About

Conversaction is a blog is about conversations.  Conversations and consequential action.

It is about how conversations lead to getting things done and how conversation models can facilitate the concious process and surface the unconcious process in conversation.

Through effective conversation, teams convert inputs into shared understanding and an implicit agreement on the way forward.  It is possible to formalise the way forward as part of the agenda.  A good project initiation workshop does just that.   But, even if planning is on the agenda, teams can really lose their way as they talk.  And they can finish a conversation in disarray and frustration.  So what is “effective conversation” and how can we make it happen?

Well, I have seen how facilitation, when it is done well, can be effective in supporting conversation, so I want to talk about facilitation in this blog.  But facilitation is broad and there is a whole lot of literature on how to do it well.  I have also seen how effective coaching can be when applied with individuals in the team.  So I also want to talk about coaching.  This makes the blog really broad.  So what is a good topic?

As I reflected on my experience as a facilitator and coach one aspect of my approach became obvious.

I once worked with a coach who, after a number of sessions, asked me why I related everything to models, “what is that all about?” she asked.  At first I didn’t understand the question.  I thought everyone makes sense of the world through models.  Then I became aware of how my contribution in conversation often begins with “…there is a model that shows…”.  I began to notice people exchanging knowing glances when I referred to models.  And I realised that there are many people who did not see the world this way.  

I have found modelling to be incredibly powerful for sharing ideas and surfacing shared assumptions and deep agreements..  I can think of three levels:

  • A simple pictorial representation of the issues and stances in a difficult discussion, drawn on the fly, invariably allows the team to understand where they are in a conversation.  
  • More formal models for workshop situations such as decision-making, handling conflict or reaching consensus either planned or used as necessary can make all the difference to a conversation.
  • And there are rich models based on years of research which may form the basis of a complete intervention with a client.  The Balanced Scorecard and Strategy Maps, created by Kaplan and Norton are a typical example.  Implementing these requires forethought, preparation and perhaps a programme to help the client team understand and commit themselves to the approach.  

I am also fascinated by unconscious processes, the view that we have a conscious and an unconscious process operating on the same material and that these two processes may react differently to the material and how this conflict works itself out in individuals and in groups.  

So…

This blog is about models, frameworks and structures and how they can be used in supporting effective conversations.  I would like to talk about the models, the process, the outcomes, as well as evidence of models in use.

You can find out more about me and what I do at my website – StrategyWorks.

4 comments so far

  1. Albert van Niekerk on

    Hi Stephen – I saw your blog developing as from your first post last year. Congratulations on being so relevant and stimulating in your observations.

    I fully identify with your statement about the purpose of conversations and the use and role of models to aid conversations.

    I also like diagrammes and models but have found that most people are not used to models being part of the conversation. Why is this so?

    People are storytellers. Perhaps the newness and structure of a model places them at a disadvantage. To hold their attention initially one could keep models simple and, as you do in your posts, keep it to one model per conversation. Focus on the story. A model is simply an aide, a very useful illustration. One’s story and increasing the client’s understanding towards solving his or her problem are the focal points.

    Would you agree? How do your clients react to models?

    I enjoyed every one of your posts.

    Albert

    • Stephen on

      Hey Albert
      Thanks for the encouragement on this. Writing a blog has made me focus on what I want to say. As Merlin Mann says “it is hard work”. But it is so rewarding.
      I like your idea about story telling. I think this is so. Models are a kind of radical shorthand and perhaps they may take longer to grasp even than jargon. This is worth pondering.
      Most of my clients take time to adopt the models I use. Although sometimes the model seems to hit the spot and the client takes it up readily.
      Thank you for these thought provoking questions. I will reflect on them more as I pick up speed.
      I intend to write a post about the psychodynamics of change.

      Stephen

  2. Albert on

    Hi Stephen
    Its a few months later and I have followed how your blog and your posts developed. I especially liked the new direction of your more recent blogs. Your drawings/models are astoundingly creative and stimulating.

    I have recently been exposed to the manner in which Clem Sunter, the South African scenario conversation expert, uses metaphors e.g. he views business as a game.

    We all know games and most of us have even played some games when we were younger and fitter. Seeing business as a game really makes sense.

    There is a playing field with a certain shape and size. We as owners could expand or contract the size. Then there are players; formal and unwritten rules; and key uncertainties. And you may find yourself in an unfavourable scenario at half-time. How to get out of the mess and battle yourself into a winning scenario? What options do you have? What decisions do you have to make? What is the meaning of winning?

    Every weekend thousands of sports games are being played.
    On Mondays we play our business games. How would we rate if our game is analyzed by a professional footballer or rugby player?

    We have one cop-out: In sport the rules are fixed for the duration of the game. If we play badly we can always say in business the rules change while the game is being played. Unfair!

    Regards – Albert

    • Stephen on

      Hey Albert – I really like this metaphor. This is thought provoking stuff. What (if any) are the immutable rules? What are the current rules that we can challenge? Like when William Webb-Ellis picked up the football and ran. And did he ever feature in the game he supposedly created?
      In any case, it has got to be useful to step back to review the playing field and the current rules and players. Mintzberg and them include scenario planning in the ‘Planning School’ they don’t however reference Clem Sunter. Interesting – nor do they talk about Kaplan and Norton. The first edition ‘Strategy Safari’ was published in 1998. They reference K&Ns first two books but no others.


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