The Four Types of Team Conversations


“Conversation should be pleasant without scurrility, witty without affectation, free without indecency, learned without conceitedness, novel without falsehood.”
–William Shakespeare

She looked at me from across the table, smiled warmly, and said, “Guess you lost control of those guys.” I winked, returned her smile, and said, “How can I lose what I never had in the first place?”

The team and I resumed our strategic planning efforts today after spending all last week in a training class.  We met this afternoon to converse about the training class and recent work events (the shuttle launch delay being one), to review where we left off the week before, and to set our plans for tomorrow.  Towards the end of the meeting is where the aforementioned dialogue occurred.  We were reviewing our proposed long-term schedule, a date of which happened to coincide with the planned retirement date of one of my team members.  I mistakenly asked him a question about why he picked that date to retire – “Don’t all Government employees retire on January 1, 2, or 3?”  He immediately took off with my question and gave us a full lecture on the virtues of the best time in the calendar to retire as a Government employee and why one should not take any vacation the last year of employment.  One of the other team members disagreed with him, and the debate ensured.  It was all in good fun.

The part that I didn’t mention, and is part of the topic for today, is what I said following the lead-in: “I view the conversation as building relationships.”

The Four Types of Team Conversations

Yes, because we are going to be together as a team for a long time, I view building relationships as a critical element to invest in now.  The relationships we establish and nurture now will become the currency to get us through the tougher conversations to come. This leads me to what I call the Four Types of Team Conversations.

Information-sharing. This is the sharing of information necessary to keep everyone in the loop.  Brainstoming also falls into this category.  This conversation flows naturally with little or no facilitation or guidance from me, except to roughly monitor the time and move the team forward when necessary.

Planning. Here, we establish our plans and priorities based upon the work to be accomplished and to re-prioritize given changes in current events.  We do make decisions as a part of planning conversations.  Therefore, this type of conversation requires some facilitation, mainly to keep it focused on the topic at hand and to seek agreement on the plans.

Problem Solving. This is the conversation where “the rubber meets the road.” We undertake activities that engage all of us together as a team in identifying and resolving issues.  Our activities  revolve around gathering data, identifying problems, analyzing the current situation, using criteria to sort potential solutions and assigning actions.  This is the most intense type of conversation and requires the greatest amount of attention to actively facilitate.

Building Relationships. What the team member jokingly referred to as a “loss of control” I called a measured step towards a critical type of conversation – building relationships.  We build cohesion and shared commitment as a team by engaging each other in a variety of topics and activities. I actively seek to maintain the team’s alignment with our larger purpose, so this type of conversation does require some facilitation, which I actually did in the case above (despite the initial appearances).  As I mentioned earlier, building relationships leads to currency that can be spent in the other three conversations.

When I build the agenda for the day, I look at the types of conversations that need to occur with each of the agenda items and identify the right level of facilitation for each.  It seems to be working so far.  We’re making excellent progress and are gelling as a team.  We will have some tough problem-solving conversations later this week, so we will see how it goes.  I’ll let you know.

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The Four Types of Team Conversations