“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 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.
If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’
– Dave Barry
John Kenneth Galbraith said “meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.” This isn’t because meetings are unnecessary. They serve an important purpose in any organization or team, providing a place to share information and ideas, to make decisions and solve problems, to formulate strategy and orchestrate change.
What is Conversational Capacity?
Conversational capacity is the ability to converse in an open-minded, even-handed, evidence-based, and learning-focused way under pressure. It requires those who are participating in a discussion to balance their candor with curiosity, and their courage with humility. It’s a foundational competence. A team with high conversational capacity can address their most pressing challenges in a healthy, productive way. A team with low conversational capacity will derail over a minor difference of opinion. Conversational capacity isn’t just another aspect of teamwork—it defines it. A team that cannot talk about its most pressing issues isn’t really a team at all. It’s just a group of people that can’t work together effectively when it counts.
In our world of mounting complexity and rapid-fire change building teams that work well under pressure is more important than ever. But while it’s easy to put together a team that works when facing simple problems, building a team that performs when things get tough remains an elusive and frustrating task. The reason is that traditional team building overlooks the most important piece of the puzzle.
Trust is a matter of huge importance in a healthy team, project, or organization. But when it comes to the issue of trust and its relationship to teamwork, most people get it backwards. They see trust as being necessary for good teamwork – as something that must be in place before a group can work together and communicate well.