‘Building the container’ is popular jargon within Theory U. I use it easily myself until somebody asked me last week what I meant: ‘Because I associate it with containers from ships and that doesn’t make sense to me,’ he said. ‘No, that’s not what I meant.’
I tried to explain it but couldn’t make myself very clear. The index of the book Theory U is not very helpful either: not to be found. The dictionary tells me that it is an holding space. But what is an holding space between human beings?
By now I think that there are two meanings:
1. People in a group can share what they want to share without the feeling that they should hold back. This is what I usually sense when I am in a group of Theory U adepts: you are allowed to think grandiose or to see meaning in things that you usually don’t dare or want to see. When you do share more than you are used to, something new can emerge. Especially if the others do that as well. There is less judgment between each other and within yourself. You are more open because you feel ‘safe’ (terrible word) to show more of yourself. There is a holding space for who you are, your feelings and ideas.
2. The second meaning becomes more and more important to me. The U is a process. In a process emotions tend to rise. Especially if you feel the need to deliver something, to get to a result. If you are together in a (shipping) container, nobody can escape. You have to deal with each other including the emotions. And when you do, when you are able to endure these emotions, something beautiful might happen. The presencing moment comes often after strong feelings. For many people it’s easier to step out, physically or emotionally. Building the container is now: relating deeply to each other. Even in times of adversity or strong feelings of disliking, you stay together. It’s not necessary to talk a lot about all these (strong) feelings. Especially not when you’re in the middle of it. You can break more than you want to. But at a certain time when the intensity is gone and you don’t identify yourself anymore with the emotions, it will be good to reflect together and learn. The connection will become even stronger and you might not need any containers to lock yourself into. See what could happen in the picture above…