Conversations for Action: Are you in the stands or on the ice? Part Two

Co-written by Heather Marasse and Elisa Maselli, Trilogy Effect.

In our last post, we introduced the topic of Conversations for Action: specific and rigorous language that makes expectations explicit and moves projects forward.

To start with most of us have experienced meetings or one-on-one conversations that consist of a lot of talking but result in little or no action. They are like the conversations in the stands at the hockey game – possibly interesting, maybe exhilarating, but that make no difference to the outcome of the game.

Photo credit: Tyler

Photo credit: Tyler

Conversations for Action get us on the ice, moving the puck and advancing on the goal.

There are five Conversations for Action:

  • Proposals
  • Requests
  • Promises
  • Offers
  •  Invitations

Table 1 below gives a brief explanation of each, along with an example:

Remember, without the time component, these conversations are not complete.

In addition to a rigorous use of the speech acts, there are also specific rules for appropriate responses. The responses that will continue to move the conversation into action are in Table 2, along with examples.

Now, just because you know the rules doesn’t mean that using them will be easy!

Applying rigor to these conversations can elicit surprising resistance. Often, when working with teams, we observe that people adopt partial compliance – “I’ll do that,” “Will you take that action item?” (followed by a nod), “Let’s get Quality to look into that.” and more.

Can you see what is missing in these responses?

To be completely rigorous, one must apply each element of the Conversations for Action: “who” is clear, “what the action will be” is clear, and the “by when” is stated and agreed upon.

We warn you … it can feel like a fast-paced meeting just turned into a slow-motion, drawn-out, paint-by-numbers approach to action planning. It does this by forcing people to be in the moment and fully present to the action being taken. This ensures that all team members are focused on the puck and where it is in that very moment of the game. That’s the only way to ensure full collaboration and clarity.

And, if you really want to follow best practices, you will make sure that the promises are being recorded (who/what/when) in an action register. Share it among players after you meet so that it gets referenced on a regular basis to monitor progress afterward.

Resistance to this level of rigor springs from a few sources:

  • It feels too tactical when people prefer to stay strategic in their engagement (and this is a fair point – conversations for action are tactical)
  • It is pointed – it focuses the attention on who, what and when. Publicly making a promise to colleagues may make people feel a bit exposed.
  • It can feel intrusive – “Why do we need to get so micro-manage-y about this? We are all grown-ups here, and we trust one another to get things done.”
  • If your culture is one of finger-pointing and fear of mistakes, this can feel like extreme danger! There is risk in being public with our promises.

It’s best to use the Conversations for Action to record progress, and not as a tool for “gotchas” and punishment. The action register also acts as a support system to notice and celebrate a team’s wins and successes. It opens the dialogue about what worked, what is now possible and invites forward planning. But if used as a tool for blame … you can imagine how that will go!

Encourage rigor in your conversations, particularly when it’s time to align around coordinated action and expectations. Being intentional with these critical conversations will have a surprisingly positive impact on your results and it will also encourage a culture of accountability and clarity.

It is simple, and not necessarily easy. Simple things seldom are.

Finally though, one thing is for certain: it moves people out of the stands, and onto the ice!

Want to get your team into Conversations for Action? Connect with Trilogy Effect today: 1-613-406-5834.

Authors' note: this article draws on the authors' experience of more than 20 years of application of concepts and tools from Generative Leadership Group, LLC