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Our first working day in The City That Never Sleeps was varied and full of ideas. There were too many appointments to stay together with our group of six so we split up. In the morning Marloes, Mara and Suzanne had an appointment at the UN, and at the same time there was a conversation at ETS (which is best described as the greatgrand-Cito that we have in the Netherlands) that was attended by Joeri, Lieve and Nancy. In the afternoon we all joined at Columbia University to meet Victoria Marsick and several of her colleagues and PhD-students. Having had three different conversations, we all experienced new things.
Taking the lead on the process
At the UN we had a great example of actively taking the lead on the process: our host took us for a walk through the UN building while sharing his stories and listening to ours. Although everything seemed to happen coincidentally (new safety procedures, for which we had to switch buildings, a general meeting which we attended for a few minutes), exactly 90 minutes later we ended up near the exit, with a way of talking that announced our tour was done. It felt complete, informative, unique, we all felt we had had opportunity to ask our questions and at the same time we somehow knew it was our host who had been directing the conversation at all times. Impressive!
A meaningful conversation about conversation
At ETS we were surprised to see it was not the expected six people, but just one who joined our conversation. He turned out to be one of Nancy’s former students (a looong time ago) and was very eager to share a meaningful story for our research. A process intervention (to make sure we knew who was who and what we were doing here before diving into the content) was necessary to focus and connect. Here we discovered that our way of being consistent (talking about meaningful conversation through a meaningful conversation) is not always self-evident in this culture!
A circle of voices
With all six of us we met at Columbia University, to have a dialogue with professor Marsick and doctoral candidates of the Adult Education Group. It was lovely to see the interactions between the two ‘guru’s’ Nancy Dixon and Victoria Marsick: how they have been following each other’s researches and how quickly they connected on both content and interaction. We all shared the questions we would like to explore within this group, and Allison, one of the doctoral candidates, proposed to use ‘the circle of voices' to make sure everyone would get his/her turn. This appeared to be a way of working proposed by Stephen Brookfield. See Chapter 23 in this workpack.
The conversation starts with a round with each person having a period of uninterrupted air time. After this circle of voices has been completed, and everyone has had the chance to say their piece, the discussion opens out into a more free flowing format. It brought us to an energetic dialogue through which we discovered how much our minds were alike: you need to connect before the content, and we all have that skill, but organisational norms and cultures prevent us from using these at our best. We left with new ideas and many examples from research and personal experience on what type of interventions might help.
From underground uptown to downtown dinner
Afterwards these meetings we reflected upon all our experiences and findings in the subway, from Uptown to Downtown New York. We travelled to the rooftop terrace of the Standard Hotel . The view was dazzling!! The sun was about to go down, and we enjoyed the view that showed us the city from a new perspective. Especially impressive after meeting the underground New York through the subway complexity earlier that day. And it made us realize: we need some time to relax instead of more reflection and analysis… So we had dinner at an Italian osteria with surprising, refreshing dishes and a very enthusiastic service at Lafayette Street. And we were reconfirmed on our hidden-reward-theory… To be continued!!
This weblog is part of series of blogs. At this moment, Mara Spruyt, Joeri Kabalt, Suzanne Verdonschot, Marloes de Jong and Lieve Scheepers visit the US. During this study tour we visit various organizations and scholars to learn more about the way organizational conversations contribute to change. We are conducting this research in cooperation with Nancy Dixon, a US researcher who studies and writes about collective sensemaking (nancydixonblog.com) in organizations. In this series of blogs we share our experiences.