Building healthy, engaged relationships between colleagues

Improvement Dialogues

Personal coaching, one-on-ones, and pair working are three examples of people helping employees and colleagues learn how to do better work. Using inquisitive statements instead of traditional coaching questions, you can improve a person’s performance using principles taken from Appreciative Inquiry, Powerful Questions, and Improvisational Theater.

The easiest kind of relationship for me is with ten thousand people. The hardest is with one

American singer Joan Baez
woman listening

Management 3.0 identifies four focus areas when people are engaged in personal coaching, one-on-ones, pair working, or copilot sessions; you can discuss four areas to improve each other’s performance: personal topics, relational topics, organizational topics, and environmental topics.

  • Personal Topics, one of the goals of one-on-one coaching sessions is to align work and outcomes with a person’s motivations. You can use your quality time to discuss intrinsic desires, personality traits, personal history, and personal ambitions.
  • Relational Topics, a second area to cover in one-on-one coaching is the relationship between the two participants. You’re trying to achieve a good working relationship. Therefore, any issues that are impeding a healthy and productive collaboration need to be resolved.
  • Organizational Topics, you should also talk about organizational changes and news, team performance, organizational structure, upcoming opportunities, innovative capability, and how to help other team members succeed. You’re there to discuss how to get the whole system to improve and generate more value.
  • Environmental Topics, the last area in one-on-one coaching is a conversation about the environment. You can talk about politics, technology, the economy, and anything else that impacts a person’s performance and happiness.

You can decide not to use one area when it does not apply to your situation and adjust the inquiry scope to what is realistic and actionable.

Let’s quickly experiment with an improvement dialogue

The idea of an improvement dialogue is that a person picks a random statement from the list (or draws it from a pile of cards) and completes the sentence in any way she likes. Here is an example, with the statement: “What I need most is:..”:

  • “What I need most is… a bit more time to learn new tools and technologies.”

The coach, manager, pairing partner, or copilot now should respond to that statement in the affirmative and suggest bringing the dialogue forward.

  • “OK, perhaps we can find out what busy work is keeping you from learning new things.”

It is then up to both participants to keep the conversation flowing by always staying optimistic and contributing to the previous statement.

  • “Yes, I have a hunch that management’s daily interruptions are costing me too much time.”
  • “I see. Well, it should not be too difficult to measure this and validate that assumption.”
  • “You’re right, and I’ll see if I can find a time tracker app on my smartphone to do this.”
  • “Good, and I will check if someone else has done something like that before.”

When you’ve arrived at a useful insight or action item for either of you, the employee can pick another random statement from the list. It is important to note that, in the area of organizational topics, the word organization can easily be swapped with team, business unit, or department. Among the environmental topics, the word customer could be replaced by supplier, shareholder, employees, or community. This should be left to the creativity and improvisation of the two participants. 

By building on top of each other’s contributions, respecting what others have said before, and contributing with new statements affirmatively, the participants in these dialogues are most likely to bring out the best in everyone.

Download the Improvement Dialogues Cards

Download the Management 3.0 Improvement Dialogues Cards to print and cut it yourself. Please note: Re-selling is not permitted.

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    How to get started with an improvement dialogue

    This is what you can do to get started with improvement dialogues:

    1. Initiate coaching, pairing, one-on-one, or copilot session.
    2. Invite your colleague, friend, coach, or copilot for a private talk in a comfortable environment (preferably not in a dull office).
    3. Print the statements in a way that makes it easy to pick at random. Leave out the areas that do not apply to your situation.
    4. Explain the rules: no questions allowed, only reply in the affirmative, and contribute to the dialogue.
    5. Pick questions, develop your conversations, and support each other’s contributions.
    6. Make notes of any insights and action items.
    7. Evaluate. Yes, you are now allowed to disagree and ask questions.