The Chaordic Stepping Stones is a simple planning process that helps create the minimal structure needed to complete a given task – from planning a full-scale broad-acre permaculture project to long-term planning to smaller projects.


Excess structure often retards innovation and contribution, overloads certain individuals/components, and stifles learning, while too little structure can lead to ineffective and uncoordinated action, overwhelm and frustration. Both too little and too much structure can mean the end of even the most well-intentioned project.

It pays to put in the time up front, before attempting to solve any problems, to determine the process by which you will do so.

What follows are the 9 steps of the Chaordic Stepping Stones. Each step has a general description and is backed up by questions you can ask to create structure that will help steer your endeavour towards a successful conclusion. To get a bird’s eye view of the entire process, download our Chaordic Steps in 1 Page Summary.


  1. Need: The compelling reason for doing anything. It is the thing served by the work we will be doing.
    • What is the need that this project can uniquely meet?
    • What does the situation require this meeting to be?
    • What time is it for the world right now? What time is it for our initiative/project right now?
    • Why are we doing this? Why is it important?
    • What does the client/organization/community/region need this to be?
    • What context are we operating in?
      • Context is a broad and uniquely nuanced descriptor. It is influenced by the current and preceding generational constellations, the dynamic interplay between economy, energy and the environment, as well as more local forces like demographics, geography and biophysical climate.
    • What are the challenges and opportunities we are facing?
    • Why is this commitment important to me and my organization?
  • OBJECTIVE: Condense and clarify your answers to these questions into a single sentence Need Statement.

2. Purpose: From the need flows the purpose. Purpose statements are clear and compelling and guide us in doing our best possible work.

      • If this work should live up to its fullest potential, what do you dream/envision is possible?
      • What is the purpose we can adopt that will best meet the need?
      • What could this work do/create/inspire?
      • What is the next level for our work? Where should we be heading?
      • What is the simplest and most powerful question we could keep at the core of our work?
  • OBJECTIVE: Create a concise Statement of Purpose for this project/organization.

3. Principles: Will help us know how we will work together. Must be simple, co-owned and well understood. These are crisp statements of how we agree to operate together so that over the long term we can sustain the relationships that make this work possible. These principles should be visible and referenced often.

      • What do we think is most important to remember as we design to meet the need and purpose?
      • How will we know if we are being successful?
      • If our team should live up to its fullest potential, what do you envision possible for this team?
      • What are the principles we want to abide by to successfully fulfill our purpose and meet the need?
      • What is the desired culture and atmosphere of this initiative?
        • ***This is a good time for everyone to get a chance to speak and be listened to, each person shares how they’d like the process to go, all commit to making each other’s dreams come true – a.k.a. A Dream Circle.
  • OBJECTIVE: Create a list of the Principles that each individual within the design group agrees to employ in guiding their decisions, governing their actions, and informing their methods of communication.

4. People: Map the network of people involved and that need to be brought in.

      • Who is in the room?
      • Who is not in the room and how do we bring them in?
      • What skills/experiences/strengths/weaknesses/personalities are present amongst the core design team?
        • ***This is a great time to do a Skills Audit or SWOT Analysis of the people at the table or others that are deeply involved in the project. Compare what skills are already present with those needed to successfully execute the project. Any missing skill sets will help inform deciding who else to bring in.
      • Who do we need to engage to meet the need, pursue the purpose and follow the principles?
      • How do we leverage relationships to propagate the ideas generated by our work together?
      • Who are decision makers in existing structures that we need to be working with?
      • Who are our mentors and guides? Who holds important information?  Who influences our ability to succeed?
      • Whose perspectives need to be taken into account?
      • What voices do we need to engage to be able to best serve the needs of all stakeholders?
      • What are the particular strengths, resources and gifts of each of the participating organizations and individuals?
      • How do we leverage relationships to propagate the ideas generated by our work together?
      • Who will be interested in the results of our work?
      • Who are we most concerned about engaging? Why?
      • Who do we expect to block our work? Who could be or create obstacles to our success?
  • OBJECTIVE: Create a ‘people map’ for the project, complete with names, needs and feedback loops.

5. Concept: As we move to a more concrete idea of what our structures are, we begin to explore the concepts that will be useful. This is a high level look at the shape of our endeavor. For example, if our need was to design a way to cross a body of water, we could choose a bridge, a causeway or a ferry. The concept is important, because it gives form to very different structures for doing our work.

      • What are the organizational shapes that we might choose for our work?
      • What is the deeper pattern of our work and what organizational forms are in alignment with that?
      • How might we activate our principles to do our best work?
      • How are we going to organize together (to meet need, pursue purpose, follow principles and serve the people)?
      • What is the best basic organizing pattern for doing the work? (See the Team Pulse design pattern as one option).
      • What are our rhythms of meetings? How and how often should we meet?
        • ***We want the ‘Goldilocks’ amount of meetings here – not too much, not too little, but just right. All meetings have a decided purpose agreed upon in advance, everyone knows the agenda before they get to the meeting and is prepared to discuss it, time is kept, conversations or insights tangential to the agenda are either put on hold or written down for future discussion.
      • What is a map of the relationships and value exchange between stakeholders?
      • What is the basic timeline and roadmap for the next (insert working window here)?
      • What key concepts do we need to integrate into our work
      • What is the deeper pattern of our work and what organizational forms are in alignment with that?
      • How might we activate and employ our principles to best do our work?
      • What is the minimum amount of form that will allow us to work together in a collaborative and effective manner?
  • OBJECTIVE: At a minimum, establish protocol for conducting meetings – agenda creation, time keeping, ‘Shepherd’ responsibilities, criteria that necessitate additional meetings – while also brainstorming organizational structures.

6. Limiting Beliefs: So much of what we do when we organize ourselves is based on unquestioned models of behavior. These patterns can be helpful but they can also limit us in fulfilling our true potential. We cannot foster innovation in the world using old models and approaches. It pays to examine ways in which we assume work gets done in order to discover the new ways that might serve work with new results. Engaging in this work together brings us into a co-creative working relationship, where we can help each other into new and powerful ways of working together, alleviating the fear and anxiety of the unknown.

      • What makes us tremble, and what do we fear about new ways of working together?
      • Who would we be without our stories of old ways of working?
      • What will it take for us to fully enter into working in new and unfamiliar ways?
      • What do I need to let go of to enable this project to succeed?
      • Where am I/might I be blocking our work together?
        • What do you need from the core team to feel supported in the places that make you anxious?
        • *** We have found that sharing each core team member’s Myers-Briggs personality type with the rest of the core team to be very valuable here. In particular pay special attention to desired methods of communication for your individual type and share with others how you are best communicated with to do your best work.
      • How am I/are we part of the problem? In what ways are my/our patterns potential problems or obstacles?
      • What organizational and community beliefs will block our work together?
      • What do we fear about new ways of working together
      • What am I most afraid of?
      • What could get in the way?
      • What is the next level of leadership I am stepping into?
      • Where is my will unhesitatingly connected to this project?
  • OBJECTIVE: Acknowledge, in advance, potential personal and group pitfalls. Commit together to help each team member overcome their own limiting beliefs.

7. Structure: Once the concept has been chosen, it is time to create the structure that will channel our resources. It is in these conversations that we make decisions about the resources of the group: time, money, energy, commitment, zones of stewardship, and attention.

      • What structure best supports the aspirations of the group?
      • Who are we becoming when we work this way?
      • What is the lightest structure that will serve our purpose and need?
        • Any necessary legal structures?
      • What role might the core team play when the project is over?
      • How do we combine the organizational concepts to support our work and sustain the results?
      • When there is disagreement, how do we come to a decision?
      • How do we decide if a decision is necessary or not?
      • How do we fund this project? Who has control of the funds? How are they administered?
      • Who has ownership of any products, bi-products and outcomes?
  • OBJECTIVE: Identify necessary structures (legal, formal, informal etc.) and put them in place.

8. Practice: The ongoing practice within the structures we build is important. This is the world of to do lists, conference calls and email exchanges. The invitation here is to practice working with one another in alignment with the designs we have created.

      • What ‘nuts and bolts’ practices need to sustain our work together? (i.e. minute taking in meetings, pre-agreed upon methods of organizing/compiling/processing information etc.)
      • How do we leverage relationships and support the work that arises from them?
      • How do we sustain and nourish our relationships and collective aspirations? (affirmations, rituals, traditions etc.)
      • What commitments are we willing to make to contribute to the success of our endeavour?
      • What are our organizational practices so we can stay grounded through change?
      • What methodologies do we know work with iterations of action and learning? (i.e. the Team Pulse Design Process or other group project development pattern).
  • OBJECTIVE: List the ways you will work with one another and the community within which the project is held to optimize the contributions of all vested parties.

9. Harvest: There is no point in doing work in the world unless we plan to harvest the fruits of our labors. Harvesting includes making meaning of our work, telling the story and feeding forward our results so that they have the desired impacts in the world. A harvest must be planned up front.

      • What are the forms of harvest from our work that best serves the need?
      • What intentional harvest will serve our purpose?
      • What are the feedback loops that we need to design to ensure that our system self-regulates as much as possible? That learning and change accelerate themselves?
      • What do we intend to get out of our work together and how can we make sure we gather, evaluate and share what is most essential?
      • What are the artifacts that will be the most powerful representations of what we have created?
      • How will we stay open to new, involved and fresh learning?
      • How will we evaluate our project to best accelerate our learning?
  • OBJECTIVE: List what your work together will yield, how it will meet the need and fulfill the purpose, and how you will know when it is ‘ripe for the picking’!


Once you have navigated the Chaordic Steps with your group, keep them readily accessible to all of the parties that helped create them. We recommend keeping a single page with all of the Step Descriptions and Objectives available for quick reference at any time. Remember this is a living document that will need to be revisited and refreshed with new insight as the project develops!

We also have  a Google Docs version of the Chaordic Steps available HERE.

That’s it! I’m sure it’s incomplete, and as always is a work in progress. If you think of any additional questions to ask please let me know and I’ll add them to the list!

Below are some links to the work of Chris Corrigan and Tim Merry, whose helpful blog posts along with my own experience helped create this post.

I hope this helps you create the change you want to see!

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