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Building Conversational Capacity in Today's Work Teams

Work teams progress through four basic stages of development: Orientation, when the team is just starting out...
Building Conversational Capacity in Today's Work Teams

Building conversational capacity in today’s work teams




Craig Weber

Founder





 

 

In working with The Ken Blanchard Companies on the design of their new Team Leadership program I contributed what I believe to be an essential component that helps a team get through the critical Dissatisfaction stage where so many teams flounder. Drawing from the central theme of my book, Conversational Capacity, we added in communication skills for balancing candour and curiosity to provide managers and team leaders with the tools they need to ensure that their team remains on track even when dealing with its most troublesome issues.

The ability to balance candour and curiosity is particularly important in the Dissatisfaction stage of team development, where conflict is higher, misunderstandings are more prevalent, and the risk to team cohesion is greater than in any other stage. High candour creates conversations that are open and direct. People put forward their best ideas, biggest concerns, and most creative suggestions in a clear and compelling way.

At the same time, high curiosity leads to conversations that are open-minded, inquisitive, and learning-focused. If one team member has a view that differs from the rest of the team, rather than getting defensive, other team members get interested in exploring how that colleague sees the issue differently. They ask questions to discover what they might learn. It’s in this sweet spot—where candour and curiosity are in balance—that the best teamwork occurs.

I refer to the ability of an individual or a team to remain in the sweet spot under pressure as their conversational capacity. And the more difficult the issue a team is facing, the more challenging their goals, and the more intense the differences of personality or opinion around the table, the more important this ability becomes to team performance.

When a team leaves the sweet spot and conversational capacity begins to drop, it's usually because team members have drifted too far toward one pole or the other. If I’m in a meeting and I let go of candour, for example, I may become overly guarded and cautious. I'll sit there quietly, not saying something I should. Or, if I do speak up, I'll water down or sugarcoat my point. If I drop curiosity, on the other hand, I may become more closed-minded, arrogant, and argumentative. I’ll participate in the conversation with my mind shut and my mouth open.

 

 
 

Conversational capacity, therefore, isn't just another aspect of effective teamwork—it defines effective teamwork. A team of people who can't talk in a productive way about their most important issues isn’t really a team at all. It is just a collection of people who can’t work together effectively when it really matters.

The good news is the ability to work in the sweet spot is a discipline that can be mastered if we’re willing to put in the practice. This means we all have the ability to improve the conversational capacity of our teams and our work relationships. One person can have a profound effect on the way a meeting unfolds or a decision gets made—even if they’re the only person in the room with the skills. Some of us are more naturally curious while others are more instinctively candid, but we can all learn to communicate in a more balanced way and use this ability to make a powerful difference in our teams, organisations, and communities.

In both of my books I quote from Airto Moreira, a Brazilian jazz percussionist, who says this about playing jazz: "I listen to what's being played and then I play what's missing." That's a great way to think about how each of us can wield more influence. We can learn to pay closer attention to what's being played in a conversation and then learn skills for playing what’s missing. Is there a lack of candour in this meeting? What can I do to ratchet it up a notch or two? Or is there a lack of curiosity and people are starting to butt heads? What can I do to slow down the conversation and get it focused back on the issue we’re trying to address?

An organisation is a community of discourse. Leadership is about shaping the nature of the discourse. And effective leaders shape the discourse in the direction of learning, progress, and growth.

If you wish to learn more about The Ken Blanchard Companies’ research on team leadership, please contact [email protected] or click the button below...

 

In working with The Ken Blanchard Companies on the design of their new Team Leadership program I contributed what I believe to be an essential component that helps a team get through the critical Dissatisfaction stage where so many teams flounder. Drawing from the central theme of my book, Conversational Capacity, we added in communication skills for balancing candour and curiosity to provide managers and team leaders with the tools they need to ensure that their team remains on track even when dealing with its most troublesome issues.

The ability to balance candour and curiosity is particularly important in the Dissatisfaction stage of team development, where conflict is higher, misunderstandings are more prevalent, and the risk to team cohesion is greater than in any other stage. High candour creates conversations that are open and direct. People put forward their best ideas, biggest concerns, and most creative suggestions in a clear and compelling way.

At the same time, high curiosity leads to conversations that are open-minded, inquisitive, and learning-focused. If one team member has a view that differs from the rest of the team, rather than getting defensive, other team members get interested in exploring how that colleague sees the issue differently. They ask questions to discover what they might learn. It’s in this sweet spot—where candour and curiosity are in balance—that the best teamwork occurs.

I refer to the ability of an individual or a team to remain in the sweet spot under pressure as their conversational capacity. And the more difficult the issue a team is facing, the more challenging their goals, and the more intense the differences of personality or opinion around the table, the more important this ability becomes to team performance.

When a team leaves the sweet spot and conversational capacity begins to drop, it's usually because team members have drifted too far toward one pole or the other. If I’m in a meeting and I let go of candour, for example, I may become overly guarded and cautious. I'll sit there quietly, not saying something I should. Or, if I do speak up, I'll water down or sugarcoat my point. If I drop curiosity, on the other hand, I may become more closed-minded, arrogant, and argumentative. I’ll participate in the conversation with my mind shut and my mouth open.

 

 

Conversational capacity, therefore, isn't just another aspect of effective teamwork—it defines effective teamwork. A team of people who can't talk in a productive way about their most important issues isn’t really a team at all. It is just a collection of people who can’t work together effectively when it really matters.

The good news is the ability to work in the sweet spot is a discipline that can be mastered if we’re willing to put in the practice. This means we all have the ability to improve the conversational capacity of our teams and our work relationships. One person can have a profound effect on the way a meeting unfolds or a decision gets made—even if they’re the only person in the room with the skills. Some of us are more naturally curious while others are more instinctively candid, but we can all learn to communicate in a more balanced way and use this ability to make a powerful difference in our teams, organisations, and communities.

In both of my books I quote from Airto Moreira, a Brazilian jazz percussionist, who says this about playing jazz: "I listen to what's being played and then I play what's missing." That's a great way to think about how each of us can wield more influence. We can learn to pay closer attention to what's being played in a conversation and then learn skills for playing what’s missing. Is there a lack of candour in this meeting? What can I do to ratchet it up a notch or two? Or is there a lack of curiosity and people are starting to butt heads? What can I do to slow down the conversation and get it focused back on the issue we’re trying to address?

An organisation is a community of discourse. Leadership is about shaping the nature of the discourse. And effective leaders shape the discourse in the direction of learning, progress, and growth.

 

If you wish to learn more about The Ken Blanchard Companies’ research on team leadership, please contact [email protected] or click the button below...

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