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Conversations in Organizations
 

Conversations in Organizations

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Ken Homer, Principal, Collaborative Conversations and David Hodgson, Converger, International Futures Forum, Principal and Founding Member, The IdeaHive, talk about the transformative value ...

Ken Homer, Principal, Collaborative Conversations and David Hodgson, Converger, International Futures Forum, Principal and Founding Member, The IdeaHive, talk about the transformative value collaborative conversation brings to individuals, organizations and government.

Ken and David share one-of-a-kind perspectives, knowledge and stories about the powerful value of collaborative conversation to advance a meaningful society.

Ken is a Collaborative Coach and Consultant, and Principal of Collaborative Conversations, Adjunct Faculty-Mentor at New Ventures West, and Consultant, Facilitator and Coach at Omega Point International. Ken is past Director of Community Outreach, The World Cafe Foundation.

We wish to thank Ken and David for their generous contribution of knowledge and wisdom to the I-Open community.

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    Conversations in Organizations Conversations in Organizations Document Transcript

    • Interview and transcription June 19, 2010Ken Homer, Collaborative ConversationsWith David Hodgson, IdeaHive and International Futures ForumChapter 3Conversations in OrganizationsVideo Link: http://www.vimeo.com/17776383 [00:10:55]David Hodgson: We were talking earlier and you were telling me the storyabout when you worked at Santa Cruz, did some work with UC SantaCruz? That really, I think, exemplifies what it is that you’re talking about andI’d love to hear that story again.Ken Homer: So, this was back in 2002 and 2003, so fairly early in mycareer as a facilitator at that point. I was invited to come down to UC SantaCruz by the Omnsbud person there. And what is going on is that Californiahas had an ongoing budget crisis and so they were looking for ways tosave money at the university and they discovered that there were 24separate IT departments. And they said, “Ok, we’ll consolidate you into onedepartment.” Well, that affected about 250 people, and in true powerstruggle form, the Chancellor made the announcement and there was nomore information forthcoming. So, the conversations that keep thosedepartments going lit up like wild fire with, “What’s happening? How are wegoing to get through this? I’ve got to protect my headcount! I have toprotect my resources! What are they going to do? What are they going totake from me?” So, we walked into a situation where there was a lot of fearand a lot of mistrust and a lot of doubt, a lot of not knowing, and a lot ofCopyright 2010 Betsey Merkel and I-Open. Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution-Noncommercial- No Derivative Works. Institute for Open Economic Networks (I-Open) 4415 Euclid Ave 3rd Fl Cleveland, Ohio 44103 USA
    • 2uncertainty. My team, which was myself and the Omnsbud person andanother colleague of mine who does graphic facilitation, we met anddecided the first thing we wanted to do was to bring together the twenty-four department heads. So, we brought them together for a day of what’scalled, “World Café” which is a specific process where people sit at tablesof four and the whole room talks about the same question at each table fora set period of time and then they get up and rotate tables. So, we do that acouple of times and harvest the room to see what’s going on. Well, it wasthe first time in the history of the organization that all twenty-fourdepartment heads were in the same room together. Which is fairly, again,it’s one of those things that would seem very obvious that you would havehappen, but it had never happened. So, it goes back to what you point out,that organizational thinking, you know, they don’t think about getting thosefolks together. What we wanted to do was to begin by grounding them insomething that was meaningful and important, so we asked them, “Why doyou work here? You’re all very skilled IT professionals and you could goright over the hill to Silicon Valley and find high paying jobs. Why are youhere at UC Santa Cruz?” And that grounded them in a lot of passion. Youknow we heard things about how they were committed to helping youngpeople and UC Santa Cruz is a world class organization and they’ve gothuge grants that come in for, they’ve got Nobel Prize winning professorsthere and there’s a lot of research that goes on, people were verypassionate about the school and their role in serving and community. So, itgave them a really solid foundation. I like to use an appreciative approachwhen I work with people, I don’t want to start stirring up a hornet’s nest. So,then we asked them, ”Okay, what are all your concerns about the merger,of all these, the consolidation effort of all these departments?” That’s whenthe hornet’s nest opened up and what came out of the harvest was a hugenumber of points where people were just really concerned. They didn’tknow what was going to happen, they were very upset, they felt therewasn’t enough support for them to actually make this happen. It was amoment where there was a lot of anxiety in the room. So, then it was timeonce again to kind of ground them back and so we said, “So, alright, whatdo you do that’s world class here that if it’s not part of the new organizationthere’s no point in even attempting it?” And that kind of put them into both apossibility mindset and a reflective mindset as well as mindset of operatingfrom real pride and knowledge of, “We do this well.” So, now we had aCopyright 2010 Betsey Merkel and I-Open. Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution-Noncommercial- No Derivative Works. Institute for Open Economic Networks (I-Open) 4415 Euclid Ave 3rd Fl Cleveland, Ohio 44103 USA
    • 3balance back in the room again. Then, I said, “Alright, I’m going to posit toyou that everything you do is coordinated through conversation. If I said toyou tomorrow, “We’re going to New York.” You wouldn’t be able to doanything unless you asked me a lot of questions like, “Who are we seeing?Why are we going? Who will be there? Who’s paying for it?” So, you’regoing to walk out of here today and your people in your departments aregoing to come back to you and they’re going to say, “Well? So what?What’s happening? What’s going on?” And they’re going to have a lot ofquestions for you and you’re not going to know how to answer them. So, ifwe can identify the core questions that are most important for you toanswer as far as moving forward goes, because you’re the heads of yourdepartments and you know what needs to be addressed, then that wouldbe very useful. Well, the underestimated part of that was I didn’t know howlong it was going to take to sort those through. That was about a three-hourconversation. We ended up with about one hundred and twenty questions,which was way too many to deal with, so we gave people dots, one red andthree blue dots. And we said, “Go up here, take a half hour break, duringthe break put the red dot next to the most important question, then youhave three other dots to get the next three questions after that. And whatthat revealed to us what a kind of roadmap of the conversations that wouldbe engaged in the coming months. And from one hundred and twentyquestions it went down to sixteen critical questions that all of the managers,based on all the years of experience had consensus on, that these sixteenquestions are the most important ones for us to start to address. And sothat’s what’s going to happen here. In the next four to six weeks, we’ve gotto start to get answers to these questions. And then the next level ofquestions, that were weighted and rated by the dots, gave us the next setof guiding questions for probably the next three months after that and theones that didn’t get any dots were still important but they were further outon the time horizon. So, in a single day we went from mass confusion anda lot of not knowing, into a conversation that was very structured and verycarefully prepared and planned, where at the end of the day people felt likethey had done really good work and they knew what was important to themand they knew what the direction was they needed to head in and theyknew the questions that they needed to begin to engage. That kind of setthe tone for the whole process. It took about sixteen months and involvedover two hundred and fifty people and there were several more CaféCopyright 2010 Betsey Merkel and I-Open. Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution-Noncommercial- No Derivative Works. Institute for Open Economic Networks (I-Open) 4415 Euclid Ave 3rd Fl Cleveland, Ohio 44103 USA
    • 4conversations, but that one was sort of the template we used. We talked tothe students, we talked to the entire IT department; we talked to theadministrators and the professors. We kept asking them questions like that,“What’s really important?” And as a result, I think there were only sevenpositions lost in the consolidation. There were more positions that didn’t getfunded but people took an early retirement, so I think only seven people outof two hundred and fifty got laid off. I want to just put one point in here forthe Chief Information Officer there, he was from Canada and he was verycommitted to making this work for people. There was tremendousleadership there. I can only take so much responsibility for influencingthose conversations, but Larry Merkle, which was the head there just did anamazing job, got people to trust him and so the degree to which that wassuccessful rests mostly on his shoulders.David Hodgson: Yes, it’s interesting that you; trust is a very keycomponent within organizations that either are working or are havingproblems. And it seems that trust is really one of those, really the coreaspects that you need to be able to make a change happen. When wewere talking before about the, let’s look, which one?Ken Homer: Let me speak to that while you’re looking up the question.There was one moment when we were running this Café we were runningfor about two hundred and fifty people, we had most of the entire ITorganization there. A woman raised her hand - we had an open period forquestions – and I brought her the microphone and she said, “You know,I’ve been here for over twenty years and I’ve seen a lot of stuff come andgo. I was here when we decided to get rid of the CRAY; the CRAY [CRAYSupercomputer at USCS] is still here. I was here when business processre-engineering came and the e-mail audit changes and they’re gone, andthose changes didn’t last. I was here when we did TQM, they made a lot ofchanges and those changes didn’t last. Why is this going to be any differentthan any of the other things that we’ve tried in the twenty years I’ve beenhere?” And, Larry, this man I was just talking about and to his credit, hestood up and said, “I accept responsibility for the level of mistrust of thesenior management and leadership because we have failed in the past.”Which was huge for someone to stand up and admit that. And he said,“And the reason this is going to be different is you’ll notice in all those otherCopyright 2010 Betsey Merkel and I-Open. Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution-Noncommercial- No Derivative Works. Institute for Open Economic Networks (I-Open) 4415 Euclid Ave 3rd Fl Cleveland, Ohio 44103 USA
    • 5efforts we hired teams of experts to come in and survey and analyze andthen make recommendations that we rolled out from the top and you guysdidn’t get any input. You might have been surveyed and interviewed aboutwhat you know was going on, but you never were asked for how youthought things should be different. The reason this is going to be different isbecause we are asking you now. We know the success of this effort will notwork unless everyone who is affected has the opportunity to say how it’sgoing to affect them and how they want to see it. Now, we cannotguarantee that every single person who makes a suggestion we’ll be ableto incorporate the suggestion, but I can guarantee that if you have asuggestion, a comment, if you want to give feedback, we are completelyone hundred percent open and ask you for it. If you don’t feel comfortablein this venue, you can come to my office, if you don’t want to see me inperson you can send an anonymous email, there’s lots of ways but weknow that the only way this is going to work is if everybody has a chance.We know there’s still going to be mistakes, but we’re trying to make fewermistakes.” And there was a palpable shift in the room at that momentbecause people went, “Huh. Maybe this guy’s actually going to dosomething different that we haven’t seen.” And so, it was a moment wherethere’s more trust and also a level of hope that popped up at the sametime.Our generous thanks to Ken Homer and David Hodgsonhttp://collaborativeconversations.com/The Institute for Open Economic Networks (I-Open)4415 Euclid Ave 3rd Floor Cleveland Ohio 44103 USACopyright 2009 Betsey Merkel and I-Open Creative Commons LicenseAttribution-Noncommercial No Derivative Works 3.0 United StatesKeywordsCollaboration, collaborative conversations, collective-intelligence, creativity,critical-thinking, dialogue, dissent, problems, inclusion, indigenous-wisdom,large-group-process, leadership, listening, messes, perspective, wickedmesses, somatic-intelligence, systems, trust, questions, community,organizations, emergence, culture, dreams, desires, conflict, world-caféInterview IndexCopyright 2010 Betsey Merkel and I-Open. Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution-Noncommercial- No Derivative Works. Institute for Open Economic Networks (I-Open) 4415 Euclid Ave 3rd Fl Cleveland, Ohio 44103 USA
    • 6Chapter 1: Collaborative ConversationsVideo Link: http://www.vimeo.com/17768120 [00:55:35]Transcription Link: http://www.scribd.com/doc/45695026/Ken-Homer-Collaborative-Conversations-Interview-06-19-2010Chapter 2: The Power of Conversation: Simple But Not EasyVideo Link: http://www.vimeo.com/17775503 [00:04:48]Chapter 3: Conversations in OrganizationsVideo Link: http://www.vimeo.com/17776383 [00:10:55]Chapter 4: Conversations & ConflictVideo Link: http://www.vimeo.com/17777358 [00:05:39]Chapter 5: Conversation & ListeningVideo Link: http://www.vimeo.com/17779351 [00:05:20]Chapter 6: Oral TraditionsVideo Link: http://www.vimeo.com/17780722 [00:04:43]Chapter 7: Conversational Shared MeaningVideo Link: http://www.vimeo.com/17780985 [00:04:50]Chapter 8: Conversation & PossibilityVideo Link: http://www.vimeo.com/17782427 [00:03:50]Chapter 9: Organizations & Shared MeaningVideo Link: http://www.vimeo.com/17782832 [00:07:16]Chapter 10: Problems, Messes & Wicked MessesVideo Link: http://www.vimeo.com/17783272 [00:05:10]Chapter 11: StoriesVideo Link: http://www.vimeo.com/17783665 [00:02:38]Reference Links Ken Homer on Twitter http://twitter.com/ken_homerCopyright 2010 Betsey Merkel and I-Open. Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution-Noncommercial- No Derivative Works. Institute for Open Economic Networks (I-Open) 4415 Euclid Ave 3rd Fl Cleveland, Ohio 44103 USA
    • 7 Collaborative Conversations http://collaborativeconversations.com/ New Ventures West http://www.newventureswest.com/ Omega Point International http://omegapoint.net/ The World Cafe Community Foundation http://www.theworldcafe.com/wccf.htm David Hodgson on Twitter http://twitter.com/davidhodgson International Futures Forum http://www.internationalfuturesforum.com/ The IdeaHive http://theideahive.com/Learn from the wisdom of civic leaders across these I-Opencommunities: Facebook I-Open http://tiny.cc/odlg2 Flickr http://tiny.cc/73y6e Friendfeed http://friendfeed.com/iopen Livestream http://www.livestream.com/iopen/ Posterous http://i-open.posterous.com/ Scribd http://www.scribd.com/I-Open Slideshare http://www.slideshare.net/IOpen2 Strategy-Nets http://tiny.cc/km04y Twitter http://twitter.com/iopen2 Vimeo http://tiny.cc/106p0 You Tube http://tiny.cc/j5rsePhotos by Alice MerkelOn Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/alice_merkels_photos/Copyright 2010 Betsey Merkel and I-Open. Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution-Noncommercial- No Derivative Works. Institute for Open Economic Networks (I-Open) 4415 Euclid Ave 3rd Fl Cleveland, Ohio 44103 USA