Authors: Han Juch and John Shewfelt
In each of three earlier articles (What is OR?, Steps to Set-Up Your OR, OR & Team Performance) we have stressed the importance of holding ‘generative conversations’ in your Operating Rhythm™ meetings. But what does this mean?
In short, people in a generative conversation see possibilities to
- commit themselves to act, and
- hold themselves accountable to change existing reality into desired reality.
This contrasts with a non-generative conversation in which people only describe and give explanations why things are the way they are. We have all been in these non-generative conversations, filled with discussion, opinions and explanations. While these might include ideas of how and in what way conditions could or should be changed, in non-generative conversations participants don’t commit themselves to specific action(s), and as a result, they don’t ‘generate’ a new outcome.
In this article, we would like to give an example of both a non-generative and a generative conversation, so you will see the difference more clearly. We encourage you role-play these examples and discuss them within your own team so that the difference between the two will even be clearer and you will reflect on your own team’s behavior.
These are examples of a project team responsible for construction activities at a new oil & gas facility. Their leadership team gets together for the weekly progress meeting. How they hold these meetings will determine how well the project results are delivered.
- Role-play cast:
- CM: Austin (- Construction Manager)
- TM1: Alastair (- good news, Structural Lead)
- TM2: Sarah (- blaming, Civils Lead)
- TM3: Frank (- sand bagging, Procurement)
When you role-play these, we suggest you appoint a facilitator who introduces the topic and the role-plays, and leads the discussion at the end of each role play on what people observed, recognized and on ideas how to practice it within their team.
Roleplay 1 – Non-generative
- Hi folks thanks for coming – bit of context this week: oil price is down, production is too, we are in week 8 with some delays of the plan, but we still have our agreed budget & we’re free to go on spending.So what’s new?Alastair, can you give us the run down, please.
- Well, this week we’ve mostly been erecting steel, and are meeting our target man hours. We are now making visible progress, ha ha.
- Thanks Alastair, sounds good – what about the RAP for the stabilizer lift, how’s that coming along?
- Well last week you said that you’d talk to the official lifting authority and set up a pre-meeting, so we haven’t done anything yet. We have to wait till then.
- Right, I was really busy last week and haven’t got round to it.I’ll sort that out this week. Something else?
- No, we are doing fine, like always, perhaps a bit behind schedule, but no worries.
- Ok thanks
Sarah – How are we doing on our civil progress?
- Well, it’s not going well, we haven’t had the deliveries that we were expecting. As you know the material process is not working well. It gives me headache every week, but there is little I can do (looking at Frank). And on top of that, we had that dropped object incident last week from Alastair’s section. This is not the first time this month.
- I mean, that guy from Construct Global (a Vendor of Construction) shouldn’t have been up there anyway, and he put my crew in the line of fire, the stand-down cost us half a day’s progress.
- I told you Alastair, we needed more safety presence - that contractor is really missing the ball on this; it’s another indictment on their ability to deliver anything safely.
- Another incident and we’ll be getting help we don’t need – I passed you that 30 page review of their safety trends, we should have already acted.
- Honestly, I don’t know why we use this vendor, it’s always the same, they never turn up with the goods.
- Construct Global normally works very well. It’s not a big deal. We have just to talk to their Team lead again. I hope he understands by now.
- Hmm, is this something I need to get involved in?
- No, well it’s too late now isn’t it, we’ll sort it out as usual, I’ll just have to try and recover the progress somehow. If other Functions could just take up their Accountabilities all would run smoothly around here.
- Right, well – let’s see what it looks like next week, but I can already feel the heat I’m going to be getting from the top
- Frank – I hope you’ve got some better news on Procurement front?
- Well, we’ve had a few issues with deliveries, as Alastair mentioned already. But don’t blame us. Things are often ordered the last moment to be delivered yesterday. People don’t seem to follow the process.We do what we can do; we might even be able to pull something out of the bag, so that it doesn’t have too big an impact on construction.
- I’ll get the category leads involved and should be able to speed things up, but it will be very tight.
- Is there anything specific?
- No, not really – All the main items are bought and on their way to the site. I just hope that the logistics team can get some of our stuff through customs on time. If there is a delay, we know why.
- Okay everyone, thanks for the quick update. I am happy to hear things are going quite well.
- I propose we now discuss our team’s away-day in three weeks’ time. ………..
END OF ROLEPLAY 1
A facilitator could intervene and stop the roleplay here, thanking the players. He addresses the wider audience telling that they have seen a role-play of a non-generative meeting. He adds the questions:
- Do we recognise such a meeting?
- What are the characteristics of such a meeting and with what results?
- Is it stimulating self-accountability or not?
- What could the Chairman/leader have done differently?
He leads then the discussion, captures the insights of people and introduces the next roleplay.
Role-play 2: Generative conversation
Ok, thanks for your input. I hope that the role-players did listen well to you and understand what they must do better, especially the chairman. We will give them another chance. Please listen and observe again and notice the difference between this meeting and the first one.
- Hi folks, welcome to the weekly progress meeting, as usual we’ll cover the highlights of progress in the last period, and how we’re performing against plan. Regarding the any real issues we need to agree what we have to do.
- We’ll also cover the look-ahead to the next period and take any actions that will give us the Results.
- Alastair, can we start with the primary steel please.
- No safety issues. Well, primary steel is largely on track, some areas ahead, some a little behind. Please see our S-curve which I have included in the given pack. We have taken already the required action to come and stay back on plan.
Next week we will discuss the monthly costs’ issues in detail, but I can tell you that we are 5% above our budget.
- Did we achieve the intended man-hours last week?What were the specific issues in the problem areas?
- Yes we had 150 people mobilised on primary steel last week, achieving 3.4% progress, which meets plan.We were late receiving 2 of the primary nodes from the fab shop, but remobilised the crews to other areas to maintain progress.
- Onsite now and scheduled to go into place today.
- Sounds good, what about the plan for this next period? Do you have everything you need?
- For the next coming week we will move to secondary steel with all engineering in hand and materials on site, so I don’t anticipate any problems over the next period, however there is a risk that the stabilizer lift may be delayed because we are still waiting for the input from the lifting authority.
- Oh yes – apologies, I did set up a meeting with VP HSE (health and safety), but I had to postpone it in favour of a more urgent priority. It is rescheduled for later this week. Thursday I believe.
- I appreciate you changing priorities. Yet, in future if you let me know we can plan more effectively around it.
- Fair enough. Good challenge, I did overlook the communication. I will learn from that.
- Sarah, how are things going on the remaining civils activities?
- Let me start with the work progress. We’ve fallen behind a little on civils, by about half a percentage point in the period. We have also discussed internally what we can do to stay on track.
- However, we were set-back on the schedule by the dropped object, and a persistent worrying trend in leading safety indicators with the contractor of Alistair’s area. And it is not the first time.
- The contractor, Construct Global, really isn’t responding to our concerns on safety management, and they’ve got no plan to get us back on the curve.
- Sarah, blaming the contractor won’t solve the issue here, we’re all suffering from this. So we need to find a way to address this with them and get their commitment on actions to improve their safety performance, and recover that progress. Besides, it is in your area and you suffer from the consequences. So what will you do?
- We could talk again with the contractor again, but that did not help much before.
- Yes, what else can you do? Think about it. I request you to develop an action plan to engage the contractor.
- Yes, that is a good idea. I will do.
- (pause) By next week Tuesday. We can discuss it during our regular 1-on-1.
(meanwhile, Frank is on the phone, -again).
- Frank, this issue is important for all of us, please can you focus on the topic please. As we agreed, we will not use our phones during this meeting.
- Yes, that is true. However, I needed to answer this one.
- We committed to all phone calls. I am sure this one could have waited another 20 minutes.
OK. Frank – what’s going on in the supply chain?
- Well, we’ve had a few issues with deliveries, as Alastair mentioned already. Things are often ordered the last moment to be delivered yesterday. People don’t seem to follow the process.We do what we can do.
- Sounds ‘Below the Line’ to me (meaning: people are not showing accountable behaviour). Frank, can you give us more?
- Yes, you are right. As a matter of fact we discussed it yesterday with my team. We might even be able to pull something out of the bag, so that it doesn’t have too big an impact on construction.Gives us 2-3 days more to come up with a plan that we can discuss with you Alastair. I promise it will improve the materials flow.
- Let us take it off line then. Can you set up a meeting this Friday?
- Yes fine, I will, thanks.
- Is there anything else you need to bring up Frank?
- Well, I’m currently looking at an issue with some of the valves, our vendor has indicated that they might not be able to make the dates for some of the key deliveries, but I hope we’ll be able to shave some time out of the customs process, but it depends on what we’re able to agree.
- Frank, hope is not a strategy. What specific actions will you take?
- Well, our levers with customs are quite constrained. I will review the delivery dates against the actual need dates, to avoid unnecessary costs and delays, however I will need support.
- Sarah, can we find time later this week to review the need dates for the critical valves?
- Sure, I’ve got time later this afternoon if that works.
- OK, I will send you the invite for 3 pm and will send you the pre-read in the next hour.
Great, that is a much better strategy. Thank you, Frank.
- Okay guys, thanks for the update. We are four days behind the project plan, so I urge you all to take measures that we sleight any further off. Please stay on top of the issues and anticipate possible issues. Thanks for the good work so far.
- I propose we now discuss our team’s away day in three weeks’ time. ………..
The facilitator can stop the role-play at this point. He can invite the audience to share their observations.
What are the main differences between the last generative conversation role-play and the first one, and with what impact (on overall results and team spirit)?
Typically, the answers we get are:
- Meeting was framed better
- Participants are more factual and precise
- More attention was given to what to do in the next period (future)
- More focus on actions / commitments
- CM doesn’t ask ‘tell me more of the problem’, but more ‘generative questions’ (ultimately ‘who will do what by when?’)
- CM intervenes and asks TM’s to commit themselves; make a promise or make a request
- CM breaks some non-self-accountable games of his TM’s; people need to stop blaming others or rely on ‘hope’
- CM also admit he didn’t keep his promise
- CM will support but doesn’t intent to take the monkey (the responsibility of somebody else)
- That will lead to more self-accountable behaviour, (after a few meetings) habit and (after some time) attitude
- What will make it more likely that the project will finish better and that the team spirit remains better till the end.
When we ask the Austin’s (= the chairmen of these role-play and real generative meetings), this is what we normally hear:
Being a chairman of a generative conversations is demanding work in the beginning. Non-generative conversations in which people don’t show up with accountable behaviour is apparently a default; people, including myself, easily go “Below the Line.” I had to listen carefully and intervene quickly. Either I have stated that, or I have asked them generative questions: who will do what and by when? It is important that we don’t leave the meeting with mutual blaming, finger-pointing, with many issues smoothed over and many unfinished business, hopes, and unclear agreements. That will not give us the results we aim for.
If you role-played these meetings within your teams, please do us a favor and give us feedback about the reactions and insights people got out of this – Thank you.