Who Owns The Conversations?

Many of the conversations i have in organisations are around engagement, around innovation, around culture. The focus is generally how we generate momentum, generate change. It’s easy to focus on the symptoms, without diagnosing the issue: technology may bring us together, but it does not make a coherent community. Strong leadership may give direction, but it doesn’t necessarily earn trust. Underneath everything is a dynamic of ownership and power: who controls whom? Less about how engagement is desired: more about how it is earned.

Social Leadership 100 - Conversations

With the widespread experimentation in socially collaborative modes of working, where we engage community to help us succeed, we will increasingly have to consider the question of ‘who owns the conversation’.

Time and conversations are different things: my time you can buy in hours, but conversations flow. As we move outside the formal, we cannot assume that models of ownership persist. This is not simply a matter of money: it’s a matter of pride, of control, of fairness. People bring more than their time to a conversations, and we need to recognise contribution with more than money: and as we move beyond, above, simple, transactional purchases of time, we will have to consider ownership and control of conversations.

As our communities become more active, as the problem solving becomes more effective, as the community coheres, who will own it? We can’t mistake technology for space: conversations are highly fluid, agile, mobile. Just because we impart the initial momentum into a community, does not mean that we own the conversation.

Several times last week i spoke to groups carrying out semantic analysis of the chatter in corporate communication channels: aggregated data gleaned from the social chatter of the organisation. It’s becoming ever easier to do that, but that does not make it right to do. Just because we can, does not mean that we should.

Much of the balance in a Socially Dynamic Organisation will come through dialogue, through fairness and evolution. If we want to learn from the conversations within the organisation, we should ask a permission to do so. If we assume that our ownership of space means ownership of words, we risk damaging engagement.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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8 Responses to Who Owns The Conversations?

  1. organicwal says:

    It still amazes when I hear individuals (at all levels) insisting: “…only want conversations taking place through our authorised discussion channels so we can monitor what is happening, and address problems…” *head in hands*

    I have always found that if something is becoming an ‘issue’ that needs to be addressed, as long as there are clear and easily accessible avenues of communication (that you engage with regularly) those ‘issues’ will reach you.

    Just because you enable (and encourage) the discussion to take place, that doesn’t give you the right to control it.

  2. I agree with your closing paragraph.

    But, as a consultant you can recommend a listening environment without the risks of negative recourse. But what test will there be for the participants who are not sure if their input is accepted and valued? How will they know that the conversation is truly open? Participants are not paying the bill.

    Their risk is much higher than yours.

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