Building A High Performance Team Is A Balancing Act
“It doesn’t do any good to have a lot of really smart people around the table if you can’t access their smarts”
Effective Teamwork And Conversational Capacity
For twenty years I’ve been conducting workshops, advising organizations, and coaching leaders on the importance of conversational capacity – the ability to engage in open, balanced, nondefensive dialogue about difficult subjects and in challenging circumstances. It’s a pivotal competence. A high performance team robust conversational capacity can address its toughest issues in a responsibly rigorous, nondefensive way. A team with anemic capacity, by contrast, can see its performance derailed by a trivial disagreement.
People and teams with high conversational capacity are distinguished by the ability to work what I call the “sweet spot” – that productive space where candor and curiosity are in balance and the conversations are open-minded, even-handed, evidence-based, and learning-focused. The best teamwork occurs in this sweet spot – especially when we’re up against tough issues and challenging situations. Learning flourishes when we’re in the sweet spot; the risk of dysfunction goes up whenever we slip out of it.
It’s Harder Than It Sounds
But while balancing candor and curiosity sounds simple in theory, it’s surprisingly difficult in practice because, under pressure, we tend to drop one trait or the other. When a difficult issue hits the table, some people drop curiosity and stop listening, raise their voices, and argue past one another. Others drop candor and avoid issues, water down their points, and pretend to agree with one another.
High conversational capacity – the ability to balance candor and curiosity in situations where most people and most teams will lose balance, is particularly important for a team dealing with big challenges. Why? It increases their ability to lean into and learn from difference, to spark profound insights by exploring varying and conflicting points of view. In my book, Conversational Capacity, I explain that “it’s people with different views who are more likely to spark an “aha” moment – the experience of having a blind spot in our mental map of reality unexpectedly illuminated.”If you would like to continue reading, please download the full article below.