Sharing and building Solution Focused practice in organisations

The 2010 SOLWorld conference was held last week in Bucharest, Romania. I have just returned from an exciting, thought-provoking and exhausting few days, and wanted to jot down a few thoughts about it all.
The event was held in two adjoining hotels (the Ramada Parc and Ramada Plaza) – this worked very well, with a big plenary room in one and nice workshops rooms in the other. We met on Wednesday evening for a buffet meal – always so many people to say hello and reconnect with.

Thursday began with an opening session featuring some circle dancing (by all!) and meeting in buddy groups. We then had a good plenary on international cases, with three stories from Verlee Hendrickx (SF at work in a college in Belgium), Yozuru Yoshida (SF driving great improvements in Sumitomo Mitsui Bank in Japan) and George Agafitei (Romania). After lunch we had another plenary, this time on SF and SySt constellations with Petra Muller-Demary and Rita Klemmayer, who had us working with small objects to ‘step into the miracle’.
The workshops then started, and I very much enjoyed hearing more from Yoshida-san about his work at the Japanese bank. He runs a two day course in SF for branhc managers, who then go off to implement changes in their branches in whatever way they are inspired to. A follow-up day after three months gives a chance for reflections and futher learning. The changes described by Yoshida-san were remarkable, not least as all the participants develop their own processes using the SF principle of ‘every case is different’. An excellent workshop, packed with information and ideas, and it’s an honour for me to see things like OSKAR coaching in use on the other side of the world.

Next up for me was Yoram Galli’s workshop on SF Command – Providing meaning in the Israeli army. Yoram is an old friend of SOLWorld, and his latest work on teaching SF to experienced army commanders and staff officers offered another dimension in terms of areas where SF might be useful. His initial workshops have met with good reactions. We often think of army officers as barking out orders under fire, but of course this is a very rare situation for most of them. The SF ideas can easily be used at many other times.

Thursday evening was the conference dinner, and we walked along tree-lined boulevards past Bucharest’s Triumphal Arch (a smaller version of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris) to an attractive restaurant with Romanian food, some traditional music, dancing by school children from an orphanage (very well done) and a disco later. I enjoyed the garden bar outside during the more frantic dancing.. :-) After much late night socialising and watching the UK election results, I had very little sleep!

Friday kicked off with our traditional Open Space sessions – this worked well again, helped by the fact that we had about six nice rooms very close together. Then on to the main plenary for the day, SF and Wittgenstein with Prof Daniele Moyal-Sharrock, University of Hertfordshire and president of the British Wittgenstein Society. It was a real coup that we could get Daniele to come along – she is one of the world’s leading Wittgenstein scholars and offered her latest thinking on Wittgenstein’s Social ‘Theory’ of language acquisition, as well as a general introduction and some thoughts on connections between Wittgenstein and SF. Her paper was followed by a reflecting team discussion, where members of the audience join me, Kirsten Dierolf and Anton Stellamans to offer their own ideas and connections with what she had said, from which we gathered a large and rich collection. Daniele and her husband Peter Sharrock really made an excellent contribution, not just with this session but also by joining in with everything very whole-heartedly and taking a great deal away with them about SF practice. Daniele’s paper will be available soon on the solworld website (

My own workshop on ‘SF in the landscape of organisational change’ came up in the post-lunch slot, and I was delighted when nearly thirty people showed up to look at how SF sits with the many other OD methods that are around. We played with taxonomising these methods (lots of ways to organise them) and I presented Gareth Morgan’s classic work on metaphors of organisation. The idea of looking at the metaphors organisations use to describe themselves was very profound 25+ years ago, and it still deserves our close attention. I will write up a separate blog soon about the ideas which appeared in this workshop.

At the end of the day the SOLWorld steering group met, with the exciting news that a team from Budapest, Hungary is offering to host the next (and TENTH) SOLWorld international conference in 2011! With J-SOL 3 in Japan ( and the SOLWorld summer retreat in Switzerland also coming up, we seem to be in a very healthy situation. The cabaret later than evening featured, as ever, some memorable turns including the J-SOL Girls (with Daisuke their translator having shaved off his beard to join in) back Elvis Presley (looking a little like Yoshida-san, but I am sure that was the stage lighting playing tricks) in Love Me Tender. The Romanian wine tasting and SFCT-sponsored local spirits had everyone in a very good mood.

All too soon we were embarking on the last day, which got off to a great start with Kati Hankovszky’s plenary on using games and activities in teaching SF. Paul Z Jackson helped out with an exercise drawn from improvisation. A great, energetic and fun way to start the day. Into the final round of workshops, where I enjoyed Peter Rohrig and Holger Gemba’s stories of introducing SF ideas into classroom teaching at Bochum University in Germany. Once again, it seems that our work can help in all kinds of situations. The final session, closing ceremony, passing the SOLWorld candlestick on to the next hosts, meeting our buddies one more time, using some nice cards in an appreciation exercise and all of a sudden it’s all drawing to a close.

The organising team led by Petra Muller-Demary with Rita Klemmayer, Clementina Anghelache, Sorina Negoita and Octavian Niculescu did a wonderful job in making all this happen in such a friendly and action-packed way. (I must also mention the conference handbook, a masterpiece of design featuring all the information with places to make notes, all in full colour – a very hard act to follow for the Budapest team!). An excellent ninth international conference for SOLWorld, and one which sees the SF in organisations community moving further on in making links and connections with large organisations and universities all over the world. Bravo to Petra and her team!

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Comment by Alan Kay on May 14, 2010 at 18:03
Really great report Mark. Progress indeed for SOL World! Thanks, Alan.




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