Capturing Dialogue to Enhance Collaboration

neutron_capture_smallOne of the key values we see in collaboration software is its ability to capture dialogue.

Which sort of begs the question, why do we need to capture dialogue? Isn’t it enough that we’re having it?

In a small organization, it may seem as if the need to capture dialogue is non-existent. My husband operates a solo medical practice, where he depends on a staff of three.  There aren’t staff meetings because it’s generally possible in such a small group to coordinate a response to emerging issues as they come up.  The only memos which circulate are those for which having things in writing satisfies legal requirements… the annual renewal on the SIMPLE plan deduction, for example.  The idea that people in this very busy place, where they’ve long ago worked out how to hold effective communication with all stakeholders, face-to-face in real time, would find value in typing their conversations into a discussion board is pretty laughable.

And yet… there are deep dialogues which take place in that office. They are generally with patients.  And only the physician’s impression of what transpired is documented in the chart.   If there is a misunderstanding, (and studies suggest that when the news is upsetting, people process only a fraction of the information which is being provided to them!)  neither party may be aware of it until the patient returns for another visit, or calls with a question.

I often feel we’re at an advantage on this count where I work. We have a *lot* of conversations with a lot of different clients, and we try to have as many of them as possible in our discussion rooms.  Beyond the obvious benefit of being able to read back to see what we said and remind ourselves of what we’re in the middle of in each of multiple projects we’re involved in, we have the terrific bonus of many eyes on the ball. A team member may chime in with a question which reveals that there’s been an assumption, or perhaps even a set of conflicting assumptions, underlying the conversation to date. Finding out early that reconciling those assumptions will be necessary to going forward markedly improves the prospects for success of the project!

There’s something about having the contributions to a dialogue laid out chronologically which makes it easier to see those hidden assumptions, and easier to address them, as well.  It’s not “interrupting” to post a question, the way it might be if one happened to overhear two team members talking in the hallway.

Teams which make a policy of posting the results of telephone conversations in a place where all affected team members can see them not only keep the team informed, they also help mitigate the risk that a misunderstanding of what has been agreed to throws the team off.  The question “When he said a, was he talking about x, or y?” can be a critical contribution, especially if the original conversant hadn’t even considered that y might have been on the other person’s mind.

I doubt any of us would want to have to document each and every conversation we have. But when it comes to the ones which move projects forward, dialogue “in captivity” can be a lot more functional than its wild cousin.

2 comments on “Capturing Dialogue to Enhance Collaboration”

  1. Barb McDonald

    Documenting Dialogue

    Valerie, I once worked on a research project where the research team members were spread around the globe (US, Hong Kong, Australia, and Denmark). One of the things I appreciated was the habit we got into (modeled by the person who had the most experience collaborating) of document ALL conversations even if EVERYONE was present (e.g. we were in a group chat or a skype call). Sometimes, even when you are in a synchronous conversation, you STILL don’t hear what the speaker intended. And we’ve all had enough communication classes to understand why that happens. So the practice of documenting all conversations, helped us do as you suggest, validate our team understanding of the outcomes of the call.

  2. Valerie Bock

    Yes, it’s amazing what a difference it makes. More than once, I’ve looked at meeting notes and realized with a start that one of the things agreed to was that I would be responsible for performing a task — somehow, I missed that detail during the conversation! Being able to discover my oversight before it caused problems for the group permitted me to maintain “face” in a way which just isn’t possible after someone says “hey, weren’t you going to ….”

    Especially when different cultures and languages are involved, giving everyone a chance to review the plan when they have time to fully concentrate can yield much better results, and keep misunderstandings at bay.

Comments are closed.