14 July 2012

Gurteen Knowledge Cafe on behavioural metaphors

You can always rely on a Gurteen Knowledge Cafe for sparkling conversations and this one was no exception.

Our conversation leader for the evening was Arthur Shelley founder of The Organizational Zoo and designer of metaphors that it uses.

Arthur bounced around the room as he introduced the topic and led us through a couple of exercises. The energy was infectious and there was a buzz all evening.

The Organizational Zoo looks at behaviours that can be used in conversations and looks at how those behaviours can work together or against each other.

To avoid the personal aspect of analysing behaviour, e.g. "Colin is too aggressive", it uses animal metaphors, hence the zoo. There are twenty six animals each with a set of positives and negatives; it's a little like playing top trumps.

These are described in a set of cards and it is these that we played with in our exercises.

In the first each table had to identify five animals that they thought were positive (e.g. owl) and those that are negative (e.g. piranha).

Having forced a consensus on each table we then went to see what a mess the other tables had made.

Not surprisingly, given the question and the homogeneity of the group, there was a great deal of commonality, e.g. we all liked owls and eagles, but there were some differences and it was interesting to see these.

Having learnt the ropes in the first exercise we were given something harder to do.

We had to invent a scenario and then find four animals that exhibited behaviours that were core/expected to the objective, desired/accepted, tolerated and rejected. That is four animals in each of the four categories.

We picked the scenario running a Gurteen Knowledge Cafe but other teams were more imaginative and picked things like robbing a bank.

This task was a lot more difficult as we started to think more about how the team would work together, i.e. we could tolerate some negative behaviours that could provoke conversations at the Cafe without being disruptive. In the end we found very few behaviours that were rejected and that is my real experience of the Cafes, which suggests that the model was working.

As before we moved around to look at other tables where similar discussions had been held about balancing teams and the extent to which any behaviours were completely rejected.

Of course there was more to the evening than I have summarised here and the room was rich with conversations as we all got totally immersed in the lesson, participation and sharing.

Also of course, the conversations continued in a nearby pub until the call of the last reasonable train home gradually pulled us all away.

The Organizational Zoo offers another way of looking at behavioural styles that sits nicely alongside things like Myers-Briggs and has the advantage of using easily understandable and neutral metaphors. And a metaphor is a glorious thing.

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