Conversation is the organisation

Let me start with a great quote:

“Conversations are the way workers discover what they know, share it with their colleagues and in the process create new knowledge for the organisation. In the new economy, conversations are the most important form of work ….. so much so that the conversation is the organisation.” (Alan Webber, “What’s So New about the New Economy?” Harvard Business School.)

This morning I’m finalising a session I’m facilitating tonight at Swansea Business School about “Inspirational Leadership that motivates and engages – what is it?” and working on my own clarity of thinking in order that I can tonight best articulate (and hopefully create understanding for attendees) the importance of conversations in terms of any consideration of “inspirational leadership”.

I’m also digesting and filtering a lot of input from participants in this week’s Leading Wales Awards’ Leadership Cafe events including yesterday’s at the Springboard Centre in Cwmbran (thank you @ChristinaHarrhy).

It took me back to an article I had read previously by Thomas J Hurley and Juanita Brown, and a quote within it that “conversational leadership takes root when leaders see their organisations as dynamic webs of conversation and consider conversation as a core process for effective positive dynamic change”.

To me there is also something really important linguistically about using the word “conversation” which is aligned to leadership rather than the word “meeting” which is a management word and also a word that strikes horror or boredom in many and an immediate response of “Oh no! Not another meeting that I have to go to when I’ve got so much to do!”

In Cwmbran yesterday when we were exploring which animal best represents your leadership style the conversation highlighted an animal that brought the herd together so that the herd also developed a “collective intelligence” of individually knowing what they were about, where they were going and what to do, but doing that by being at one within the herd (or team).

This notion of collective intelligence is interesting to consider also since it will be formed by many things such as organisational values and culture, information given out, past experiences and feelings as well as partly by processes. Taken all together, based on the collective intelligence, the herd (i.e. the team or organisation) will develop patterns of behaviours some of which will be positive and others that will be unhelpful such as acting together with a clear common goal, aversion to risk for instance, a focus on process not action, too busy “doing” and not valuing thinking, must be seen to put in long hours at the office or responsive to phone 24/7 ……. this reminds me then just how important those conversations are in order to develop and to influence appropriate change in the collective intelligence.

Returning to the quote from Thomas J Hurley and Juanita Brown, instead of simply “dynamic change” it seems to me that “conversation as a core process” is fundamental to the development of and the continuous renewal and improvement of the best kind of “collective intelligence”. It is possibly one of the most essential things a leader does in terms of building and nurturing trust [putting conversations as a core process], but by doing so within a co-created safe environment that ensures the conversations are direct, honest, open and caring and purposeful. Such a core process and environment then can open the flood gates and unleash creative thinking and innovation, as well as developing relationships, building trust, enabling common understanding and engaging & motivating the herd (i.e. team or organisation) to achieving their common purpose.

Those leaders who are genuinely “themselves” (authentic), are able to use their leadership skills to lead the co-creation of this kind of safe environment within which open, caring and purposeful conversations take place. They also utilise their management skills, knowledge and understanding so that they embed conversations as a core process. Leaders who can achieve both of these things may well then be the leaders who are genuinely inspirational?

Inspirational leaders ensure their “herd” really are melded into one common purpose (via conversational leadership) and that herd members as individuals understand the contribution they make and feel valued and appreciated for their contribution to working at one with their team or organisation towards that common purpose. To go back to Alan Webber “the conversation is the organisation”.

I look forward to the conversation tonight at Swansea Business School when I will articulate this thinking!

Meanwhile please look at the rest of our free Leadership Cafe events which can be found at . Do please come and join in the conversation – email me to book your place.

Who could you nominate for a Leading Wales Award this year? Nominations are open until March 14th – just click on the link, register and download the nomination document(s) of your choice.

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