Day Two – Dialogue? It’s a business thing….

I’m working with the wise and subtle David Goddin (@changecontinuum on twitter) on the Exploring Dialogue offering. David and I have been “in dialogue” about dialogue since September and through our conversations, I have learned much and thought much.

David’s good at asking me sticky questions which make me look upward and go “hmmm…” And one of these questions was “What will other people get out of exploring dialogue?”

I work with organisations, with teams and Boards. What I see? from outside? A paradoxical and very real need to take slow-time to improve effectiveness in a fast-moving world. The pressure for a quick-fix leads to scepticism for any solution that doesn’t “guarantee” rapid results. It also leads to businesses “fixing bits” rather than taking time to attend to the bigger picture – which more often than not takes longer. We force ourselves to work in fragments. It is, in my experience, deeply unsatisfying.

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Fragments and wholes
Peter Senge, in Presence (written about the conversations between Senge & his peers and colleagues) retells a tale of attempts made to “improve the cost and timing performance in developing a new car”. Engineering groups split into subsections – working in detail on their area of specialism. With budgets under scrutiny and tight timescales in place, quick fixes to immediate problems were the norm.

Senge explains how the Noise, Vibration and Harshness team (NVH) solved a vibration problem by adding structural reinforcements. Good. Done.

Only now there was a weight problem on the chassis; so the Chassis Specialist were forced to take action and make changes which then impacted back on the NVH team because it created more harshness…. You get the idea.

Senge summarises it thus: “People felt stuck. They didn’t have time to collaborate, yet not collaborating meant they constantly failed to meet their timing goals. But it was also clear that much of the time pressure came from the rework they created for one another…”

Only by slowing down, mapping out the process, understanding their own part in the overall outcomes, could the teams begin to see the patterns they had created together “Each team did what made sense to it, but no-one saw the larger system their individual reactions created – a system that constantly produced poor technical solutions, stress and late cars.”

From seeing those patterns, teams began to be more able to use Dialogue techniques to talk together (here I’m using David Bohm’s definition of “a stream of meaning flowing among and through us and between us”) Eventually, the car was finished almost a year before schedule and $63 million of allocated overspend costs were returned….

To be creative, innovate and effective, you need time to process and think differently. Fast-talking/fast-acting isn’t enough to generate real long-term solutions. Lasting change needs something different. It needs to be backed up with deep foundations; with slower, more careful conversations.

Slow Down to Speed Up

What we’re aiming to do with Exploring Dialogue is to improve the quality of dialogue in individuals and teams; getting people talking with more effective impact and reflecting well so they “show up” differently in conversations; leading to different outcomes and thinking… impacting positively on change in the team.

Through the workshops, we create an environment for experimenting with conversation and dialogue where ideas are generated –new thoughts or solutions emerge – simply by thinking with and talking to other people.

We offer unapologetically slow-time to truly reflect on and understand yourself and others in everyday interactions and discussions… we offer it, because you’re unlikely to get it in organisations or our busy working lives.

The focus is less on what you do; more on how you are being in relation and response to others. fuchsiablue is not about the quick fix – it’s about the learning that will stand you in good stead for many many conversations to come – and I’d argue fairly strongly, you won’t get that from a powerpoint presentation and a rapid intro to “tough conversations”

Closing thoughts for today…

I’m a practitioner first and foremost. I understand very well the pressures my HR, L&D, OD and Board clients face in their businesses and budgets. I’ll be the first to ‘fess up to my altruism, but I’m practical and grounded too and I know this dialogue, whole person, whole being stuff is more than important… it’s one way to sustain and nourish creativity, thinking and talking for years to come.

We’re living in a complex, adaptive, shifting fast paced world and fuchsiablue’s “business thing” is to invite you and your teams to go slow.

This is, of course potentially contrary, unconventional and a little nuts. Or it might be just good old common sense…

David? Did I answer the question yet?

And in this is an invitation. You’ll find more details about Exploring Dialogue here

If you are interested in attending, please sign up or, if you’re not, please pass this on to someone who might be or comment and let me know your thoughts – and no matter what, I hope you enjoy the blogs over the next few days. Tomorrow is about dialogue & the brain.

image is of blue car

Day One – Why Dialogue ?

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Back in September, I posted a blog on Visibility. It was the first time I’d really spoken out to the wide world about the work I  wanted to do – work with Dialogue groups and support consultants and leaders to “talk well” together. At the time, I was aiming to run sessions in December….turns out it takes a little longer than that to gather courage and content – 2 months longer to be precise – and now Exploring Dialogue has dates and a London home in February and March.

And this week, to support the programme and generate interest, I’m running a short blog series to map my thinking and understanding of Dialogue. I’ll look at dialogue through a few lenses – business, brains, body and beauty – in the hope it generates some discussion and new thinking about how we talk and work together in organisations.

Why dialogue?

I was drawn to dialogue work partly because so many coaching clients or teams I worked with described patterns of stuck conversations, difficulties in changing a relationship or skewed dynamics in a team. My coaching training meant I believed the answer was in learning to ask more and better questions, to inquire well in the world – and this helps, of course….. but often the issue was clients could not get themselves heard well.. and asking questions didn’t scratch that particular itch. They couldn’t advocate or speak out their own perspective confidently or clearly – either that or they advocated too forcefully – which led to frustration, misunderstanding and some very tense interactions.

And this resonated deeply with a story I have about myself – one that says I lost my voice for a time. Somewhere in the midst of working in organisations and consulting and lifestuff generally, I found myself rendered quiet. I had become uncertain as to how to offer what I thought and knew effectively. I found myself either saying little or, if I did find the courage and opportunity to speak, I’d say everything really really quickly … and would then experience the conversational equivalent of tumbleweed… silence…awkward…

This would, in turn, of course render me unable to speak well.

Through working with and practicing techniques, models and thinking around dialogue – advocating well, inquiring well, listening well, understanding my responses and assumptions in conversation, reflecting carefully – I began to reconfigure how I spoke and interacted with the world around me and I began working with clients to do the same. And I want to share what I have learned – what I’m still learning

An Invitation

So this is an invitation – fuchsiablue is running two 2-day workshops designed to encourage attendees to think well and talk well together. It plaits together thinking from Nancy Klein and David Kantor and embodied work from Amanda Ridings and has pinches of Gestalt thinking and understanding Group Process…. and it is more than the theory, it’s experiential – designed to allow you to explore and practice talking well. We’re determined the Exploring Dialogue days will be enjoyable, challenging and offer some deep, long-term lessons in talking well… and cake will figure somewhere, doubtless.

You’ll find more details about Exploring Dialogue here The flyer looks like a flyer – a conversation will be more satisfying, I’d offer…so I’d prefer to talk to you, if you are interested in attending.

If you are curious to know more please get in touch.

Please also pass this on to someone who might be or comment and let me know your thoughts – and no matter what, I hope you enjoy the blogs over the next few days.

Working with What Works.

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I’m in America. The MSc studies have moved for a week to Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, where I, along with my AMOC15 ( Ashridge Masters in Organisational Change) classmates/ cohort are learning more about Appreciative Inquiry and about Complex Adaptive Systems. It is, frankly, an amazing opportunity and experience….and I’m determined to make the most of it.

We started working with Appreciative Inquiry yesterday (Monday) Part of what immediately piqued my interest is recognising a tendency to be asked to work in the “deficit” – to focus on what isn’t working, paying most attention to the Department that has the lowest engagement scores; coaching people’s performance based on assumption that “development” is about growing what we don’t have.

It’s raised some good questions in me about the areas I work on with my clients. How often, for instance, have I been drawn into conversations about lack, deficiency or shortage-of –competency/will/ capacity ( add your own words here)? How often have I worked (colluded?) to attempt to help “solve” a departmental or organisational “problem”? It’s a little disquieting.

What is intriguing me about Appreciative Inquiry is the invitation by Caryn Vanstone & Kevin Power at Ashridge Business School and Ron Fry at CWRU to work with what works already. To look at the very best in ourselves, in our businesses and arrangements ; to pay attention to how these can be grown and perpetuated. What I’m loving is this is NOT an invitation to be relentlessly, steadfastly positive. No one is suggesting we facilitate an away day or pick up the aftermath of a staff engagement survey and work with a fixed grin and a neat clap of the hands to only hang out with positive messages and dismiss the stories that aren’t “happy”. This AI stuff isn’t about the pink and the fluffy.

Far from it.

What’s emerging for me is that, in the face of a powerful, deep narrative of “We must be careful, let’s identify the risks” or “We need to bring this up-to-speed” or “We must get to the root of the problem”; asking ourselves to pay attention to the areas where we’ve already overcome risk or are relentlessly innovative is actually bloody challenging. Organisations dismiss good stories with frightening ease. We disappear the stuff we do well… literally vanish it “Yeah, Yeah – that bit is already fixed & done. We have already successfully implemented that, it’s in place…but what we REALLY need is to focus on the bits that aren’t done.” We fragment and focus on broken bits, rather than looking at the whole, bigger picture. Curious.

My questions yesterday were largely around “how can you ask a client to work in an appreciative way, without being seen to be a bit ( a lot?) Happy Clappy or having the term hippy/ dreamer/ not understanding the “real” problem bandied at you?” (for the record – NOT an appreciative inquiry. I have much to learn). What does appreciative dialogue in ourselves/ our organisations look like/ feel like/ sound like? ( better question from an AI perspective.. Quick learner?).

It feeds strongly into my wish to support different/ more productive discussions and stories in organisations….and that was just day one.

The image is an art installation outside the Dean Gallery in Edinburgh – I’ve been slightly slack on photo taking in the US so far.

Another Place….

When I started inquiring into “The Nature of my Practice” for the Ashridge MSc, I was invited by our Peer Group tutor, Kevin, to think about non-verbal/non-word ways of expressing my work….and he kind of flummoxed me. I LOVE words. What else would POSSIBLY express how consulting work is for me? So I kind of rejected his invitation…. OK… so actually I wholly rejected it, with a flat, stubborn “nope. Not possible. I want to use words to express myself all the way.”

And so of course within 10 days of the rejection, I came across an image that seemed to show the nature of my work fairly perfectly…. Of course that happened. How else could it be?

The image above is of Antony Gormley’s incredible instillation/ sculptures on Crosby Beach, north of Liverpool. 100 figures are scattered over 3km across the beach, each one facing out into the Irish Sea. The tide sweeps in and the figures are wholly or partially submerged; part of a constantly shifting landscape, part of an ever-changing environment.

There are many images available of the sculptures, but this one shows a single figure, perhaps wading or perhaps waiting, connected-yet-apart from the other figures around.. something that resonates in how I feel when I coach, facilitate, consult…. Pah! Words ain’t going to work here….

The image speaks to me of deep rooted-ness in the face of ever changing circumstance. Stoicism and resilience in the face of oncoming tides. Industriousness and connectedness to nature. Quiet grace. It speaks of being alone-yet-connected in organisations. About being one part of a bigger whole.

After finding this image, I started playing with a tidal metaphor for my Practice. A slow start, way out on the horizon, a few tentative waves heading toward shore (it might look a little half-assed to the uninitiated, in all fairness) Then there’s a gathering of pace, purpose and certainty. …More power and energy as the waves sweep in. (If I’m really going for it, clients can get a little lost in my enthusiasm and energy, others surf it with glee).

What I love next is the notion of the slack tide (hideous words, but great notion) – the turning point where the tide is deeper, stiller and ready to move off, revealing what is left on the beach – this, for me is the point where I’m reflecting and learning, or where I work with the client to make sense of all that the incoming tide has brought.

My smart & wise friend and colleague Sarah told me about Spring tides (high waters, destructive, often) and neap tides (less energy, softer impact) and here I was given a way to think about calibrating my impact and energy (is this all a bit too Spring tide?).

The metaphor works for me on many levels – big organisations as oceans (containing sharks?) and smaller organisations as seas or even estuaries….all having tidal pulls. Racing, fast-paced tides which can overwhelm, or slow-creep tides whose impact you barely notice…

And in this, I see the Gormley statues in this image and think of how they interact with and interrupt the tides….and how, perhaps, I might just do the same….