Thursday, July 25, 2013

Reframing the Purpose of Dialogue, Part 2

Circling, Time Boxing and Consent

In the last post a couple of days ago, I wrote about opportunities for participants in an important dialogue to practice being more focused, attentive and succinct in their interactions, using time boxing and conversation circles.

Somehow, when the importance of using inclusive dialogue for important topics came to the forefront as a business and community building tool in the past fifteen or so years, not very much was offered about HOW to manage these larger-scale dialogues.  They could easily become unwieldy: dominated by a few voices, long-winded with few concrete outcomes, and as noted before, they could be deficit-based and confrontational, focusing on what was wrong rather than on what might work. This did not make a particularly good recipe for full voice and trust which helps get our collective brain moving.

So, sometimes, it’s a good idea to ask participants to reflect for a few minutes on their own positions and best ideas, then to offer clear contributions in timed rounds that help us ‘cut to the chase.’

Then comes taking the dialogue into decision-making.

In the sociocratic/dynamic governance model, decisions are made by consent, a wonderful concept. Rather than voting and ending up with winners and losers, important decisions can be made by consent of all present. With consent, you can find out quickly if there is sufficient support for a direction or action, to know if the group is giving support to go forward.
In the case of the group of 75 global company managers I am using as a example in this case, they had already had a couple of hours of presentations and ‘questions and answer’ sessions, so that they knew the proposals being offered inside and out.  Then, they had done timed rounds to say what was ‘right’ about the proposal. They were spiraling toward the ability to give consent.

Consent decision-making is based on finding the parameters of what someone can live with.  A person may have a tweak to make or a slight concern, but often, that small concerns used to derail decision-making and hold up progress.   Now, participants would have an opportunity to object, but this type of objection has a fundamental difference to it. In this round, participants are asked,

“Do you have a paramount objection?” 

“If so, what is your recommendation for coming closer to our goals? What will make this work?”

These objections are asked for and offered in the spirit of finding solutions and alignment, of getting as specific as possible about what is needed.  It is done in the context of coming ever closer to the best solution to an aim or goal.

So, the table groupings did a timed round and surfaced all serious objections, made recommendations and amended the proposals.  If the early parts of the dialogue have been structured well, as it was in this case, this is usually a straightforward process.

If there are no serious, paramount objections in the room, there is a quick consent round and everyone celebrates the forward momentum and the mandate that everyone has agreed to.

What we did with this particular group, which is only together once every couple of years, was to then take the time to tap their best ideas and recommendations for tweaking and implementing.

Once again, each person at each table in the room, had two minutes to offer their own key insights and recommendations, which were captured by the conversation leader at the table and then reported out to the whole room.

Great ideas were offered, alignment was achieved, everyone got equal opportunity to offer their unique perspective and expertise, and it didn’t take forever.

This is just a snapshot of the dialogue and consent process, but you can get a sense of how powerful this reframing of dialogue can be in some situations.

The purpose of dialogue is to hear one another and engage with one another on behalf of something important.  Dialogue should end up connecting us more and taking us somewhere. Otherwise, why do it?

Contact me if you want to learn more about this way of working.

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