Making constructive conversations

As part of my thinking about the Future of Work, I’ve been thinking about how to make it safe to share, in the sense of an innovation culture (ala the Learning Organization). My colleague, Charles Jennings, shared a very useful format to facilitate this, and I wanted to think out loud about it in terms of actionable items.

So, Charles advocates an approach to be taken in conversations with employees that involves a set of specific questions.  He’s developed even a little job aid (aka the ‘3 Questions’ card). What’s nice is that the questions are open ended, positive, and facilitate reflection. It’s modeled after the After Action Reviews conducted in military situations, and has the following 3 questions:

1.Describe some of your recent challenges and successes

2.How would you respond differently to achieve better outcomes in the future?

3.What learning can you take away from these experiences?

The first one is designed to open discussion.  Of course, it has to be ‘safe’ to share these challenges and successes, but making a habit of asking about them and of course an individual’s assignments or projects should be known and shared.  It’s the followup questions that can help establish the safety to share.

Thus, the second question, doesn’t focus on mistakes, it focuses on alternatives.  I might even be inclined to ask, instead: “what other ways could you have responded and what ways might you try to achieve better outcomes in the future”, exploring the space of possibilities a bit (to avoid being trapped in local maxima).  The point here is to consider a broad swath of possible approaches and focus on improvement.

Finally, the third questions focuses in on lessons.  What did an experience teach you, and how might you act differently on the basis of this.   The point is to look for the lesson.  I’d add that as part of learning out loud, sharing the lesson learned can be shared.

Charles noted to me that evidence suggests that 70% of manager/managed meetings is taken by the manager speaking. That’s not necessarily a good ratio; it would likely be better 50/50 or even less!

You don’t want to celebrate mistakes, but you do want to make it safe to share.  In fact, a lovely story I heard once was from a small company that rang a bell in the middle of the office, not when the mistake was made, but when the lesson was learned. That way everyone else could learn not to make the same mistake!  It celebrated learning, and validated experimentation.

So while a good culture is the result of actions, scaffolding good actions through structure can help drive the culture forward.  Do you have tools you use to help make things productive?

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