Teach people or get a better process? Both and neither

Nancy Dixon condenses years of practice and experience into a single post: What Makes Organizational Conversations Effective? Participant Skill or Skillful Design?.

I guess the very short answer to the question is: both. And I know Viv will be cheering this bit:

The most effective way to have learningful conversations in an organization is to disrupt the dysfunctional conversational practices that are occurring. Both training and skillful design can disrupt those patterns.

I think that any practice or recommended set of skills will create it’s shadow side. Even with a good model of how to carry on a conversation,  people will demonstrate compliance but still “cheat” (eg be well behaved in formal meetings and gossip in the corridors). Anyone involved will have to make judgements about whether this is just fine is in fact highly creative, or actually a bad thing… and then decide whether to act on that judgement. One man’s dysfunctional practice is another man’s creative process…

2 thoughts on “Teach people or get a better process? Both and neither

  1. Chris Rodgers

    Hi Johnnie,

    As you say, Nancy Dixon distils a lot of useful advice into her post. And you add the important, real-world caveat that is often forgotten in ‘best practice’ prescriptions concerning organizational dynamics,

    At the same time, we shouldn’t forget that Nancy Dixon is talking about what I call “set-piece” conversations. Important as these are, they only constitute a very small proportion of the totality of sense-making-cum-action-taking conversations through which organization is enacted. Most occur in the everyday messiness of ‘open play’; with the majority of those taking place ‘outside’ formal hierarchical relationships. Fewer still are facilitated.

    Cheers, Chris

    1. Johnnie Moore Post author

      Thanks, Chris and you make an excellent point. Even if it’s possible to create practices and capacities in parts of the organisation, the rest of the world will continue to interact and influence what is happening, and it sure won’t be following the same guidelines. One of the most useful recurring themes in your work is the reminder that whatever processes we advocate, we must accept that there will be huge variance in compliance. So high quality dialogue is great, but we have to function in a world where all sorts of others kinds conversation go on; we can’t spend our time trying to get the universe to comply!


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