Leadership’s Role in Creating Conversations for Performance and Change

Pliant Solutions would like to extend a huge Thank You! to all who attended our first Agile Innovation Series session at the Booz Allen Hamilton Innovation Center!

“Inspiration, mentor, and ‘Marsha groupie’” are just a few terms used to describe Marsha Acker’s influence and the impact she’s had on those around her. Not only was she a warm and engaging speaker, she presented a tool that can help us all become more effective communicators in both our personal and professional lives.

Without a doubt, I will not do her presentation justice in this summary, so I strongly encourage you to take a look at the whole presentation. Marsha demonstrated we can’t move forward and make real adaptive change without knowing at least one cause of the problem: incorrect communication patterns.

Luke Lackrone at the podium
Marsha Acker speaking at the front of the room.
A woman taking a picture of Marsha Acker

Click on the title slide for the whole PowerPoint presentation.

Now, on to the heavily oversimplified version of Ms. Acker’s insightful presentation:

We want to change our organizational culture, but it’s hard.  As evidenced by Version One’s 11th Annual State of Agile Report, three of the top five difficulties in scaling agile are not technical challenges, but adaptive challenges, e.g., the people part of it.

As Marsha points out, we can’t tackle adaptive challenges with technical solutions. (If only it were that simple!)

Adaptive Change slide

Instead, we need to make the changes through dialogue.  In dialogue, there is a flow to the conversation that involves proposing new ideas, active support, critical thinking, and feedback and reflection, not the beating down or politicizing of ideas as in a Debate, or ploughing a field (weaving an argument) as in a Skillful Conversation.  At the end of Dialogue, the you should walk away from the conversation not knowing exactly who came up with the solution, as it was all part of the flow of an effective conversation.

But you know what?  That’s really hard because that involves intimacy with and awareness of each other, and–this is an important part– seeing where we, as individuals, fit into the problem.  When we work with the same people, often we fall into certain behaviors, or patterns.  The Kantor 4-Player Model identifies action propensities as Move, Follow, Oppose, and Bystand.  Each is viewed positively when used correctly.  Used incorrectly, they serve as an element of group dysfunction.

Move (initiates): Sets a direction, proposes a new idea or dominates

Follow (supports or finishes): Accepts the idea or proposal for action and supports it actively or mindlessly agrees

Oppose (challenges): Questions the direction, asks critical questions or obstructs

Bystand (bridges): Observes what’s going on, reflects and provides a neutral perspective or acts passively.

Our actions change depending on the setting, situation, or the group in which we’re interacting.  In certain situations, you may tend to Move, while in other situations you may tend to Bystand.  At any rate, Marsha offers us a model to identify stuck patterns that prevent us from making change. (George E.P. Box says, All models are wrong, but some are useful. This one IS useful!)

Serial Move: Everyone in the group dominates the next action.  (Often times, there is a person in the group who is the “Mover.”  In true dialogue, however, there should be no “roles.”)

Courteous Compliance: Everyone in the group mindlessly agrees with the person that suggests–or dominates– the move.

Point-Counterpoint: A move that is suggested–ahem, dominated– is met with flat out obstruction.

Covert Opposition: In this situation, a move is dominated and the group says they’ll follow, but then acts in opposition.  Or, the group Bystands passively, but then acts in opposition.

While certain negative stuck patterns emerge, each positive propensity is vital to dialogue. Embracing them will not only provide a new awareness to your conversations, but a greater possibility for enriched dialogue, helping us to lead effectively.

Kantor 4-Player Model

In achieving dialogue– in moving a team forward– we have to be able to recognize the stuck patterns,  identify the role we play in the stuck pattern, andchange the pattern.  In other words, read the room:

Again, we’d like to give a big thanks so Marsha Acker for her informative presentation and to Booz Allen for hosting our first Agile Innovation Series!

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