Talking Sticks, Music & Colored Pens Do Belong In the Workplace

I was recently introduced to a strategic leadership framework called Nine Conversations. Over the course of several weeks you and your co-workers are coached through nine conversations (+ homework) about leadership, communications, strategy and vision. I’ve only just begun the journey and will save a more complete analysis of the approach for a blog post down the road. In the interim, there are two components to the early conversations that I found particularly compelling.

The first was something I’ve never experienced in a business workplace. Our team, or in nine conversation nomenclature, cell, was lead through exercises that forced us to think using different parts of our brains. At times we sat on the floor in a circle using a traditional South African talking stick to guide our dialogue. Elsewhere we listened to music during journal writing exercises and at the end of the second morning we even drew pictures. Each of us was supplied with color markers and some large, blank pieces of paper. We were instructed to draw what leadership meant to us. It was an interesting challenge and one that I took on with some unease – but of course that was the point. We’d spent the day reading, writing, debating – now it was time to use a different part of our brain. Luckily, the quality of our artistic ability was not at task – it was about telling a story through an analogy. You can imagine the outcomes. There was no right or wrong answers – no picture was better than another, but there was truth.

If someone had explained the day to me and I had not participated, I imagine I’d describe the activities in my father’s words as “touchy feely“. But they weren’t. We weren’t seeking out our feelings, we were carving a path to drive organizational efficiency through better communications, clarity of vision and a rock solid strategy.

The second intriguing technique was almost annoying. The facilitator had the most frustrating habit. Every time someone asked a question it was posed back to you – what would you like to do about it? I almost felt like I was lying on a coach in a counseling session. As it turns out, the approach was not only a frustrating habit, but an empowering one.

The Nine Conversations approach brought together all of the best pieces of coaching, communication techniques and whole brain thinking. I’m energized by the reminder that meetings don’t have to follow a familiar pattern to be productive – in fact, a little moving and shaking can do us some good.