Friday, September 26, 2008

Relationships are Critical to the Success of Strategy

We were delighted to have Monitor Group partner and top selling author, Diana Smith, speak at our Fall Seminar, co-sponsored with the Palladium Group at the new InterContinental Hotel in Boston. Diana spoke on an important, and all too familiar topic, "When Good Strategies Go Bad Strategically Critical Relationship are Usually at Fault."

Using engaging slides, examples and an engaging style that frequently tickles, Diana reminded us all how easy it is to slip into the "either/or" thinking that is so polarizing when dealing with hot topics like:disputed data
  • insufficient data
  • uncertainty
  • conflicting values
Once locked in that spiral of "either I'm right or you're wrong," it is very difficult for the parties to a strategic disagreement to emerge with anything that looks like a sincere "yes" that moves an organization ahead toward a strategic direction. Instead, we are all vulnerable to the prospect of falling into the "he-said/she-said" playing field that focuses on character and motives.

Breaking free of toxicity in relationships requires an ability to see into the "anatomy of relationships" that can be discovered by using the data of conversations to find the patterns of interaction that people create and continuously reinforce:

"By becoming 'behavioral geneticists' we can get at the underlying structure of relationships which are rarely seen...[seeing the DNA of a relationship allows us to understand] how relationships amplify certain proclivities and modify others."

In other words, once a pattern of a relational system is in place, the people in it are good at seeing, thinking and acting in certain ways and lousy at others. If we're regularly in relationships where there is little inquiry and lots of blaming, we're likely to get very good at defending ourselves and lousy at learning from others. Not great chemistry for strategic insight.

The anatomy of a relationship can be discovered by experimenting with the "frames" that we use to understand one another. A frame is a stable interpretation of the meaning of someone else's behavior. Leaders using Diana's approach learn how to suspend their disbelief about someone they think they know when they "reframe" what has always looked like anger into vulnerability and anxiety.

A full exposition of Diana's thinking can be found in her excellent new book, Divide or Conquer: How Great Teams Turn Conflict into Strength.

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