Last week, I was lucky enough to attend the National Growth Summit 2012. I’m typically sceptical of any conference that appears, on the surface, to be a Kool-Aid pop stand for CEOs, but I have to admit – it was awesome! Day one included speakers such as Jim Collins, Fred Reichheld and Jack Daly – who were all funny, down-to-earth and full of great stories that were uncannily easy to relate to.
On day two, I participated in an all-day workshop with Halley Bock called “Fierce Conversations”. Not what it sounds, a fierce conversation is not one that involves a lot of shouting. To be fierce means to be authentic, present, and real in day-to-day conversations. Real can be scary. Yet it is the unreal or missing conversations that are costly – in terms of morale, engagement, and performance.
There are a number of models for engaging in a fierce conversation. One particular model we explored during the day was the “beach ball conversation” - so-called because, just as a beach ball consists of multiple competing colours, the beach ball conversation is a team process that interrogates multiple, often competing, realities in order to make the best decisions.
A beach ball conversation is a great model to use when you have:
- A high stakes decision to make
- A strategy to design
- An opportunity to evaluate
- A problem to solve
The basis of any beach ball conversation is the beach ball preparation form which outlines the following points:
- The issue is
Be concise. In 1 or 2 sentences, get to the heart of the issue. Is it a concern, challenge, opportunity or a recurring problem that is becoming more troublesome?
- It’s significant because
What’s at stake? For example, how does this affect profitability, people, products, services, customers, timing, the future or other relevant factors? What is the future impact if the issue is not resolved?
- My ideal outcome is
What specific results do I want?
- Relevant background information
Summarise with bullet points; What, why, where, when, how, who, etc.; Which forces are at work; what is the current status?
- What I have done up to this point
What have I done so far?
- Options I am considering
What options am I considering? What am I leaning toward doing?
- The help I want from the group is
What do I want from the group? For example: alternative solutions
With the beach ball preparation form in hand, a good preparation will:
- Fill out the beach ball preparation form. Make sure you write a clear statement of the decision to be made, the strategy to be outlined, the opportunity to be evaluated or the problem to be solved.
- Invite the people who will be affected and/or who have perspectives you need to hear (including decision makers, customers and outside experts). In the invitation, let everyone know the issue, its significance and your desire to learn their perspectives.
- Send out any material that should be reviewed beforehand.
Without this level of collaboration, you run the risk of the following problems occurring:
You make top-down decisions with little or no collaboration that reflect only your perspective on the “colour” of the organisation.
- Illusion of inclusion
You pay lip-service to the concept of collaboration. You hold the meeting, but essentially do what you want because your mind is already made up.
- Loudest get heard
The more “outward thinking” participants drown out the perspectives held by those who need the room to formulate their opinions or an explicit invitation to put their ideas forward.
The best way to avoid these common pitfalls is to ensure you can answer “yes” to the following:
- Does each team member feel free to express his/her thoughts and emotions?
- Does each team member feel free to interrogate another team members view of reality?
- Does each team member engage other team members openly without being defensive when his/her view of reality is being interrogated?
- Does each team member strive to describe reality without laying blame?
- Do your team conversations always get to ground truths?
So why not give the beach ball conversation a go next time you have a big decision to make? You may find the process of letting go and genuinely inviting competing perspectives on your own reality to be a truly cathartic one – and one which brings incredible benefits to your organisation on a number of levels!