Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Board Conversations: A Core Business Process

Board members are conversational agents ...

My colleague Anne Courtney and I recently conducted a workshop for a Board titled ‘Conversations: A Core Business Process’. The purpose of the workshop was to help Board members understand the rationale behind the leadership development work being done in their organisation and to apply some of the ontological material around organisations and conversations in order to enhance the Board’s own capacity to fulfill its role. The outcomes were aimed at enabling Board members to have a greater understanding of:
  • the role and importance of conversations in organisations, particularly in the Board Room;
  • the key intentions of conversations;
  • the different types of conversations available to organisations;
  • how Board members are currently using conversations well and which conversations are missing or not effective; and to provide an experience of a conversation that allows for both deep listening and advocacy.
 We commenced the workshop by asking Board members to reflect on:
  • How much are conversations a part of your work on the Board (conversations as face-to-face, email, phone, meetings, written form).
  • How much of your work on the Board involves conversations – give a percentage?
  • Which part of a board members role didn’t involve conversation?
  • What does that tell us about the role of conversation in doing your work as a Board?
The overwhelming response to these questions was that about 90% of the work of a Board member involves having various types of conversations. Board members are ‘conversational agents’ and a key part of a Board member’s effectiveness is not just what they know, but how they carry out conversations.  Leaders are often not aware of the weaknesses in their conversational practices. What problems the leader is able to articulate – how they interact together; how they identify key conversational problems all affect how they work together in achieving business outcomes. Once you understand the internal conversations that characterise an organisation's strengths, weaknesses and what sorts of conversations are missing, you can make a big difference to board and organisational effectiveness.  

This workshop enabled Board members the opportunity to explore the types of conversations they have and what ones are missing. The following from Sieler are some conversational practices for effective leaders: 
1.     Conversation for Stories and Assessments: To get things off our chest and to share our views.
2.     Conversation for Clarity: To ensure we have a mutual understanding of an issue, as the basis for moving forward together.
3.     Conversation for Common Commitment: To ensure shared commitment to vision, future direction and goals
4.     Conversation for Possibility (speculative conversation):To generate ideas and to explore different futures through what might be possible
5.     Conversation for Opportunity : To narrow down a wide range of possibilities to identify specific possibilities that are desirable
6.     Conversation for (Coordination of) Action: To get things done and bring about new realities
7.     Conversation for Progress: To pause and monitor progress towards meeting commitments and attaining goals
8.     Conversation for Accomplishment: To acknowledge accomplishments, successes as a means to people recognising their own achievements and to provide a setting where their contributions are publicly valued by others.
9.   Conversation for Appreciation: To publicly declare recognition, value, appreciation and gratitude of others’ contributions
10.  Conversation for Accountability:  To take effective action to deal with a broken promise/commitment
11.  Conversation for Working Relationship:  To not avoid and to constructively confront a breakdown in the relationship

The invitation is for you is to explore what sort of conversational agent are you? What conversations might you use often and what conversations are you missing. For a conversation contact

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