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Transformative Conversations

In September, I had the pleasure of conducting workshops for two different clients. For both, the value of the time together was less about meeting the objectives of the workshop, and more about the dialog that ensued. (These workshops begin the second phase of our ABC methodology, Build.”) These were transformative conversations.

“We never talk about stuff like this,” one of the senior leaders told me. “It was really helpful to take some time and talk about who we are as an organization and who we want to be.”

That is not uncommon for three main reasons. First, if your organization runs at a particularly fast-pace meeting real-life needs, it’s easy to focus on the day-to-day and nothing else. Those squeaky wheels are always hogging up all the oil!

Second, it’s easy for us to assume that what we’re thinking is what everyone else is thinking, particularly if we started out on the journey together. Paths diverge. We have conversations in vacuums. Ideas come to us at different times. It’s always important to check-in.

Finally, these conversations are often difficult because we suspect that they’re not going to be easy. Sometimes fear is well-founded. Others, it is not. Either way, just because a conversation is difficult doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen. Just the opposite in fact.

Transformative conversations—especially the tough ones—can bring a myriad of benefits to any organization. First, they reduce confusion. Confusion drains your organization of efficiency and goodwill. Confusion leads to bad, often expensive decisions.

Transformative conversations also help your organization act authentically, which now more than ever is critical if you want to attract and retain the right employees, deliver the best results, or share your message with the world to enlist its help.

If you’re sold on my notion that having regular, transformative conversations is time well spent, here are five suggestions on how to make them happen:

  • Commit to regular check-ins. They do not and should not be every week, but regularly scheduled discussions about what you’re doing, why, and how are important. I’d recommend no fewer than yearly, and no frequently than quarterly.
  • Get a facilitator. Without a third-party facilitator, you’re having a meeting, not a transformative conversation. Not only can they ensure everyone participates, but they can also prevent dynamics like group-think and follow-the-leader.
  • Align with market research. It’s best to have foundations for your conversations, such as quantifiable data, to which the group can react. Otherwise, your time together could become very ethereal or abstract.
  • Set up a safe space. In order to give these conversations the gravitas they deserve, make certain they’re held in literal and figurative safe spaces. Specifically, host them offsite if possible and ensure that everyone knows they can contribute candidly.
  • Summarize, confirm, and act. Before wrapping up and getting back to oiling those squeaky wheels, make certain that you have summarized and confirmed the collective point of view as well as assigned responsibilities for following up. After all, the conversation itself is not transformative. You are with its help.

Our work day in and day out is important. If that’s all we do; however, we risk it becoming ineffectual and out of step. It’s also important that our organizations always grow, always transform into their next best iterations. That only happens through thoughtful, planned, and transformative conversations.

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