Co-Construction Brings Rewards in the Workplace

Here in Calgary over the past month or two we have been seeing the most amazing skies.  I am fortunate to live in a spot where I can really see them, and almost daily I have been stopping to look up in wonder and take pictures. Skies, like people, can be extremely moody. In the shot below the dark moodiness is contrasted by the sunny yellow of the car hood (in case you are wondering, a 1972 MGB).  The darkness serves as a warning, and the bright hood reminds us to be optimistic.

The darkness serves as a warning, and the bright hood reminds us to be optimistic.

The darkness serves as a warning, and the bright hood reminds us to be optimistic.

If we are collaborating with others in decision making we may have very different perspectives and moods about our circumstances. We must heed the warnings and listen to people’s concerns, and we must stay focussed on our goal and the rewards difficult collaboration can bring. When we are able to learn from all perspectives and work together to reach an innovative goal which meets all needs, we are experiencing co-construction.

Nathalie Feuiltault is a Business Transformation and Human Behavior Specialist. Nathalie is currently pursuing doctoral research about co-construction. We were very fortunate last June to have Nathalie join us a at a Workplace Fairness luncheon to speak about co-construction.

Michelle and I practice co-construction all the time when we finish each other’s sentences – you have probably experienced that. Wikipedia too, could be considered a form of co-construction of learning (as it acknowledges itself). In the workplace, it is beneficial to be more strategic with collaboration so that you can mine the collective intelligence of the group.  At our June luncheon, Nathalie offered us 4 steps for Co-Construction:

  1. Appreciate. Focus on the positive, and strive to make it enjoyable. Practice mindfulness exercises. Be present and positive. Music and movement help.
  2. Dream. Act as If. Describe your outcomes as if they already exist. Visit the future. Imagine a goal met. What does it look like? Feel like? What do you see? Hear?
  3. Construct. Look to the past, and imagine key steps that get you to your goals. Move backwards to explore what you did to get you to the goal. What are the 3 key steps?
  4. Commit & Realize. Look at yourself from the outside to see what you did, and share the outcome. Sharing makes it feel more real.

Nathalie is a very engaging speaker who had us up and about exploring the look, feel and sound of collective intelligence. She helped us explore capabilities of group intelligence:

  • Mindfulness, and the capability to think systemically
  • Innovativeness and the willingness and capability to try different things
  • Connectedness and the capability to communicate both verbally and non-verbally.

We experienced it, saw it and heard it with Nathalie’s expert facilitation.

If you are interested in exploring co-construction and Appreciative Inquiry further, here are a few references for you:

Strategic Planning for Positive Change

Why SWOT when you can SOAR?

Michelle and I invited Gervais Goodman to come to our Workplace Fairness lunch to discuss an appreciative model for strategic planning.  We have discussed Appreciative Inquiry before at these luncheons (with Dr. Nancy Love) and it definitely infuses the way Michelle and I do our workplace work. When you ask the question, “What works?” you have an impact.



Goodman is an admirer of Dr Gervase Busche, whose definition of Appreciative Inquiry particularly resonates for him:

The purpose of Appreciative Inquiry is to “promote transformational change toward some vague compelling intention/want.”

When I first heard this, I was confused – admittedly a little suspicious of the word transformational, and curious about the word vague. I guess I am the ultimate pragmatist. Transformation is one thing in theory, but who and what are really capable of transformation?  And vague?  Isn’t it of value to have a specific goal?  But as Goodman talked, I leaned in on a new insight – in change one does not always know where one will end up, so vague is good.

In fact, this thinking applies to my own approach when I am in initial meetings with a new client. It is important to ask “Are you prepared for the potential consequences, good and bad, of this intervention?” The outcome is by no means certain. Inquiry promotes change. And importantly, positive inquiry promotes positive change, but the process of the change is unpredictable.  Once unleashed it becomes critical to keep an eye on the outcome and stay the course.

The SOAR model evolved from work by Jacqueline Stavros in the early 2000’s. You can read more here.  SOAR is a four step strategic planning process which consists of:

  1. Strengths – What can we build upon? The focus on skills in this model differentiates it.
  2. Opportunities – What can we be for our community?  Threats in the old SWOT model are reframed into opportunities. Inclusion is important and input is encouraged from a deep cross-section in the organization.
  3. Aspirations – Who should we become? How do we allow our values to drive our vision? Exploring aspirations can be a game-changer, a deeper investigation of underlying values to determine if they meet needs identified by both internal and external stakeholders.
  4. Results – How do we know we are succeeding?

“SOAR is not based on competition; it is based on being the best you can in the environment you are in.”

I heard Goodman say this and I have to admit the true import did not hit me until later. This is a counter-intuitive idea: that when you do strategic planning, it does not have to be a competitive process.  After all, do we not need to be competitive to survive in a competitive market? How can we eschew our competitive instincts when planning for the future?

I liken this to the negotiation strategy of widening the pie. In negotiations, focusing on one issue effectively creates the “fixed-pie bias”. Likewise in strategic planning, focusing on competitive assets eliminates opportunities for collaborating and reaching out to partners whose contribution will create value for clients.

Why SWOT when you can SOAR? Because framing strategies in positive language powerfully affects behaviour. Because inclusiveness builds community.  Because adding value drives business.  Because change is unpredictable.

Learn more from Gervais Goodman.