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Dialogue is the key to successful organizational change

By Hanna Liimatainen on Feb 22, 2018 9:31:00 AM

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“No more silos and know-it-alls. This is a prerequisite for constructive dialogue and change in workplace communities and administration alike,” says Mikko Kosonen, President of Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra.

Too many of us have experiences of managers or colleagues who think they know everything better. If someone is always right in their opinion, creating change together is difficult, and the road to genuine interaction is long. However, Mikko Kosonen, President of Sitra, believes it’s a road worth traveling.

His job is to facilitate organizational change and development. Sitra’s core duties include shaping the future through dialogue; that is, the active renewal of society in cooperation with various partners.

Today, everyone needs to cooperate with change. According to Kosonen, this is only possible through effective dialogue. Managers play a key role in creating such dialogue.

“A competent manager knows that they are not the best expert—the one who is always right. A competent manager implements changes in cooperation with other experts. Instead of provoking debate, this creates dialogue,” says Kosonen.

“Without dialogue skills, we will never learn how to listen to others and further develop each other’s ideas. Debate is about safeguarding your own interests and talking over others. Dialogue creates something new, a shared future. It is genuine interaction.”

To create effective dialogue, we must understand that everyone’s expertise is needed—that everyone’s input in the workplace community contributes to the big picture. It is not enough to just take care of your own territory.

“The need for dialogue is growing as the pace of change increases and the world becomes more unpredictable. There are no ready answers to new, complicated questions. We must find the answers together, through discussion. Dialogue must be built purposefully. We must invest in dialogue.”

More facilitation

According to Kosonen, every cultured and educated person should have dialogue skills. However, such skills are not a natural trait; they require training and practice. For example, we can all think about how brainstorming in our team at work could be more productive and effective.

Sometimes an idea circle works best, and sometimes the situation calls for interviews in pairs—or dreaming in groups in costume. This type of conscious promotion of dialogue and cooperation is called facilitation. The need for facilitation is increasing as the importance of dialogue grows.

“Facilitators are needed for organizations to manage constant change. A facilitator ensures that everyone is heard and the atmosphere remains good. They are responsible for selecting relevant questions and ways of working. Much like conversation skills, this is a skill that should be fostered throughout education, starting from early education.”

Fewer boundaries

Projects currently in progress at Sitra include restructuring state administration. During 2018, Sitra will provide training to senior managers at all ministries and the largest government agencies, partly in a classroom setting and partly on a digital platform. The goal is to modernize Finnish state administration. 

“This project requires a great deal of dialogue. Administration must become more proactive and human-centered. Services must be developed comprehensively across sectors, and not just within silos; that is, within a single ministry or agency.”

Up until recently, workplace communities and state administration have relied on the hierarchical communication and decision-making model of the industrial era. Now the situation is more complicated and calls for new types of solutions. Dialogue across boundaries is absolutely necessary.

“Solutions can no longer be found within silos—within a single ministry or unit, for example­—no matter how many experts are invited to share their thoughts and present their suggestions. The health and social services reform in Finland is a good example of this. Its successful implementation calls for a new type of dialogue that encourages people to participate.”

Fun and games

Sitra has around 150 employees, experts in various fields whose job is to create something new. Dialogue is invaluable in their work. As the supervisor of a creative workplace community, Kosonen has promoted dialogue in many ways­—even by supporting an entertainment committee.

“When I joined Sitra ten years ago, we had an entertainment committee that organized a few staff events each year. I thought it was a total waste of time in terms of efficiency. Fortunately, however, I did not immediately discontinue the committee. Today I know that if everything that seems inefficient is removed, the result will be even more inefficient over the long term,” says Kosonen.

“Informal events are also an investment: a way to make sure that we get to know one another. They lay a foundation for better dialogue and work performance.”

 

Psst! To learn more expert tips on facilitating complex organizational change processes, download our eBook: 5 tips and tricks for powerful digital facilitation.

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