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Evolve from the balcony to the staircase

I love the Balcony and Dancefloor concept of Ron Heifetz of Harvard Business School (a prolific leadership authorand expert from Harvard - check his work out here). It has revolutionised many a leader's approach to leading. The metaphor exquisitely helps us to remember to either get out of the reactive and focussed nature of the dancefloor to see a bigger picture perspective, or to ensure that we are not making decisions from a far off and disconnected balcony.
In complex organisations, where there is often a lack of understanding of what is happening on the floor or what direction needs to be taken to move forward from a strategic perspective, it's the staircase that needs the work.

Is your business seeking to work with more agility and creatively? Co-creation and co-design sit firmly on the staircase. Design thinking works when the perspectives of strategic, long range and big picture (balcony) thinking join together with those dealing with the day to day delivery of the work (dancefloor), and the end users’ perspective. All are important – one not more than the other. Having conversations that explore, ideate these perspectives and ideas and then synthesise them into solutions is the staircase in action.
It's on the staircase that we start to co-create solutions from both perspectives, listening deeply, asking curious questions and letting go of the hierarchy of whose right to make better decisions. The staircase discussions require skill and a new way of interacting in organisations. It's collaboration in action. And it needs leaders to let go of the need to be right.

When the staircase is activated:

Hierarchy fades - positional power is put to the side to enable open and transparent discussion

Curiosity leads - our questioning skill about how we might do things differently creates a space of exploration rather than judgement

Listening deepens - we seek to understand perspectives and insights at a much deeper and informed level from each other

Trust and connection emerge - our understanding leads to seeing the situation with both empathy and a clearer lens, and the relationships strengthen as an outcome

Possibility appears - we are able to make decisions about future steps from a much richer and informed platform

As with any conversations in the workplace, tonality and mindset are key. When you’re discussing perspectives between the balcony view with those on the dancefloor, does your curiosity sound like wondering, or judgement? Judging people’s responses leads to shutdown and low level, transactional conversations. Activate deep listening and ask questions that deepen your understanding, and you’re well on the way to a robust, insightful and useful staircase conversation.
How strong is your organisation's staircase capability?

At the end of Term 3, I worked with all the educational system leaders in Tasmania. It was a conference with all early learning leaders, school leaders, adult learning leaders and department leaders. A real meeting of collaboration and learning from each other. We investigated the ways that they could increase the collective mindset for deeper collective efficacy in their settings and across the system. There was a definite buzz in the room, with people sharing their thoughts and listening deeply to work out ways forward… together.

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