Craig Weber is the author of the groundbreaking book, Conversational Capacity: The Key To Building Successful Teams That Perform When The Pressure Is On (McGraw-Hill, 2013) and the founder of The Weber Consulting Group—an alliance of experts committed to helping people build more resilient, healthy, and agile organizations. He helps an eclectic range of clients improve their performance by treating dialogue as a discipline. For more information visit weberconsultinggroup.net.
Why does the world need a work revolution? (In other words: the way we’re working isn’t working. Why not?)
We’re in over our heads. As our world grows more dynamic and complex our skills for creating healthy work environments is falling behind. One competence we especially need to foster is something I refer to as conversational capacity – the ability to have open, balanced, learning-focused dialogue about difficult subjects and in challenging situations. When this capacity is high we can engage our thorniest issues in a productive, non-defensive way. When it’s low our performance can derail over a minor disagreement.
A big reason our organizations are so ineffective and inhumane is that we lack the conversational capacity to deal with the problems we’re up against. The consequences are easy to see. People get away with malfeasance because no one speaks up. Mistakes are made repeatedly because the conversations that would spark the deep learning required to fix them can’t be had. Callous and feeble management runs amok because no one knows how to confront it in a constructive way.
How are you or your organization reinventing work in some way (big or small)?
We focus on addressing this critical issue by helping our clients build their conversational capacity – of individuals, teams, work relationships, and entire organizations. We’re working with Fortune 10 companies, government agencies, legislators, non-profit organizations, and communities, helping them to orchestrate conversations that are open-minded, evidence-based, and learning-focused as they engage their most important challenges.
Why do you do what you do?
I love what I do. I help people build organizations and teams that are good for people, good for business, and good for the community. I can’t imagine doing anything else for a living. I am constantly learning; I meet great people the world over; and the work makes a demonstrably productive difference. I feel very fortunate.
What kind of art (any kind) do you like and why? Any recommendations we should know about?
Music. I don’t play an instrument but I am constantly listening to music as I work, travel, and write, and find it a source of creative inspiration. As for recommendations, I suggest you be adventurous and find stuff that blows your hair back.
What is one specific thing your company does that makes your culture unique and/or different?
We’re an alliance of experts who work independently much of the time but team up on projects regularly as well. There are two big advantages to this. First, we’re constantly learning from each other because everyone is at the top of their game in their respective field and our projects allow us to combine our unique expertise in new and interesting ways. Second, we have low overhead, so we don’t have to pimp ourselves out to make ends meet. This frees us up to focus on doing what’s right for our clients and on making a difference.
What is one discipline/industry totally different from your own that has inspired you? How does it impact your work?
The practice of healthcare is one. It’s gets a bad rap, but there is a tremendous transformation taking place. Over the past several years they’ve moved toward a more evidence-based approach, challenging deeply held assumptions about their fundamental purpose and how to best achieve it. They’re moving, for example, from a system that sees its purpose as treating illness to a system that promotes health. It’s impressive shift. There is still much work to do, but the renewed focus is impressive.
In a similar way we’re less focused on treating sick organizations and far more focused on helping build healthy ones. Prevention is far more efficient and effective than treatment.
What’s one tangible and concrete technique other organizations should use if they want to create a more human and/or meaningful place to work?
Organizations need to build their ability to have open, balanced, learning-focused dialogue about tough issues and in challenging circumstances. In other words, they should deliberately build their conversational capacity, because nothing compensates for its absence. You can have all the right people around the table, a brilliant product or service, a well-conceived strategy, and all the resources you need at your disposal, but if conversational capacity is too low, your team or organization will underperform when it counts.
In this sense, conversational capacity isn’t just another aspect of teamwork—it defines it. A team that cannot talk about its most pressing issues isn’t really a team at all. It’s just a group of people who can’t work together effectively when it counts.
What piece of technology (other than your laptop/smartphone/tablet) could you not live without and why?
My running shoes. Whether I am traveling abroad, or out on a trail with my dog Harley, running is physically, mentally, and spiritually refreshing.
How do you stay productive throughout your day?
I have the luxury and burden of working for myself, so I mix things up as much as possible: I try to run, write, read, and hang out with smart people from whom I learn nearly every day. For me the mix is key. If I spent too much time on any one activity my productivity drops.
What is different about your work?
- It’s rigorous; it’s based on solid research. It’s not fluff, like so many of the sloppy ideas being peddled about these days.
- It’s useful – you can apply this stuff and it works.
- It’s fun. I think that any good work should have an element of joy.
To my way of thinking, this is a powerful combo.
Where in the world are you?
I live in the southwest corner of the Mojave Desert on the fringe of civilization in Lancaster, California.
How can people connect with you?
You can find me at weberconsultinggroup.net, at The Weber Consulting Group on Facebook, or on LinkedIn.