Creating Agile Conversation Flow

Agility Consulting |

Conversation Flow Leads to Cash Flow … is a frequently used call to arms and action from Mike Richardson, a former team agility practice leader in Agility Consulting as well as a long-time agility thought leader based out in the beautiful southern California foothills.  There is great wisdom for leaders and organizations baked inside of Mike’s framework with each word packed with meaning and purpose.

A couple of years ago, Mike and I worked with leadership teams of a well-known technology company in an agility development program entitled Focused, Fast & Flexible – Developing Leadership Agility Competencies which was based largely on the book that Nick Horney and I co-authored.  Whether you were based in their San Diego or San Mateo campus, it was very clear that the increasing speed of play in today’s VUCA world was making life in highly matrixed organizations very challenging.  

In fact, we have found this to be true in many, if not most, of the organizations that we have worked with the past ten years.  It is an on-going challenge to keep alignment, focus, communication, clarity and commitment when the shifting sands and organizational flux of continual change keeping pounding like waves on those beaches of southern California or closer to home here in North Carolina.

We find that it is essential to equip our leaders with more dynamic concepts and tools so they can stay afloat as these tides shift.  In our work today, our Leadership Agility workshops are helping leaders and coaches with the kind of learning and techniques needed to safely navigate the turbulent organizational waters in this VUCA world.

The other day, I had a useful discussion with an especially enlightened client about how to accelerate the pace of change in one of his organizations.  This organization has experienced a full year of Level 5 trauma and learned helplessness.  They are beginning to emerge from dysfunction into a new chapter of hopefulness.  The question is how fast can we expect to see change happen … or should there be a bridge stage in the transition from where we are to where we need to be? 

My suggestion was to concentrate on building the fabric of relationships and inter-dependencies inside the organization in order to reinforce the team’s reason for being in servicing their external customers.  This involves an exercise we call … “Mapping the Stakeholders in Your Success” (MSYS).  This parallels another exercise we promote called “Mapping the Stakeholders in Your Happiness” but we’ll save that for another day.

MSYS is a simple technique of identifying the key stakeholders or groups that you depend on or who depend on you for their success.  As you do this, you can begin to map the conversation flow in terms of → what they need from you and ← what you need from them.  This sets up the opportunity for a deep cleansing conversation once you have been able to establish a foundation of trust.

As you meet with each stakeholder, you hope to have a positive dialogue that clarifies what each needs from the other as well as sharing insights in a Continue, Start, Stop conversation (CSS).  CSS provides a positive framework for sharing ground truth i.e. what you appreciate about your stakeholder and hope they will continue to do; what you would like your stakeholder to “consider” starting; and finally what you would like your stakeholder to “consider” stopping or doing less.  If you can create this as a 2-way dialogue and constructively share with positive tone – it can be the beginning of a new and improved level of conversation flow!

As you get your conversation flow with direct stakeholders established and in play, it opens the opportunity to facilitate greater conversation flow between your stakeholders.  Having spent more than 40 years of my life playing and coaching soccer, this always reminds me of the foundation of good soccer play … working in triangles.  

If you watch any good soccer team at any level, you will easily recognize some organizational patterns – players check in and check out and strive to make the task of the player with the ball as easy as possible.  There are some basic team “operating principles” that help these teams operate at higher level e.g. always move when you don’t have the ball to a passing lane so the player with the ball can “play the way he is facing” or if you are the nearest player to the ball when it turns over to the other side … you are the “first defender” and must rapidly challenge the player with the ball to slow down their advance.  There is also a rapid communication system to alert players about how much time they have or not.

If you need to increase the “speed of play” in your organization, then I would encourage you to try out some Stakeholder Mapping and to begin to build out the team “operating principles” you need in your organization to support your success.   In most client situations I see, you really cannot keep doing what you have always done and expect to stay successful.  We need to become more nimble, fit and adaptable.  We think it comes down to being more Focused, Fast & Flexible.  Happy to discuss further and get your thoughts or analogies also.

Tom O’Shea

Tom O’Shea, CMC
Principal, Agility Consulting
Organizational Agility Practice Leader
My Website

Volatile, unpredictable, even erratic- these are the times we live in and exactly why Tom O’Shea is considered a trusted advisor and collaborator helping leaders, teams and organizations adapt and thrive by becoming more focused, fast and flexible in an increasingly complex and ambiguous world.

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Focused, Fast & Flexible

Focused, Fast & Flexible

Nick & Tom's new book, "Focused, Fast & Flexible: Creating Agility Advantage in a VUCA World", is now available for purchase on amazon.



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