Dialogic Practice in Organisational Culture

Dialogic Practice in Organisational Culture

George Barnes 22nd September 2021

It is all well and good describing and explaining what dialogic practice is and how it differs from other models of conversational learning. Naturally then, the next step is how we can put this model into action and transform the culture of an organisation using dialogic practice.

What Does Culture Mean?

To begin with, culture is not a monolith, there is no such thing as a singular organisational culture, it is a loose abstract that enables us to create an argument. So, we must define culture in this context. Every organisation has a series of subcultures and when you delve deeper into these subcultures what you will find are highly activity orientated people, highly reflective people, thought driven, cautious and optimistic people.

Many believe culture to be personal, interactional and structural. For example, many believe that changing the structure of an organisation will result in behavioural change. Another popular belief is that if an influentially significant group of people set out to change the way behaviours operates within a team or organisation, the organisational culture will start to morph quite quickly.

Many organisations are driven by the same root, the assumptions you make, the assumptions the organisation makes or the assumptions the structure makes. The second you start to challenge the assumptions collectively and move onto new assumptions then you start to change the dynamics of an organisation. What this does, which is an often-unspoken part of culture change, is encourage an inevitable period of conflict.

Transforming Culture Through Dialogue

Change as a process tends to dislocate things for a period of time and as a culture morphs and moves away from its initial position, it moves at different speeds for different people. Some people may move backwards from the original point rather than forward, some will step out all together and some people actively resist going forward. There is an inevitable dislocation of a culture for a period and the role of dialogue in that sense is to attempt to build bridges across those different groups.

The intention is not necessarily for everybody to arrive at the same end point but rather coming to a collective acceptance that previously some people could not. If for some reason those people still cannot, then they will have to leave that organisation or structure or move to another position within it. So, an important aspect of culture, change and dialogue is to understand that the purpose of dialogue is not to get everybody into some position of uneasy compromise where it seems like we are all agreeing with each other.

Dialogue is not designed necessarily to create a single point of agreement, in fact quite often it does not. What it does do however is surface in as a calm and rationale a way as possible what people think they can and cannot do. As a result, that then allows them to make intelligent choices.

How Will Dialogue Progress in a Hybrid Working World?

There is a current debate regarding what can be done virtually and what must be done face to face. Arguably, dialogic practice is something than can only be successfully done in person. If you look back to Aristotle and his philosophies, he addresses this topic that is very relative today. In principle what he said was that the transactional can be done at distance but the intensity personal is also intensely interpersonal. Essentially, what is intensely interpersonal must be done face to face as these things rely on personal chemistry.

As people we respond to body chemistry as much as we respond to anything and it is extremely difficult emulate the same responses virtually. Things that require judgement, reflection and a deep change of assumptions usually require physical interaction. Matters that are interactional or processual can be done relatively successfully online but dialogue is not of them.

The Future of Dialogue

The future of dialogue as a device for problem solving and individual thinking is under threat from the advancement of technology. The way algorithms are designed, to create a captive audience around a single idea or proposition and deepen commitment to that proposition within a group of people, is narrowing thinking. When you have the constant repetitions of the same thing aimed at you it reduces your judgement and curiosity that is brought to conversation.

This is a socially destructive problem that we have for the future. If we lose our ability to think freely, or to be able to create propositions and solutions to problems together, then we may lose our ability to function culturally. Therefore, dialogic practice is a direct answer to the problems posed by technology and algorithms. The exposure to divergent ideas from minds alike will create open spaces for thinking and problem solving, this is especially important within younger generations.