Conversational organisations

I remember that one of the things I had a hard time with during my corporate days was the fact of attending meetings where I (and the rest of us) had to listen to the same few voice s, so that the same kind of decisions were always taken (which made problems spiral forever). Those tiring voices acted like a steamroller, making the other voices believe that it didn’t matter what they had to say. In my life as an entrepreneur I continue to see this situation in many environments (corporate or otherwise). When something collective is monopolised by a minority, there is a danger of believing that those few voices represent the whole, when in fact they do not. The result is organisations that are hijacked, with their evolution (or involution) subordinated to what those usual voices say.

How can this situation, which is leading many organisations to a dead end, be turned around? It is necessary to analyse this phenomenon from its epicentre. In the minds of those voices that never end, there is a firmly anchored belief that theirs is a more important voice than the rest. This creates environments with little or no psychological safety, where people do not feel comfortable to share their perspective, their ideas, or simply to replicate the voices that only listen to themselves. The subsequent dynamic is very clear: those who have something to say and are not allowed to speak freely leave, tired of being ignored, in search of greener pastures where they can contribute and feel appreciated. Those who stay are there because, for multiple reasons, they are accepting the fact of being excluded from the conversation. The truth is that you cannot ask or expect a high contribution from someone who is not invited to participate in a conversation and who, as a consequence, will give their time and energies from a strictly transactional perspective, with all that this means (e.g. the “quiet quitting” phenomenon everyone is talking about right now).

On the other hand, I am happy to say that I am also seeing a very interesting movement in organisations that are surfing the wave with greater agility. I call them “conversational organisations” and they are those that manage to be a choral, i.e. organisations with abundant conversations at all levels, where many voices and multiple perspectives are heard and are tangible in more multi-faceted and far-reaching solutions. This is actually nothing new. It is point 13 of the Toyota Production System, the nemawashi: take your time to reach consensus to enable rapid implementations.

Let’s not panic: in a conversational organisation, teams are not endlessly debating and philosophising about ethereal topics and posting sticky notes on the wall. In this type of organisation everyone shares that conversation is a tool, a vehicle to reach a goal. It is not about “talking for the sake of talking”, it is about talking to achieve the goal that has been set. And bearing in mind that achieving goals in an organisation is not an individual exercise, but a collective one, it is better to take into account the diversity of voices, which represent the ramifications of the journey to reach that goal.

Thus, breaking the harmful habit of keeping few voices monopolising conversations is as simple (and as complicated) as adding new voices and giving them strength so that the steamroller voices mingle with the rest. In the 21st century, no organisation deserves (or can afford) to be hijacked by wannabe monologuists.

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