This session will introduce an integrated set of adaptive learning competencies that are essential for generating effective, collective, community impact. These competencies are: systems thinking, conversational capacity, and 'yes to the mess'.
During the hour, participants will learn the following:
- Why these competencies are overlooked in developing and implementing community strategy
- How a systems thinking approach assists in finding high leverage solutions
- How to facilitate conversations that spark more learning than defensiveness
- How to step into the current mess and create a process of rapid learning
- How these adaptive learning competencies create a collective capacity that leads to insight and system improvement
The webinar will present these concepts using several real world examples from community and public policy initiatives, and conclude with a discussion for how to build these competencies.
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In other words, adaptive learning skills help people and communities learn faster, smarter, and together. It’s often assumed that people and groups already possess these skills, and that they just need to be awakened by the collective impact process. But they’re not. And without consciously building and applying these skills – transforming the leadership culture  in the community and network of organizations – the likelihood of achieving intended results with the collective impact process is greatly diminished. What are these skills? They are Systems THINKING, Conversational Capacity, and a suite of skills simply named Yes to the Mess.
That missing piece is conversational capacity—a team’s ability to have open, balanced, learning-focused dialogue about difficult subjects, in challenging circumstances, and across tough boundaries. A group with high conversational capacity can perform well, remaining on track even when dealing with their most troublesome issues. A group lacking that capacity, by contrast, can see their performance derail over a minor difference of opinion. In this sense, conversational capacity isn’t just another aspect of effective teamwork—it defines it. A team that cannot talk about its most pressing issues isn’t really a team at all. It’s just a group of people that can’t work together effectively when it counts.
This is a critical competence for a successful Collective Impact process that requires people communicate and collaborate about tough issues and across challenging boundaries.
Sounds simple, right? All a team has to do is boost its conversational capacity and all will be well. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. In the quest to build capacity we face a formidable obstacle: human nature. It turns out that reliably effective teams are hard to build because primal aspects of our nature, rooted in the powerful fight-flight response, actually work against teamwork.
Fortunately, there’s hope. There’s a proven discipline—a veritable conversational martial art—that allows people and their teams to remain open, balanced, and learning-focused as they tackle their most troublesome issues. Armed with this discipline, communities, organizations, and teams can respond to tough challenges with greater agility and skill, performing brilliantly in circumstances that incapacitate less disciplined teams.
3. “Yes To The Mess”(aka Agile Learning)
In the beginning of this article, we referred to these skills as analogous to the skills needed to play music, or a sport, or many other similar endeavors. In fact, they are the skills needed to excel at such endeavors. What distinguished basketball players like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson from their peers wasn’t their skills at dribbling, passing and shooting – it was their über skills of seeing the full court and imagining how things were playing out, their ability to selflessly pass the ball and to work with all players on the team, and their ability to turn a broken play into a basket. The same happens in most other sports (e.g. football, soccer). There are similar skills in jazz – seeing all of the music as a tableau and the potentialities of it unfolding, to collaborate in ways that pool multiple perspectives, and to improvise and trade off soloing and supporting.
- Kania, J. & Kramer, M., Collective Impact, Social Innovation Review (2011)
- Kania, J. & Kramer, M., Collective Impact, Social Innovation Review (2011) Hanleybrown et al, Channeling Change: Making
- Collective Impact Work, Stanford Social Innovation Review (2012)
- McGuire, J. and Rhodes, G., Transforming Your Leadership Culture, Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (March 30, 2009)
- Weber, Craig. Conversational Capacity, McGraw-Hill, 2013
- Barrett, Frank. Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz, Harvard Business Press Books, 2012