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Collaboration above the fray: designing strategic conversations that matter By Noah Rimland Flower / January 2014 / Leave a comment

“Systemic challenges can’t be solved by visionary leaders alone. They require creative collaboration among colleagues with different roles and perspectives. They require strategic conversations that get above the fray of daily concerns and narrow self-interest to focus on longer-term priorities and collective purpose.”

That’s the core contention of our long-time colleagues Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon in a new book/toolkit combination called Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations That Accelerate Change. Here’s a Rorschach test: are they talking about strategic conversation within a single organization or the conversation necessary to catalyze collective action among many? For leaders in social change, it’s both—which is why this work is a must-read.

The problem that Ertel and Solomon set out to solve is the plague of “okay” strategic conversations that afflict all organizations—conversations that might not be a total disaster but just don’t do much. Strategic conversations that are merely okay can undermine confidence in an organization’s leadership in the short term and over time can lead to bad decisions that can lead to wasted resources, lost opportunities, and sometimes even total failure.

It’s easy to understand why the bar is set so low. First, they note, strategy has gotten harder at the same time as it’s gotten more important. Steady-as-you-go strategic planning has fallen by the wayside in our increasingly volatile and uncertain times. This shift is clearly felt in the social sector as evidenced by the strong response to our short piece on the topic last year. Second, many professionals don’t get trained in the critical leadership skill set of strategic conversation.

Ertel and Solomon argue that we can and must do better. They offer core principles and key practices for designing strategic conversations that generate breakthrough insights by combining the best ideas of those from different backgrounds and perspectives. Such conversations can lift participants above the fray of daily concerns and narrow self-interest, reconnecting them to their greater, collective purpose. And they create deep, lasting impacts that propel organizations and networks forward.

This book isn’t just about how to run a decent meeting. Well-designed strategic conversations differ from a well-organized meeting in five key respects:

Table from MOMENTS OF IMPACT by Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon – reprinted with permission.
Copyright © 2014 Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon. All rights reserved.

 Some of the points above might ring a bell if you’re familiar with our 2013 guidebook GATHER: The Art & Science of Effective Convening, which was strongly influenced by Ertel and Solomon’s research. Where GATHER focuses specifically on multi-stakeholder convenings with a goal of social problem-solving, Moments of Impact offers a toolkit that is more broadly applicable across sectors and purposes, making the two pieces good companions. While many of the examples in Moments of Impact are from business, the book includes examples from actors focused on social change, such as Rockefeller Foundation and the De LaSalle Christian Brothers educational order.

Moments of Impact is packed with valuable lessons and tools for any professional looking to effect change in their organization and beyond. For more, including the introduction and opening chapter, see


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