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.







How do you introduce a totally new concept to a skeptical market?

Explore some of the idiosyncrasies of changing not only organizational culture but market perception with John Abele, Co-Founder Boston Scientific – a medical device company that helped pave the way for less invasive medicine.

Today’s Kingbridge Insight from Owner, John Abele:

“When introducing a new idea to a skeptical group, market or society, it is important to start small and build a band of disciples.  They must be believers who are knowledgeable, eloquent, passionate and resourceful.  They won’t be present leaders.  They will be future leaders.  The establishment is inherently resistant to change.  They need to be won over by demonstration and understatement, not hyperbole.  The successful future leaders will be courageous and patient.”  ~ John Abele

Presentation Strategies to Change a Culture

Everyone is talking about the evils of PowerPoint and how the use of it is now considered a presenter faux pas but in seems to me that as with any tool it isn’t the technology that makes or breaks a presentation but rather the presenters approach.

You may be wondering how presentations connect to creating a culture of collaboration?  And the simple answer is that a great presentation can create an environment for deeper learning and collaboration by stimulating an audience to share experience and knowledge with each other. By forming the right mindset and following a few simple principles anyone can give a presentation that not only imparts knowledge but fosters collaborative culture.

1. Share knowledge rather than teach it

Plan to present something that the audience has never seen or heard before.

This may seem a daunting task but if you use a relatable example from an entirely different field/interest finding something original can be quite simple.

Be vulnerable

This suggests to your audience that you in fact don’t know everything, but you’re here to share what you do know.

Be confident

This may seem to contradict the idea of being vulnerable but in fact the most confident people are those who are curious, open and unafraid to show their vulnerability.

2. Personalize your content

Connect content to personal experiences

This demonstrates a genuine interest and sincerity in involving your audience in a way that abstract references can’t.  This tactic can be used as your ‘something the audience has never seen or heard before’ quite successfully and provides more than one context that the audience can understand while stimulating them to think of their own personal metaphors that relate.

Now, while you are following the principles above if you do decide to employ PowerPoint as a presentation tool,- and I contend there is nothing evil about that! – try to restrict its use to showing relationships through images and very few words running in the background while you talk.  Again, using personal images or images from ‘real life’ rather than stock photos will better serve your purpose and resonate with the audience.

Any audience will have a group of people with a range of understanding and experience with the topic of your presentation so tell a story, describe things in more than one context and be original!