• Chris Davies

Do you have effective team conversations?

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In any business team or working group, conversations happen daily. Some of these - those conducted at the coffee machine, kitchen or water cooler - have the purpose of strengthening social bonds. Others are intended to put forward ideas or reach decisions. It is these that are the most important ones, ones we usually have scheduled meetings to address.

Often, however, I find that these conversations are less than entirely effective. David Clutterbuck, in his book Coaching the Team at Work, draws on the work of Chris Argyris and Peter Senge in distinguishing between three forms of conversation :

1. Debate - this involves people with fixed and opposing points of view trying to convince each other that they are right. It is from this type of conversation that "let's agree to disagree" most often arises; when points of view have become completely entrenched and there is complete resistance to change. This is the ultimate cop-out, as it resolves nothing.

2. Discussion - having an outcome you wish to achieve but being willing to listen to and accept the validity of another person's view. Discussion usually leads to modest changes in perception and sometimes to compromise.

3. Dialogue - approaching an issue with as open a mind as possible, with a view to understanding other people's perspectives, and perhaps creating a new perspective. Dialogue typically leads to commitment and a willingness to change.

Relationship Systems Coaching encourages dialogue as much as possible.

As an example, the coach will use this concept in alignment coaching. Alignment is defined as "bringing parts into proper relative position; to adjust, to bring into proper relationship or orientation." Creating alignment is not the same as harmony; it is about agreeing to move in the same direction; it is about serving a common goal.

Imagine that there are two groups of people, each with a strong and opposing position about a specific issue. The team coach starts the process by allowing each party to "vent" under strict control. Focus then shifts to why this issue needs to be resolved, generating a shared objective before finding what they already agree on and creating an alliance or partnership through which the issue can be resolved to mutual satisfaction.

Dialogue is essential to the process - being open to different perspectives or points of view, a willingness to explore new facts and coming together to solve an issue that no longer comes between them (separating them), but instead gets "out in front" of them.

So the next time you find that you are having a debate or a discussion and the arguments don't seem to reach a satisfactory conclusion, consider the wisdom of dialogue. Or ask your friendly neighbourhood coach to facilitate the process. You will be amazed at what can be achieved.

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