Session 10: Collaborative Conversations

influencing_styles

Today’s session was delivered by an external consultancy, Dawn Parkin Solutions, who, at the last minute and because of the university’s pending staff restructure, added the related concept of courageous conversations into the programme. Running throughout the session as a theme was a pending, difficult conversation we had been asked to think about beforehand so that we could develop a strategy for conducting that conversation as a result of the day’s work. Relating to my project attached to the course, I had in mind a meeting between myself, one of the associate directors of the service and the head of a department about making accessibility improvements to online learning materials.

The session began with an exploration of leadership styles and the factors which can influence the effectiveness of a collaborative or courageous conversation, such as the need to share power and trust people outside of your area to make the right decisions about it, the need for openness and honesty, and the transference of emotion – that is, letting go of any preconceived emotions or expectations you have about someone before starting a conversation lest it pre-judge the outcome. We also discussed the limitations of such conversations, when you need hold back some information for political reasons for example, or when having a conversation with someone you have management responsibility for. In such cases courageous conversations may be more appropriate.

A suggested starting point for such conversations, in a performance review scenario, was to ask something along the lines of ‘how do you think you add value?’ Followed up with questions to tease out what evidence they were basing their self-assessment on if the response doesn’t fit with your own perceptions of how they are performing.

In the afternoon we discussed Hershey and Blanchard’s sources of power, namely:

  • Reward;
  • Coercive;
  • Legitimate;
  • Expert;
  • Personal Referent (a charismatic, confident leader who inspires others to follow them);
  • Connection;
  • Information.

And how to analysis your own sources of power and that of the people you will be having a collaborative conversation with. For example, in the conversation I have been planning I have Information, Expert and, to an extent, Reward power, whereas the associate director has Legitimate, Coercive and Connection power.

Finally we discussed the differences between push and pull influencing styles and the relative effectiveness of each. This discussion was based on a pre-sessional activity in which we were asked to rate our response to a number of statements from one to five depending on how accurately the statement relates to our actions. For the Pull style my score was 53 out of 72, and for Push 45 out of 72. In both cases this indicates a ‘tendency to use the style’. Our discussion focused on the fact that there is a time and place for both techniques and when to use each. Push styles are, for example, most effective when used for proposing solutions and giving information, but can also be used to attack or ignore others which are self-evidently ineffective. Pull styles are more effective for listening, questioning and building solutions collaboratively, and ineffective when used to avoid a problem. We were introduced to some research that has shown that for maximum effectiveness only one style should be used in any given conversation as there can be a cancelling out effect if you try and use both together.

For post session reading we were given an article which argued for the effectiveness of collaborative leadership styles and which identified six attributes of collaborative leadership:

  • Patience;
  • Collective Decision Making;
  • Quick Thinking;
  • Tenacity;
  • Building Relationships;
  • Handling Conflict.

Session 4: Strategic Leadership, and Culture and Context Part 2

Part 2 on the themes of strategic leadership, and culture and context started with a group discussion on the exercise to seek feedback on ourselves as leaders, for which I used the Johari adjective list as previously discussed, and then a return to values. This time we discussed the importance of expressing your values and not leaving any gap between your values and your actions, as part of being a good leader means being seen to be living the values you extol.

Something else we revisited and discussed in more detail was leadership types and the role of middle managers. On leadership types, the focus this time was on the dangers of dysfunctional leaders and how that can come about from the ‘loneliness of command’, having doubts about what to do, and an inability to discuss fears and doubts with others. On the flip side was what works – sharing leadership, distributing responsibilities and collaboration across organisational and professional boundaries.

On the value of the middle manager role we talked about how this has changed over time as the increased use of computing and automation has taken over traditional ‘managing’ style tasks such as monitoring workload, becoming instead about coaching and leading your team, having the ability to move between layers and boundaries within and even outside of your organisation, and in tying together strategic objectives with operational issues. I enjoyed this discussion as I came to realise, as others were talking about problems they have had with their teams, that I am lucky to have such a well-established and functional team who know what they are doing and always deliver very high quality customer service. Something else that came out of this discussion was some research about the value, or lack thereof, of traditional performance reviews which people find demotivating due to their backwards looking nature. What does work is putting the focus on coaching and looking forward to what is to be achieved over the next review period. This is something I want to keep in mind when the next appraisal cycle comes around.

The final part of the morning session was on the power of using influence rather than command to achieve your objectives, particularly the Cohen-Bradford Influence Model which argues for the use of reciprocity to gain influence with others, and that this is more sustainable and works better than when tasks are completed by commanding.

Our afternoon session began with an introduction to the concept of stakeholder management, a methodology designed to help ensure the success of projects by getting you to think about who the stakeholders are at the start, how to categorise and prioritise them, the influence they can have on the success of your project, and how to tailor your communications with them based on where they fall in your stakeholder analysis. The technique that was introduced to us was the power / interest grid of prioritisation, a simple chart that places stakeholders in one of four quadrants which shows whether you need just to monitor them, if they have low interest and low power, keep them informed in more detail, if they have high interest but low power, keep them satisfied if they have low interest but high power, and finally manage them closely if they have both high interest and high power.

As an exercise to put this into practice we were asked to create a stakeholder grid for a project we are currently involved with or which is on the horizon. I chose a VLE review, and the three images attached to this post show the grid I produced at different stages. The first is the shockingly poor finger painting I drew on my tablet during the session, the second is a polished version of this with one or two additions, and the third is the one I developed a few days later when I had the time to give it some more detailed thought. An additional detail shown in the second two grids is a categorisation of stakeholder using different colours; green for those who are likely to be advocates, blue for supporters, orange for possible critics and red for anyone who may have the power to be a blocker.

Finally, the concept of the action learning set was introduced, along with our first task. Action learning sets are a form of peer-to-peer learning with small groups arranging their own work between sessions. Our first task, to be completed before the next session, is to meet to discuss progress on our work-based projects for the course and to help each other work out any issues we may be having. To help we were given an introduction to some coaching models: GROW – Goals, Reality, Options (or Obstacles) and What’s Next; and OSKAR – Outcome, Scaling, Know-How and Resources, Affirm and Action, and Review. Also included was the concept of powerful questions which should, if they work, help to shift the perspective of the person being coached and have an impact on them.

Other homework to be completed before the next session is to read up on constructive development theory and to submit our project proposals.