’ve known for a long time how good communication and conflict resolution is vital for organizations. However, training is sometimes just copied and pasted on without paying attention to the a deeper visceral and relational infrastructure needed to support it.


Learning that Lasts

If we truly want to integrate learning, its vital that we shift from mere cognitive to embodied learning; from solitary to interactive; and from joyless to play-filled.

“Play and laughter shift cognition away from the amygdala and into the neocortex where higher social functions are processed." - Brad Fortier quoting Mithen in Applied Improvisation: Leading, Creating, and Collaborating Beyond the Theatre.”

The work I facilitate is about shifting our way of being together through employing the wisdom, philosophy and practice of Applied Improvisation. To the uninitiated, an improv performance seems like magic. Are you sure they didn’t plan any of this? However to those of us who practice improv it makes sense that an amazing improv scene is unfolding before them (and it’s delightful!). Why? Because the agreed upon foundations of improv — being present/tuned-in, seeing everything as an offer; supporting your partner (accepting offers vs blocking); being willing to be changed, let go; seeing mistakes as gifts/reinterpreting failure — have cultivated in us a posture of leaning in, curiosity, agility, and collaboration.


Applied Improvisation is a growing field of taking the foundations and practices of improv beyond the theater — into businesses and nonprofits, schools and faith communities, transformative work with refugees, kids on the autism spectrum, emergency responders… really, any field you can think of where there are people who need to relate to each other and build trust and who want a better world.


When we do the work of building relational infrastructure in our organizations, we are just like city planners, supporting particular ways of commuting to make it easier.


How can you cultivate a relational infrastructure with your team?


To read a longer version of this post go to It's Your Turn blog on Medium.


If you want to experience an engaging, interactive, and fun workshop that will give you tools to increase engagement in your workplace, come to our Liberating Structures Immersion workshop here in Bellingham, Washington on October 4. I'm co-facilitating with Art Sherwood and Kristine Baker. For more info and to register go to LSbellingham.info $250 will be the final price. However, right now we are offering an Advanced Early Bird rate at $75. 22 participants are currently registered.



#relationalinfrastructure #appliedimprovisation #organizationalculture #liberatingstructures

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©2020 David Westerlund