Love this quote:
“In this day and age, when problems are increasingly complex and there are no simple answers, and no simple cause and effect – how stressful for leaders to pretend that they have the answer. A life-affirming leader is one who knows how to rely on and use the intelligence that exists everywhere in the community, the company, school, or organization. Such leaders act as stewards of other people’s creativity and intelligence. Today’s leader needs to be one who convenes people, who convenes diversity, who convenes all viewpoints in processes where our intelligence can come forth. These kinds of leaders do not give us the answers; rather they help gather us so that we can discover the answers together.”
– Margaret Wheatley, author, Leadership and the New Science
This Sunday January 18th at beautiful Rivendell Retreat on Bowen Island, BC, my colleague Brenda Chaddock and I are co-presenting Facilitating Wise Action: Engaging Groups in Meaningful Conversations Around Complex Issues. The program is focused on conversational methods that foster mutual understanding, learning, partnership, and co-creation.
In past offerings (this is our third), participants have found the questions from our Engagement Process and Continuum to be enlightening, especially those related to purpose, convener, participants, and methods. We suggest that the continuum of engagement can be distinguished according to two broad types: unilateral/bilateral, and multilateral. The purpose for unilateral and bilateral forms of engagement primarily serves the convener. In multilateral engagement, all participants are equally served by the purpose, including the convener. Viewing the purpose of engagement through this lens sheds some helpful light on the role of the convener, on who should be invited, and on what are the best methods for the engagement. For those interested in learning more, please download a PDF extract of the Engagement Process: Continuum of Engagement which is part of our Facilitating Wise Action curriculum. A summary follows of the above categories:
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE? CONTINUUM OF ENGAGEMENT
Type: Unilateral & Bilateral (Serves Convener)
- One Way Communication: We Tell You Our Story (inform, educate)
- Hearings & Research: We Invite Your Input (listen, gather data, input)
- Two-Way Consultation: We Listen to Various Sides (discuss, obtain feedback; hear sides & stories)
Type: Multilateral (Serves all participants)
- Mutual Understanding: Together, We Learn/Reframe Conflict (learn together about common issue; transform conflict)
- Partnership & Co-Creation: Together, We Decide & Collaborate (generate solutions; collaborate; partner; co-create)
Yesterday in conversation with a client who leads Six Sigma projects to enhance operational excellence in his organization, a moment of clarity emerged around a distinction that is not always apparent on what is needed for successful implementation. (The Six Sigma methodology is a proven and rigorous approach for systematically identifying problems, examining root causes, generating possible solutions, and eventually selecting the best according to objective criteria.) Essentially, the insight boils down to this:
- Six Sigma processes are appropriate for studying and analyzing processes and systems. Underlying this methodology is the assumption that: 1) operational and production processes can be viewed from a problem-solving lens; 2 the problem though complicated, can ultimately be known; 3) through appropriate analysis and study, the problem can be solved, i.e., a ‘right’ answer can be found; and 4) a good implementation plan can then eventually be designed and implemented. Most Six Sigma teams devote the bulk of their attention and energy on getting this right.
- Organizational change and transformation processes are based on different assumptions: 1) organizations and people are systems; 2) systems are complex and therefore are inherent unknowable; 3) complex issues and systems cannot be solved; at best they can be aligned with a common direction and purpose; 4) successful implementation in a system requires the alignment of individual and collective, as well as personal and organizational/community systems and structures. Even if the Six Sigma gets a 100% correct answer to the problem, implementation may not succeed unless conscious attention is also placed in parallel during the project on engaging the people within the organization for alignment with the eventual change.
- Conversational methods are uniquely suited to help people grapple with the complexity of the need and implications of change, to understand and embrace diverse points of view, and to gradually gain a larger system’s perspective. Such methods are also effective in drawing out insights, generating creative ideas, and obtaining contributions from the people affected by the change that the Six Sigma team can incorporate or address in such a way that it may make a big difference in the eventual acceptance of the proposed changes. Adding conversational methods to the Six Sigma toolkit, and learning how to attend to the dimension of change from start to end can go a long way to enhance the eventual success of a Six Sigma project.