Last year, I worked with a group of senior leaders facing a tough administrative cost cutting environment.  Faced with the potential for service reduction, they asked Conversant to help them save in a way that would grow their contribution and be true to their mission.

Over the next 90-days we worked with three high-stakes teams to improve collaboration and decision-efficiency.  By working across historical silos toward a shared purpose, the teams creatively identified over $7M in potential savings. At the end of the project, not only had they saved more than they thought possible, they had built new relationships, grown as leaders, and demonstrated their core values in their final recommendations.

More than ten years ago I wrote with colleagues Stan Deetz and Sarah Tracy that “Participatory communication… is the process through which we create, invent, and innovate together. Here, the direction and best choices are not yet known.  They are best produced through talk.”  Since then, I have worked with hundreds of leaders in dozens of organizations to bring groups of people together in the face of great challenges.

Time and again, I’ve seen seasoned professionals daunted by a task they want to be equal to who don’t know quite where to begin.  Over the years, I’ve learned one simple truth over and over again: the next move is always a conversation.  When we get stuck in our own heads and in the only view available to us from our particular history and expertise the only way out is to talk to someone else.

More accurately, the best way out is to listen to someone else—find someone who provokes and challenges you, whose ideas are different from your own and see what you can learn.  When we are stuck, it is because our own history is insufficient to the challenge ahead and the good news is always that we’ll be smarter together with others.

Whenever I start working with a new client, I recognize that moment of initial uncertainty that on its surface looks like despair, and that I’ve come to learn always hold the seeds of hope. I’ve come to love the process of discovery that unfolds as people with different views join together to solve something they both believe to be important.

Beyond what I bring to this work though, I always hold a deep appreciation for what I learn in every engagement and am always just a little bit smarter for having worked with each amazing client I partner with.

When I get stuck, I’ve learned to ask myself “who can make me smarter today?” I invite you to do the same, and to let me know what you learn…

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