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.







Social vs. Collaborative Networking – Distinctions Revealed

When you think of social networking you immediately think of Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, so what comes to mind when you think of collaborative networking?

If you are like most people I have asked this question your response was probably something like ‘aren’t they the same thing?’, and of course the answer would be no, they are not and the primary distinction between them is in the value that is created from each.

Social networks are characterized by one to one connection versus a collective gathering virtually in one space to work on a single project or problem as is the case with collaborative networks.  With the instance of the popular social networking site Facebook for example the value created is to the individual and the benefit of his/her connections.  On the other hand a collaborative network such as MindTouch allows groups of people to collaborate efficiently and effectively to produce results that add value to the enterprise or collective as a whole rather than the individual.

That isn’t to say that social networks can’t benefit your business but rather that they will do so through one to many advertising and one to one contacts rather than through collective decision making and problem solving.

So keep in mind when/if you are considering integrating a networking application into your business enterprise:  If you are looking for people (potential sales leads, recipients of advertising, potential future colleagues) go for a Social Network.  If you want to connect the disparate groups (departments, divisions etc) to collaborate to address issues and projects with tangible results go with a Collaborative Network.

Wisdom of Crowds -Some things you need to know to make it work

The theory that a collective can solve problems better than most individuals within a group, including ‘experts’, has gained attention in recent years.  Perhaps the greatest misconception surrounding the theory of the ‘Wisdom of Crowds’ has been that solving any problem using this approach will garner superior results, when in actuality there are specific conditions and situations within which collective problem solving may not be the best approach.

Let’s examine a common scenario:

Company A is planning their annual strategic planning meeting and the President has decided that they want to make the plan a collective decision among representatives of all the departments to ensure that all facets of the organization are taken into consideration. So, equipped with their flipcharts and the 15 participants they go through the process of recording everyone’s input and ideas for strategic components.  They split the group into teams, each assigned one of the ideas to drill down into possible tactics for execution, all the while scribing away.  By the end of the second day there are 50 flipchart pages composed of the collectives ideas and possible tactics as a take away that the President will now have his assistant type up into a fluid document.  From this document of the collectives input the President will now formulate the official strategic plan for Company A. 

Why is this not a good example of a ‘Wisdom of Crowds’ approach?

Let’s first talk semantics and some definitions in context:

The Wisdom of Crowds approach depends upon diversity.  However, not diversity as it is generally accepted to represent social differences such as culture, age, gender, profession etc. but rather diversity in mental models which define how many approaches a person has to solve a problem.  Experts generally know a lot about one thing while other informed but not expert individuals know a little about many things.  Therefore, experts tend to use the same mental model (problem solving approach) in most situations and stick to explanations that fall within the realm of their expertise.  Informed non-experts on the other hand are more likely to have several mental models and have a greater capacity to examine a problem and make fresh connections while linking together diverse sources of information. This lends itself to the notion that greater accuracy in collective problem solving can be achieved with fewer experts and more informed non-experts in the room.

Diversity at this level is generally only of value if the problem is complex (encompasses many units in a system).  If you have an electrical problem it will be of little value to have someone from the accounting department and sales in the room to help solve the problem when all you need is an electrician (an expert).  As such, the first step in determining whether a collective is better suited to solve a problem or not is to understand the type of problem you are dealing with.

Should it be determined that the problem is indeed complex and a ‘Wisdom of Crowds’ approach is appropriate, the next necessary condition to make this method work is an accurate and efficient means of aggregation – bringing the groups information together in a useable form.  Useable form is the key to this definition.  Aggregation in general is ‘collecting units into a whole’, which you need to do but for ‘Wisdom of Crowds’ application the information you aggregate must then be applied to the development of an solution by the collective through polling or voting.