Conversations to build accountability and commitment

Earlier in my career I was involved in a successful health care organizational transformation that required employees to commit to a new way of working and new ways of working together. One of the most memorable and powerful activities we utilized were small group dialogues with all 10,000 employees. Each person was invited to view our work from our patient’s perspective and to talk about where we were failing and what we could do to truly make a difference in our patient’s lives. We welcomed all ideas and encouraged diverse opinions and even disagreement. We had honest and even tearful declarations and powerful insights. These small group conversations were brought up time and again over the years as a key reason for the personal commitment physicians and staff had to remake our organization.

In a similar manner, Peter Block in his book, Community: The Structure of Belonging, challenges us as leaders to create conversations in the workplace that engage our people and invite them to commit to the transformative work we all face.

Block identifies six different types of conversations, each with a specific purpose, which leaders can utilize to create accountability and commitment. You can set up these “conversations that count” by crafting meaningful questions and then listening to what is said. The dialogue will drive the specific questions for the next conversation.

 1. Invitation – provide the freedom to self-enroll

  • Define the problem or hurdle
  • Reinforce their importance to the conversation
  • Provide the freedom to choose their own participation

2. Possibility – postpone problem-solving and focus on opportunity

  • What crossroad are we at?
  • What possibility has the power to transform?
  • What can we create that will make a difference?

3. Ownership – confront people with their freedom

  • How valuable do you want this to be?
  • How much risk are you willing to take?
  • How much are you planning to participate?

4. Dissent – surface doubts and dissent without having all the answers yet

  • What doubts or reservations do you have?
  • What do you want to say no to?
  • What yes don’t you really mean?
  • What previous commitment or decision have you changed you mind about?

5. Commitment – demand authentic commitment or ask people to say no and get to the committed few

  • What promises am I willing to make now?
  • What measures or outcomes have meaning to me?
  • What commitment am I unwilling to make?

6. Gifts – identify what your people have to offer and bring their strengths to the center

  • What unique contributions did someone provide?
  • What did someone do that was valuable or powerful to you?
  • How did someone engage you in a way that had meaning or importance?

As leaders we can create the questions that matter in our situation and invite our team members to participate in these conversations. Setting the context for these types of conversations and truly listening to the dialogue builds the true commitment and accountability needed for transformation.

Todd Thorsgaard


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