Wednesday, 19 November 2014

My presentation in the OD Network 2014 Annual Conference

Three weeks ago I did a little conference trip to US. One of the conferences was the Organization Development Network 2014 Annual Conference  in Philadelphia, where I had a presentation based on a paper co-authored with Eleni Gesch-Karamanlidis from Texas A&M University. Here I share you the slides and some thoughts based on the paper.

Dialogic OD, a recently emerged sub-field of Organization Development (OD) highlights the importance of dialogue and conversation in organizational change: organizations change by changing the conversation. And in order to do that we need to create spaces (containers) where people come together to reflect their work and share meaning. New mindsets, meanings and actions are created in conversation, which will change the organization.

However, from a communication perspective we are not only interested about creating the space but also what happens in that space, and the essence of the conversations in those places. Recently the OD literature has pointed out that we need to focus on promoting effective conversations and increase the capacity of a system to have reflexive dialogues.

If the aim is to change the conversation, and more importantly the quality of conversation, it is important to pay attention to the patterns of communication, and how those patterns are initiated, maintained and transformed. How can we facilitate the capacity of people to develop better patterns of communication? How does it look and feel like?

CMM is a communication theory by Barnett Pearce and Vernon Cronen. Rather than seeing communication only as transmitting or sharing information CMM invites us to look right at it. Communication is not only a tool but it makes and creates things. We continuously shape and are shaped by others in communication. Our sense of who we are and what we are doing are in constant motion. We are what we make. We get what we make.      

The central questions in CMM are:
- What are we making together?
- How are we making it?
- What are we becoming as we make this?
- How are we making better social worlds?

CMM highlights the intentionality of our choices of acting into a human system, whether it is a personal relationship or a team meeting. In CMM language we speak about creating reflexive connection between meaning and action, which means not only self-awareness but also the capacity of making choices regarding what patterns are useful to invite and sustain and what patterns need to be changed.

CMM has developed several practical models and frameworks. One of them is called the Hierarchy of MeaningsTo facilitate effective patterns of communication we need to build connections between contexts of self, relationships, and organizational culture. Every action can be understood differently by looking at different contexts, and each context can be understood by looking at the other contexts. If you change something in one context you change the meaning of the things contextualized. 

For example, a conversation between myself and a colleague happens in the context of our relationship; the meaning of the conversation is taken in the context of the relationship. Alternatively, what happens in the conversation can change the future course of our relationship. For instance, if we end up having an argument, the meaning of the relationship is taken in the context of the episode.

Hierarchy of meanings
Speech acts: what is said and done in communication, the specific language that is used. 
Episode: sequences of speech acts, that have a beginning and an end. Patterns are clusters of episodes, and once established attract certain episodes and resist others.

Self: identities are constructed in communication; people become who they are partly because of the patterns of communication they engage in. And they are responsible of producing certain patterns of communication partly because of the selves they have become.  
Relationship: relationships are the context for the way we communicate.

Culture: cultural values and rituals, stories of power and hierachy. 

The hierarchy of meanings model can be used to interpret and analyze a certain conversation but also to inquire into them. One can ask what a certain response or action mean in the context of self, relationship and culture. Moreover, one can inquire into the interplay of different contexts. Every situation or communicative act evokes multiple meanings which are not equal; some contexts play much more powerful role in determining our actions than others. Which context dominates the conversation? If it is the relationship, what do we need to understand in order to move forward? What kinds of patterns of communication we need to invite in order to do that? 


Hedman, E. and Gesch-Karamanlidis, E. 2014. Facilitating Conversations that Matter Using Coordinated Management of Meaning Theory. Student Paper Presentation, OD Network 2014 Annual Conference, Philadelphia 25.-28.10.2014

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