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Tom Devane is a consultant, author, and co-author of provocative bestselling books on achieving extraordinary results using methods that systematically engage people in organizations and communities.
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    A leader's guide to blending technical and people aspects of performance improvement.

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    Dec012011

    Dialogue -- An Overview

    A Dialogue session is a dynamic group process in which people seek to understand each other's perspectives, and pool their collective insights.  These sessions can build innovative solutions to problems, foster collaborative action beyond the session, and strengthen the working relationships of those in the session.  
     

    Key outcomes

    • Deep understanding of people’s assumptions and impacts on the current environment
    • Appreciation of others’ points of view
    • Increased ability for people to “think together” in groups
    • Excellent preparation in terms of content generated and relationships made for later group sessions for planning or decision making purposes.

    Sample client uses

    I’ve used Dialogue sessions to gather input and opinions for an important new product launch, to increase understanding and cooperation between two warring factions (Manufacturing and Quality) in a global pharmaceutical company prior to a billion dollar product launch, and to surface key market and executive assumptions prior to a participative strategic planning session called a Search Conference.

     

    Time investment

    Preparation: 1-6 months
    Session time: 45 to 90 minutes, or an even longer sustained forum
    Follow-up:  1-3 months
     

    Number of participants

    5 to 5,000 
     

    General flow

    There is no set agenda for a Dialogue session.  The convener kicks the session off with some initial groundrules about topics like equal voice, suspension of judgment, and silence being okay while people think.  There is also a priming question that seeks to stimulate thought around a particular topic of strategic significance.  Participants then provide their thoughts and assumptions related to the priming question.  A sample priming question that could provide a great foundation for Dialogue would be “What are the assumptions and implications for our company moving into the markets in China?”

     

    In a Dialogue people do NOT drive to make decisions and develop action plans.  Rather, these are done in subsequent meetings.  This relieves the pressure in a Dialogue session to come to a decision too quickly.  Instead, ample time is allow to surface and consider all facets of a question.

     

    For more information

    Additional information is available in The Change Handbook (Berrett-Koehler, 1999, 2004).  Dialogue information can be obtained economically by just purchasing the Dialogue and Deliberation electronic chapter of The Change Handbook.  Another great sources of information is this Wikipedia entry.

     

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