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Leading Ideas: Making Communication Work

“When it comes to improving performance, most organizations’ problems can be traced to their inability to think and talk together at critical moments.” — Paraphrased from William Isaacs’s book Dialogue, p.3

What passes as “communication” in most organizations is nothing more than people talking at each other. Firing different opinions around a room with little structure to productively move any action forward. The conversation is dysfunctional — meaning that it doesn’t produce a deeper understanding of the issues at hand. Eventually, when a decision must be made, it’s often the person who has spoken the loudest, longest, or with the most conviction that wins — whether it was the best idea or not.

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Something to consider:

To vet truly great ideas, you’ve got to stress-test them with a group. An example is a process called “the gauntlet” that I developed with one of my clients. Once a good idea bubbles to the top of a conversation, each member of the team must do his/her best to put it through the ringer by pointing out weaknesses in a respectful yet rigorous manner. Everyone’s ideas are subjected to the gauntlet – no one gets a free pass. If the idea makes it through the process, everyone agrees to put their weight behind making it happen.

Something to try:

To develop better communication in your teams, use this basic checklist:
1. Respect others’ opinions.
2. Make sure everyone has a voice in key decisions.
3. Encourage members to suspend judgment in order for everyone to be heard.
4. Make it a standard practice that all ideas are up for scrutiny – and develop a process to ensure this happens.
5. When a decision is reached, put a specific, time-bound course of action in place.

Question: What structures do you put in place to ensure communication works in your organization?

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