Dialogue and Team Learning

Posted on January 29, 2019

“The discipline of team learning starts with ‘dialogue’ – the capacity of members of a team to suspend assumptions and enter into a genuine ‘thinking together” – Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline – the Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation.

When learning to navigate change and complexity, dialogue – “thinking together“ – is key because the assumptions that leaders held true yesterday are no longer as relevant for business today, and increasingly less relevant for tomorrow.

While uncertainty and ambiguity create chaos, their flip side – order – is created though ‘Meaning’. Meaning builds coherence. To look for meaning is to filter through infinite options, data, pushes and pulls in order to connect to the core of a particular challenge, situation or context.

“To the Greeks, dia-logos meant a free flowing of meaning through a group, allowing the group to discover insights not attainable individually” – Peter Senge. 

When teams learn by:

a) collectively listening to what is changing within, across and outside the boundaries of their organisation and

b) bringing the information that each individual has attained back to the group through dialogue they enable the elucidation of system-level insights anchored in meaning.

In the words of anthropologist Marjorie Spock

“dialogue [is] the communal art of shaping the life evoked by listening and, through group effort, bringing out its fuller possibilities…’’

Dialogue-based learning enables teams to pull order out from within chaos and collectively shape a pathway through complexity. These teams’ ideas are connected to the deepest level of meaning that sits behind the changes and challenges they are facing. As such their solutions are systemic, pervading all parts of the organisational system.

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