Conversations that Build Trust, Agility, Resilience & Creativity

image for tree post for Michael

Last week at Kingbridge we unveiled our first newly designed leadership workshop, Leading through Conversations that Matter, hosted by Michael Jones. One of the techniques that Michael shared with the group involved using the ecology of a tree to help us understand the distinction and value of learning how to host three very different levels of conversations.

Those who attended the workshop found this valuable so we thought we would share the information with you.

Most organizations are not short of innovative ideas. What they do lack, however, is an environment that allows for the careful enrichment of the soil in order for these seeds of possibility to take root and grow.

What builds this soil is conversation. But not all conversations are the same. The leader’s ‘art’ involves knowing which conversation they are taking part in – and which ones they need to be taking part in – in order to achieve the results they desire.

One picture that helps us understand different levels of conversation is the image of a tree. This image offers a lens for making distinctions between three levels of conversation and how each contributes to growing the culture of an organization.

Level 1: Tactical/Incremental
In Level 1 conversations – the primary question is, “how do we do things differently?”

In Level 1 conversations, the focus is on the distribution of power, influence and getting things done. There is an emphasis on negotiation advocacy, tools, techniques, problem solving, action planning and results.

Level 1 conversations see the enterprise as a mechanical system for which all problems have a corresponding technical or expert-driven response. To extend the tree metaphor, Level I conversations – like the upper branches and the leaves of the tree – are highly sensitized and reactive to changing circumstances. Because they are focused on the performance of the parts rather than the system as a whole, their emphasis is on efficiency-based thinking, quantitatively-driven results and mechanistic responses to problems.

Level 2: Strategic/Transactional
Here the primary question is, – “how do we do different things?”

At Level 2 we see not only the leaves and branches, but their connection to the trunk of the tree as well. Here the focus is on structure and strategy as well as rational problem-solving through policies, technology, detailed plans and systems thinking.

Level 2 conversations shift the emphasis from efficiency to effectiveness, embracing a human resources lens which encompasses human assets and potential, matching people to jobs and working in teams.

Both Level 1 and Level 2 conversations tend to focus on change that is instrumental. They don’t ask the larger questions like ‘why’ or ‘what for?’ For this more profound shift of mindset to occur and to navigate the complexities of a rapidly changing world, we need to look to another level of conversation.

Level 3: Regenerative/Transformational
With regenerative Level 3 conversations the primary question is, – not on “how we act differently”, but in “how we see differently.”

Here, there is a shift from mechanistic thinking to engaging with the organization as a living system. If the other levels focus on the leaves, branches and trunk, Level 3 conversations examine the soil and the root system underneath.

By ‘regenerative’, I mean conversations that focus not only on the people, the power and the structure of the system, but also on the culture and the sense of place where the leader is also the steward, the sage or prophet, the storyteller and place maker.

At Level 3 there is a greater attention on dialogue and listening together as well as on the regenerative power of beauty, destiny, synchronicity and mythic thinking in which art and poetry, music and celebration carry an equal voice. Generative conversations are participative, reciprocal and imaginative. They involve a collective search for deeper meanings and insights to emerge.

In so doing, these conversations shift the focus from preserving the life of the tree to growing the tree into a sturdy and fertile oak through the constant turning and care of the soil.

Eighty percent of what determines the health of a tree is the condition of the soil – the ‘magic’ that supports and nourishes its roots. In the context of an organization, this ‘magic’ is found within its creative spirit: conversations about what we aspire to, about when we feel vital and alive, about the gifts and heritage from our past and our present challenges and opportunities. These are ‘root’ conversations that focus on the common roots of our shared human experience. As such, they create the fertile ground – so frequently passed over in a fast-paced environment – where the seeds of our future can take root and grow.

It is commonly believed that the fastest way to change a system is with Level 1 and Level 2 conversations. So the overwhelming majority of an organization’s attention is usually focused in these two areas and the typical goal-setting processes that have been used for decades emphasize specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and strategic time-bound results. Yet these rarely correlate with either work satisfaction or real success.

We need to be highly literate with Level 1 and Level 2 conversations while being aware that they concentrate our attention on the most obvious and visible issues. They promote an expert-driven ‘outside in’ response and rarely evoke a fundamental shift of mind when practiced without Level 3.

All levels of learning are necessary, but only Level 3 conversations invite us into seeing new possibilities in the future. As such they take tactical and strategic learning in new directions that could not have been foreseen in advance.

The practice of engaging in Level 3 conversations connects us with how nature itself creates and sustains life. We become allies with each other and our destiny in ways that intellect, tactics, and strategies alone cannot encompass. Our destiny is rooted in the rich soil of intuitive wisdom, the power of place, our heart’s desires, our greatest aspirations, the gifts in each person and the collective intelligence that has called us to be together on this journey.







Cultivate a Collaborative Enterprise Culture

Over the last month we have explored cultivating collaborative leadership by developing individual CQ (Cultural Intelligence – What’s your CQ & Cultural Intelligence – Raise your CQ).  Now we will take a look at developing your organizations CQ in order to cultivate a collaborative enterprise culture.

Mary Stacey, founder and Managing Director of Context Management Consulting Inc. in Toronto held a workshop to explore this topic yesterday December 3, 2009 at MaRS Discovery District.

To offer a summary of the interactive session, Stacey suggests that cultivating a collaborative enterprise culture requires that as a leader you must:

1. Pay attention to the culture of your enterprise at every phase of it’s development
2. Develop your individual leadership capacity
3. Develop CQ through leadership DAC
                                                                      Direction: each individual knows the
                                                                      goals and aims of the collective.
                                                                      Alignment: coordination of knowledge
                                                                      and work in the collective.
                                                                      Commitment: willingness of 
                                                                      individuals to expend effort towards the
                                                                      needs of the collective.
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DAC is directly proportional to CQ, that is to say it is a scale where an organization’s DAC can be anywhere on the spectrum between high and low and generally the higher your organizations DAC the higher its CQ.  Therefore, since higher CQ is an indicator of collaborative culture where you sit on that spectrum defines the type of enterprise culture you have.

 CQ 2.0

Where is your organization on this spectrum?

For more detailed information on cultivating collaborative cultures both “Action Inquiry” by Bill Torbert and “Leadership Agility” by Bill Joiner are excellent resources.

Cultural Intelligence – Raise your CQ

Cultural Intelligence is defined by the individuals ability to adapt cognitively, physically and motivationally to new cultures whether organizational or ethnic.  Simply, CQ represents an individuals ability to successfully adapt and flourish in a changing environment.

Last post we took a look at James and established his low CQ.  In this example his low CQ resulted in his leaving his job.  Although this is one option for dealing with issues of cultural intelligence, lets take a look at some more productive strategies.

As with any other form of personal development the first step is to be aware of your CQ strengths and weaknesses and pay appropriate attention to each.  Next, and again not surprising you will have to step outside your comfort zone and practice overcoming your CQ weaknesses.  For example, if you have low physical CQ and have issues adjusting physically to new situations then perhaps you should take a stage acting class.  If you have low motivational CQ then spend one evening a week somewhere you ordinarily wouldn’t (like a Native American drum circle or a Salsa club – depending on your existing preferences!) and try to make a new friend.   

These suggestions may seem simple or perhaps strange but in the case of CQ it isn’t a ‘business’ issue at root, it is a personal issue that needs to be dealt with accordingly.  A business school sponsored training program is unlikely to help someone with low motivational CQ experience the benefits of adaptability more effectively than simply trying something they generally wouldn’t.  You can find more strategies for enhancing cultural intelligence through The Cultural Intelligence Centre.

However, CQ does become an issue of ‘business’ when you are trying to boost the CQ level of an organization.  A topic that Mary Stacey of Context Management Consulting in Toronto will be exploring at her upcoming workshop at MaRS on December 3, 2009.  For those of you unable to attend I will share the session content and outcomes here.

Cultural Intelligence – What’s your CQ?

James has worked for the same financial services company for 10 years.  The company structure has always been hierarchical and highly professional.  Six months ago the company was purchased by another financial services organization with a more horizontal structure and business casual approach.  James’s new supervisor arrived at work on the first day wearing khaki’s and insisting that he be called Bob by everyone versus Mr. Bennet.  James, clad in his usual pinstripe suit and professional demeanor felt intensely uncomfortable with this new arrangement and uncertain whether he could fit in to this environment.  After trying to adjust to casual dress and informal addresses James began to resent the changes as unprofessional and inappropriate and decided to leave the company.

In this simplistic example James can be considered to have low CQ.  Cultural Intelligence is defined by the individuals ability to adapt cognitively, physically and motivationally to new cultures whether organizational or ethnic.  Simply, CQ represents an individuals ability to successfully adapt and flourish in a changing environment.  An ability I think we can all agree is crucial to collaboration – particularly in the today’s dynamic economy.

In their article “Cultural Intelligence” (featured in Harvard Business Review) Early and Mosakowski presented a simple test to diagnose your own Cultural Intelligence:

Rate the following statements – remember “culture” applies to both organizational and ethnic:
1=strongly disagree, 2=disagree, 3=neutral, 4=agree, 5= strongly agree

_____ Before I interact with people from a new culture, I ask myself what I hope to achieve.
_____ If I encounter something unexpected while working in a new culture, I use this experience to figure out new ways to approach other cultures in the future.
_____ I plan how I am going to relate to people from a different culture before I meet them.
_____ When I come in to a new cultural situation, I can immediately sense whether something is going well or something is going wrong.
Total_____ /4 = ____ Cognitive CQ

_____ It is easy for me to change my body language (for example, eye contact or posture) to suit people from a different culture.
_____ I can alter my expression when a cultural encounter requires it.
_____ I modify my speech style (for example, accent or tone) to suit people from a different culture.
_____ I easily change the way I act when a cross-cultural encounter seems to require it.
Total_____/4= ____ Physical CQ

_____ I have confidence that I can deal well with people from a different culture.
_____ I am certain that I can befriend people whose cultural backgrounds are different from mine.
_____ I can adapt to the lifestyle of a different culture with relative ease.
_____ I am confident that I can deal with a cultural situation that is unfamiliar.
Total_____/4=____  Motivational (emotional) CQ

In this quiz the closer to 5 your average score is the higher your CQ.
(Earley, C & Mosakowski, E.  Harvard Business Review October 2004)
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How did you rate on the Cultural Intelligence scale?

Stay tuned, next week we will explore some strategies to increase CQ both individually and across an organization.