Seeing the Structure of Conversations with Marsha Acker


What is your conversation lens? How do you even see what's happening in a conversation at work or at home? How do you know it's going well or awry? How do you get conversations "back on track"? And how do you see and *shape* how *you* show up in them? How do you know what you bring into the room, good and not so good? In short, how do you become a mindful facilitator?

Conversations impact the outcomes we get: Conversations propel people  and organizations forward, or they get stuck: The groundhog day conversation! Marsha Acker, the CEO of TeamCatapult, sat down with me to talk about her unique view on these things and much more, along with her passion for ending stuck conversations in organizations. Marsha has over 22 years of experience designing and facilitating organizational change initiatives and TeamCatapult has been helping develop leaders and transform organizations since 2005.

 Meeting someone with a *totally* different "heritage" who has come to some very similar conclusions about the nature of conversation design is truly delightful!

What I loved about chatting with Marsha is connecting around a sound that's deepening in me:

That facilitation is about being conscious of what conversational  tools you pick up: Knowing where and when you're stuck and picking up the right tool for the moment, instead of the habitual one.

The Structural Dynamics concept (scroll to the bottom for a nutshell description) of a conversational operating system is deeply resonant with the three creative energies of Open, Explore and Close that I sing about non-stop and it was amazing to get her take on the Four Conversational Actions, which give a better shape to idea of "threading" in a conversation than any model I've encountered yet. It's really profound to see how each time someone speaks they are shaping the course of the conversation, helping it to slow down or speed up. I geeked out pretty hard with her...nevertheless I think you'll find a lot of amazing tools to bring into your own work!

I'll link to some of her upcoming workshops in the show notes: Her company offers a host of amazing experiences, from a 2-day Advanced Facilitation workshop to a 5-day Agile Facilitation and Coaching Intensive with several dates coming up in May and June.

Do check out the show notes, where I'll break down some of Marsha's points on Structural Dynamics and share lots of other links.

You'll also learn about:

The Facilitator's Stance: Finding another place to lead from. The "front" of the room is familiar to most, but facilitation can increase your "range" of leadership capacity.

Developing a shared "pool of meaning" to help people get to the same "place" together

Setting agreements with your group: Asking people to  say what needs to be said *in the room* so it can be processed and worked with.

Marsha's Three key takeaways to transform conversations at work:

1. Start with the Tusks: Find the conversation that matters - the critical or most stuck conversation. Start where it's hot. Go to the elephant in the room!

2. Look at how *you* show you are is how you'll facilitate.

3. Bring Your Authentic Voice: Find your natural stance and work from there, instead of trying to imitate someone else's.

Structural Dynamics in a Nutshell

1. Action:

A move (sets direction)

A follow (continues)

 An Oppose (offers correction)

A Bystand (morally neutral comment)

2. The Language or communication domain is where we're speaking from or our goals in talking

Power: Using language in order to get something done.

Meaning: Asking for evidence and action that can support their desired outcome.

Affect: This is about using emotive language to affect feeling and to develop connection and intimacy with others.

3. The Operating System:




Links and Workshops from Marsha

Advanced Facilitation: Self-Mastery and Reading Group Dynamics is June 27-28, 2018 in Washington, DC Sarah Hill and I will be co-leading this workshop. You will learn about your own model for communication and how to shift the nature of the discourse in conversations and how to work more deeply with group dynamics to become a more confident and effective facilitator.


Reading the Room by David Kantor. This books tells the story of a coach working with an executive team and how they learned to see and shift the structure of their conversations

Where did you learn to behave like that? by Sarah Hill.

In the fourth level of structural dynamics is the important role that childhood stories play in how we behave in the room today. Sarah tells many stories, including her own, of how she worked to become aware of the story and change the narrative.

Diagnosing and Changing Stuck Patterns in Teams

What to do when change requires a new operating system

Big Apple Scrum Day, New York May 11, I’m giving a talk on Diagnosing and Changing Stuck Patterns in Teams. This is a brief introduction to the model of Structural Dynamics

Marsha's Full Bio, Credentials and company links:

Marsha Acker is a leadership and team coach whose passion and expertise is helping leaders and teams identify and break through stuck patterns that get in their way of high performance. Marsha is the CEO of TeamCatapult, a leadership development and organizational change firm, founded in 2005. She has over 22 years of experience designing and facilitating organizational change initiatives.

She has served for six years as the track chair for defining the ICAgile Coaching and Enterprise Coaching learning objectives and is currently a member of the ICAgile Agile Coaching Expert Certification panel. Marsha is a Certified Professional Facilitator (CPF), Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC), Professional Certified Coach (PCC – ICF), Certified Interventionist in Structural Dynamics and Changing Behavior in High Stakes (Kantor Institute and Dialogix), Organizational and Relationship Systems Coach (Center for Right Relationship), Certified Change Management Professional (CMP), and an ICAgile Certified Expert Agile Coaching.


Twitter: @marshaacker and @teamcatapult2

Facebook: @teamcatapult2