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By: Jessica Beckendorf

In Part 1 we covered the use of the “Chaordic Stepping Stones” as a planning tool for meetings, initiatives, projects, and group processes. We then described the first four “stepping stones”:  NEED, PURPOSE, PRINCIPLES, and PEOPLE. If you missed it or need a refresher, check out Part 1


stepping stones in water

The concept is an overview of the entire project/initiative. It does not contain details (we’ll get to that in “STRUCTURE”), but explores basic alternate options for doing the work. For example, if the need was to communicate more effectively with your audience, you could do that through email, social media, broadcast media, a podcast, etc. 

The concept is where you start to see the shape of your structure – you can analyze the different forms your structure may take and take a moment to check in with everyone involved. This allows time to identify potential points where internal obstacles (limiting beliefs) may arise and address them. It also allows you to see what might be missing.

What high-level approach(es) would serve the need, purpose, principles, and people?

How should the overall project look – what form(s) would serve the need, purpose, principles, and people best?


Identifying and discussing limiting beliefs opens a group up to innovative solutions. Most of the issues we work on in groups are more complex than we know. We often speak of the external obstacles (funding is highly competitive) or the obvious internal obstacles (not enough staff). These often show up S.W.O.T. analyses, which are useful but also contain their own limitations.

There are also individual internal obstacles and less-than-obvious group internal obstacles – things like beliefs, bias, culture, patterns of communication and action.

We need new ways to think about and address these issues, and discussing these granular internal obstacles is one way to catalyze new ways of working together and new solutions.

How might my own actions or beliefs get in the way of this work? What do I need to let go of?

What is my biggest fear related to this work?

How might the team’s culture, beliefs, patterns of action get in the way of this work? What do we collectively need to let go of?


The structure is where the details live. Once a concept has been chosen and the limiting beliefs have been identified, you can begin to identify the plans of action and roles/responsibilities according to the resources available.

This is probably the most recognizable element of the “stepping stones” process. Most of us have been through action planning at some point or another. Action plans can get complicated quickly. The first question included below reminds us to keep it simple.

“What is the lightest structure that will serve our purpose and need?” (From Tim Merry’s description of the Chaordic Stepping Stones) 

How will decisions be made? 

What are our legal, budget, capacity considerations?


Practice is about consistency in the implementation. Thinking through the practices that will support the intended outcomes sets the meeting, group, or initiative up for success. 

Practices may include to-do lists, meeting frequency, day-to-day communications, and more. The goal here is to identify practices that hold the group accountable to the design that has been co-created, to the decisions the group has made together. This helps align your consistent actions in ways they support the progress – and success –  of the initiative.

What practices do we need to put in place to sustain this work?

How can we best cultivate relationships for this work?

What commitments am I willing to make to contribute to the success of this project?

What commitments are we collectively willing to make?


“Harvesting” the work is about how we will make meaning of what has happened as the work unfolds. It involves learning from the results, co-creating the story of what has happened, and sharing our results with others. 

What form(s) of harvest will best serve the need? The purpose?

What is most essential to gather, evaluate, and share?

How will we stay open to emergence, to new ideas, and to learning as the project progresses?


The Chaordic Stepping Stones have helped the Network Literacy team plan, think, and act differently for most of the programming we lead. If this looks like something you’d be interested in using in your work, we encourage you to contact us or check out the Art of Hosting site for upcoming trainings.

Stepping Stones for Designing Impactful Work: Part 1

Most of these questions have been lifted from and adapted from several sources, here’s a few you can check out for a more complete list of questions and a deeper dive into the stepping stones concept: 

Chaordic Stepping Stones by Tim Merry – issuu

Steps to navigate change — the outside


Photo by Matt Walsh on Unsplash