Having your day packed with meetings is a common scenario in business today. Most likely, many of these meetings, are unproductive, for many – if not all – of the attendees.
There is a lot of bibliography of tips and tricks you can do, in order to improve the quality of your meetings and these will not be provided in this article. Instead the different aspects of conversation types will be analyzed, as a structural element of meetings.
Discussion is the act of people talking in order to reach a decision. When discussing, people defend their position trying to convince the group for the direction that should be taken. In a discussion, the position or title of the members within the organization, affects the gravity of their arguments. Towards the end of the meeting decisions have been taken and the team proceeds accordingly.
Dialogue (greek διάλογος, δια: through, λόγος: speech, reason) is a free flow of meaning that comes through the words being spoken. When dialoguing the group has left their positions/titles outside the meeting room. What is being said is important, not who said it. At the end of a dialogue session the group has identified the deeper causes of why a system reacts the way it does. Therefore the group has gained more insight to improve predictability and take more solid decisions later.
A meeting can switch between dialogue and discussion. An example of such a meeting in Scrum is the Sprint Retrospective, an event that occurs at the end of each Sprint that aims to improve the way the Scrum Team works together. This event is a dialogue when the group elaborates on what went well and what could be improved. Towards the end of the meeting the group switches to a discussion mode where action items are stated and a plan to implement improvements is created.
A Sprint Planning meeting is more a discussion type of meeting since the group should agree on the work that will be performed in the coming Sprint.
A trained facilitator on meetings can significantly improve the quality of the meeting and can direct the conversation deliberately switching between dialogue and discussion when this makes sense. Lacking such a facilitator makes it really hard for dialogue to occur since the members’ thoughts may drive the conversation away.
This article is inspired by Peter Senge’s book, Fifth Discipline, which was suggested to me by my agile mentor Ahmet Akdağ. Reading it, has changed the way I see modern organizations and their reason for being.