By Charlotte Hochman. Photo: Michele Caleffi | Reading Time: 3 minutes
When you convene many people to co-build a strategic planning process, you are bringing people within the organization who hold very different roles towards it. Different levels of accountability, of history, of personal attachment. And of course, of power.
Asymmetry of power is an integral reality of the process: if you keep groups with different attributes separate, you are creating silos. You want people standing in different places within the system to build on other people’s point of view, not to remain in their own partial reality. This is why bringing people together to discusss strategy does much more than only to produce a new strategy: it also decompartmentalizes people and enables them to build a relationship with the system as a whole.
Yet the conversations themselves should not reflect the asymmetries of power: that would hinder free expression. It would leave the floor to those who are already more vocal in the organization. It would lead to disengagement from the others.
So how do you make sure that in groups where there is asymmetry of power, everyone feels powerful?
3 tips to ensure power balance
Compose the space so there is a proportional representation of the different people in the system.
Balance the number present in each space of every category. For a university, balance out students, faculty, staff, and a relevant other category. Don’t let all the students sit in an area and the faculty in another. For a city, balance out residents, city officers, enterprises and anybody else concerned by the issue at stake. For a company, balance out departments and levels of seniority. Make sure each session, each room, each time a key topic is considered for redefinition, there is a balance of presence between these people.
Introduce questions that create a level playing field.
The facilitators should be leading conversations with questions on which everyone in the room feels legitimate to answer. So rather than ask “Should we open another site where half of us will work from?” ask “how do you personally feel about the idea of working from a new site?” and build from there.
Ask people, through the facilitator, to speak from the “I”.
Participants are showing up as individuals, not speaking for others. As the groups are composed in a balanced manner, there is no need for speaking for any category as a whole. Being their own self standing in their own shoes is what will make the conversation productive.
Success lies in creating inclusive spaces for dialogue where power balance is achieved and people with very different lived experiences and relationships towards the system can feel legitimate to express their own answer to important questions, while genuinely hearing the others.
Charlotte Hochman is the Executive Director of Wow!Labs, accelerating innovation for companies, cities and universities in emergent situations. She has founded incubators and designed curriculums for leading institutions. Charlotte is a Fulbright scholar, an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at INSEAD, Designer-in-Residence at CCA in San Francisco, a BMW Foundation Responsible Leader, and a panelist at Obama’s Presidential Summit. Discover her work and access her guide "People spaces: How to create, convene and take part meaningfully in new spaces online”.