Conversational Leadership – the key to high-quality team communication

Posted by: NHS Horizons - Posted on:

Originally published by Rosanna Hunt – 2nd March 2018

When co-designing team “away days”, I have noticed that as we approach the day itself we begin to get a little tense about “getting some actions out of the day”.

What if we had, as an explicit outcome from a team away day, to achieve ZERO actions out of the day? Would this change the quality of the conversation in the room? Could a sense of direction, alignment and purpose be agreed without the obligatory “to do” list?

Here, we are talking about unlocking the potential of team members to contribute and share their tacit knowledge. We are facilitating their engagement in social learning and sense-making. We are deliberately holding the reins on their professional drive to land their understanding in a bite-sized action with a name against it.

Instead, we present a challenge to them: that is, to become comfortable with creating open spaces where even more diverse viewpoints may come into the room and re-frame the current, limited perspectives on the challenges presented.

Fundamentally, we are asking them to embrace uncertainty, learn to ask the right questions and sustain a networked environment in which people can connect, communicate and create the future in a truly collaborative way.

Recent research indicates that the quality of team communication is of far greater importance in predicting performance, than the quantity of communication.

Whilst the researchers don’t identify features of high-quality team communication, they do suggest that “good tests… include ease of understanding but also the level of recall people have of messaging”. One such test might be the ability to adapt an “elevator pitch” to engage the interest of that key person you find yourself in an actual elevator with.

Creating the space and skills for people to use conversation to cultivate collective intelligence was coined “Conversational Leadership” by Carolyn Baldwin. Contributing to the conversation about our direction and priorities is often what a team away day seeks to achieve. Since change is a key feature of the modern workplace, it is ever more important to use conversation to cultivate collective intelligence as part of “the way we do things around here”.

If our conversations and personal relations are at the heart of our work, how am I, as a leader, contributing to or taking energy away from this natural process? Are we using the intelligence of just a few people when we could gain the intelligence of hundreds or thousands by focusing on key questions and including people more intentionally in the conversation?”…