Wednesday, December 10, 2014

There is nothing new about the Knowledge Café or is there? by David Gurteen

There is nothing new about the Knowledge Café or is there? 

When people say that something is not new, they usually mean that they are familiar with the concept and its in common practice. 

To my mind, when this objection is levelled at the Knowledge Cafe - it means that they do not fully understand it. 

When I look at how organizations operate and the behaviours of people in organizations - it is quite apparent that people are either not aware of the fundamental principles and the power of good conversation or they understand them but do not to change their way of doing things either out of habit, laziness or choice. 

Why in meetings and presentations are we still so dependent on Powerpoint? Why is the dominant format of a talk, a long presentation with lots of Powerpoint slides and a very short time for Q&A? Why is no time included for reflection and no time for conversations amongst the participants in order for them to engage with the topic or issue? Why do we insist on talking at each other rather than with each other. 

Why is the dominant layout of our meeting rooms: either lecture style or large tables, when we know from experience and observation that these layouts are not conducive to good conversation? The research shows that good conversations take place in small groups of 3 or 4 people sitting around a small round table or even no table at all. 

Why in meetings, especially those where the people do not know each other well, do we not allow time for socialisation and relationship building before getting down to business when again the research shows that such socialisation improves people's cognitive skills. Why are circles rarely used in meeting's when the research and our own personal experience demonstrates their power? 

Why do managers and facilitators seek to control meetings so tightly and are afraid of negative talk or dissent. By surpressing people's fears, doubts and uncertainties - you do not eliminate them - you just drive them underground. Peter Block says "Yes" has no meaning if there is not the option to say "No". You need to bring people's doubts and fears out into the open and talk about them at length. 

And why when we know from research that group intelligence relates to how members of a team talk to each other. That it depends on the social sensitivity of the group members and on the readiness of the group to allow members to take equal turns in the conversation. And that groups where one person dominates are less collectively intelligent than in groups where the conversational turns are more evenly distributed, do we allow the same old people to dominate the conversations in our meetings and do nothing to encourage the quieter ones to engage and speak up. 

The Knowledge Cafe may not be totally new but it addresses all these issues and more but as a conversational method is still sadly very poorly adopted. 

In fact in many organizations conversation is seen as wasting time. But slowly this is changing. More and more people are starting to understand the power of conversation and take a conversational approach to the way that they connect, relate and work with each other. They see themselves as Conversational Leaders.