Thursday, March 16, 2006

(Organisational) culture and conversations

David Gurteen has started a series of 50 webcasts under the title 50 lessons, this month with Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice who talks about the power of good conversation.

She argues that it is possible to know, just by witnessing how easily people engage with each other in meaningful conversation, whether or not a company has potential and was energized. Companies which recognise the power of good conversation and communication realise that conversations are not just about facts – they involve people’s emotions too, in some conversations people bring their whole self to the conversation. At the same time we are busy running around and bewitched by our agendas, so we don't give ourselves time to talk about things which are important for the work. The way that senior executives behave sends very strong messages to the people around them about what’s important and valued in that organisation, if senior people engage in good conversations they give others permission to have them too.

We just had a workshop in my organisation and discovered that the women are seen (by both men and women) as bringing a process orientation to the organisation, whereas the men were seen as bringing, among others, output and a results orientation. I'm always worried about over- generalising these differences, but those were the associations people had. Interestingly women's orientation was associated with 'social talk' 'talk' and sometimes even 'gossip'. Having powerful, authentic conversations suddenly sounds much more like work than social talk or gossip!

The webcast is accompanied by a lesson summary, ideas for actions and questions to ask. Two of the lessons which accompany the webcasts ring a bell:
- Do not reprimand people for talking about work. Encourage your staff to have conversations at work, about work, by prompting discussions yourself. Conversations are not idle chatter; they are an essential way for your people to communicate properly.
- Consider banning email for minor internal communications – encouraging people to talk will foster good conversation, as well as get people moving around the office.

Trying to link it to communities of practice: CoPs have the potential to offer the protected space for practitioners to engage in these conversations. Yet- it can be easily be perceived as 'too much talk' and possibly there's a danger that these conversations don't transpire into the rest of the organisation?

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