Creating Brave Spaces*

Setting ground rules or conversation guidelines seems to be the sine qua non of meetings these days. Having ground rules can create a safe space for people to interact, but they can also interfere with authentic conversation because people conflate safety with comfort. Is it possible to be both safe and uncomfortable? My husband and business partner Roger James and I believe it is and that it is essential to be able to be both … Read more…

“Duh’s” and “Aha’s”*

When do your best ideas come to you? Perhaps while you are walking, showering, or having a good conversation with people you trust? Or, do they come while you are studying an issue and trying to solve it based on your past experience with solving a similar problem? When faced with a difficult issue many of us try the latter and often come to an impasse or apply an ineffective solution. This happens for two … Read more…

What Do You See?

Look around the room you are in right now. What do you see? I notice the lamp on my desk and the printer to the left of my computer. When I broaden my focus I can see the welcome rain out my window and the quickening of the green in the grass and the darkening of the asphalt in the road. What you see is shaped by the society in which you exist. In societies … Read more…

Asking Good, Big Questions

I love good, big questions. When thoughtfully asked and open-heartedly and open-mindedly received, they evoke deep reflection, deeper than the everyday queries we ask ourselves such as what to have for lunch or when to convene a meeting. My questions tend to emerge during periods of quiet reflection or when I feel a sense of disquiet in my days. They also arise from curiosity and a desire for meaningful conversation, both with others and myself. … Read more…

Why Your Organization’s Culture Matters

In the 1990’s Roger James and I tried to help an engineering firm tackle some difficult issues like retaining staff and completing projects.  The groundbreaking work of Edgar Schein on Organizational Culture and Leadership had just been published. Most leaders and consultants did not understand what culture was nor how it affected organizational performance. Now, with the benefit of having helped numerous organizations successfully define and create strong, desired cultures, I realize that the engineering … Read more…

Patience Is a Virtue*

Imagine you are a four-year-old and a man places a marshmallow on a plate in front of you. He tells you that if you wait 15 minutes before eating that marshmallow you will be given one more. The man leaves and there you are, alone, with that marshmallow and 15 minutes of time. What do you do? If you waited 15 minutes not only did you get to eat two marshmallows, later in life you … Read more…

What’s happening, really?

Sally, a small business owner, shares an idea with an employee, Joe, who furrows his brow as she speaks. Sally assumes that the young man is ready to criticize what she is saying and gets defensive. She begins to build a case in her mind about Joe. “He reacts negatively to any ideas I bring up about the business. I am the boss around here. He should just do what I tell him.” (In her … Read more…

Generative Generosity

You know lots of ways to be generous. You open doors, offer your seat, donate to charities and sometimes even share your lunch. Generosity might not be a word you normally associate with how you interact with others, but it is an important and generative quality to bring to the table. You are generous when you pay attention to what others are saying and work hard to understand it. You are generous when you share … Read more…

Possibilities of Good Conversation

“I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” — Kurt Vonnegut When I asked a group of 50 members of the Silicon Valley Organization Development Network during my presentation in June about the role of good conversations in creating change, here is what some of them said: Encouraging collective wisdom to emerge … Read more…

Basics Still Matter

Rae Levine, a longtime colleague and friend, with whom I taught meeting management once looked at me in faux disbelief and asked, “Is there anyone left on the planet who does not know how to define desired outcomes for a meeting and build an effective agenda to achieve them?” We both cracked up. It seemed we had been teaching this to multitudes for years. I still teach both because there are many who either don’t … Read more…