The Rapidly Changing Workplace

More and more, organizations are asking: How do we respond effectively in this world of rapid change, uncertainty and ambiguity? It’s becoming quite clear that our current business models—top-down hierarchies—are incapable of the agility and resilience needed to be effective. The need is significant: Organization Development and Human Resource associations are hosting conferences focused on these two areas. Leaders open to change are discovering that the solution lies in shifting the way they do business; in redesigning the organization in ways that allow all members to be fully engaged and more autonomous. 

Appreciative Inquiry and Design Thinking Approach

Facilitative leaders are using processes that support the emergence of collective intelligence, such as design thinking, Appreciative Inquiry, and World Café. Self-organizing business models are emerging. These are organizations with no middle management and no top-down structure. Highly engaged and collaborative teams make decisions at the local level. The organization as a whole is grounded in collectively determined organizational values, mission, and vision and self-organization teams align their decisions and actions. These structures are proving to be both effective and nimble as well as highly profitable. For a deep dive into these organizations and how they work, read Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations.

There is one common denominator across all the effective approaches to working in our complex world: communication that fosters psychological safety and high engagement. To be more specific, these organizations recognize the importance and value of communicating in ways that generate a culture of safety, inclusion, trust, and mutual respect and they recognize that people at every level of the organization are creative and can add value. Psychological safety means everyone is engaging with their whole brain: pre-frontal lobe and neo-cortex. These centers of the brain support creativity, higher order thinking, and connection. People working together from this mindset are more concerned about we than me, they naturally access emotional intelligence and creative intelligence, and their conversations more easily generate collective intelligence.

In Conversations Worth Having we make the communication practices that foster such relationships explicit. It is simple. There are only two practices: Positive Framing and Generative Questions. Positive framing is simply talking about what you want (for the relationship, team, customer, organization) instead of what you don’t want. Focusing on outcomes and possibilities still solves problems and it does so while motivating and inspiring people. For example, if someone is doing something incorrectly, talk about how to do it correctly. If the team is not performing well, talk about exceptional teamwork.

Gervase Bushe

Asking generative questions supports psychological safety. These are questions that invite diverse perspectives into the conversation, create shared understanding, and support innovation. Gervase Bushe defines generative questions as shifting the way people think and creating compelling images for action. People prepared to ask generative questions are powerful contributors to the success of relationships, teams, and organizations.

For example, new technology disrupts your industry and threatens your organization’s competitive advantage. Responding from fear with command and control leadership puts you at a disadvantage in many ways. Instead, engaging all stakeholders by asking generative questions opens the door for creative solutions: How might we take advantage of this technology to maintain our competitive edge? How could this shift the way we engage with our customers?

Organizations that invite full engagement and autonomy at every level empower people to respond in-the-moment. An employee empowered to engage in a conversation worth having with an upset customer and then to respond immediately in ways that create a loyal customer makes your organization far more agile and effective.

Conversations worth having by their very structure support psychological safety as well as agility. In such environments, people come alive and thrive and your organization uses it full capacity to respond to our VUCA world.

To learn more about how you can foster conversations worth having, download a free Conversation Toolkit at

Cheri Torres is Lead Catalyst and CEO at Collaborative by Design. She works with leaders in organizations and communities to enhance their ability to fuel productivity and meaningful engagement through everyday conversation.

Cheri Torres

Author Cheri Torres

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