Conversations that Count
Facilitating dialogue for problem solving, strategy and system change
You or your organisation face a problem, perhaps an opportunity. You discuss it in regular meetings but you can’t truly resolve it. It’s so easy to get stuck. I know, because I’ve been facilitating conversations for nearly 20 years, helping people to move beyond ‘stuck’ to coherent thinking and fresh ideas that can work.
“Peter is an experienced, gentle, yet challenging conversation strategist. Not only is he able to hold and host the conversation, he is also able to provide content with depth, all in his inimitable style – humour, compassion and punch – rolled into one. Peter really knows how to work the room to help groups think and feel together.”
I’ve discovered that the best conversations can dissolve the strata of power & seniority within a group to unleash a wealth of new thinking.
“Peter is an inspiration and has a way of connecting with people that makes them comfortable to think out of the box, to challenge, to learn and begin to create anew. He has a way of connecting the different levels within and across an organisation and creating an environment that allows for all voices to be heard and for concerns and possibilities to be explored together.”
I believe that deep, extended dialogue is one of the surest ways to bridge any divide, whether within a company, organisation, or society.
“I have had the privilege to work with Peter as a facilitator in the Eskom NGO Forum. Peter has a calm and approachable demeanor that encouraged all participants to make a meaningful contribution. With appropriate and incisive questions he also pushed both Eskom management and the Environmental NGOs to be more open to different perspectives. This created an open and trusting environment. More importantly, he made us deal with the difficult issues, the elephants in the room.”
My approach is usually to immerse myself within the group that I’m facilitating, while at the same time remaining independent enough to be a ‘critical friend’ and firm taskmaster.
“We had the pleasure of using Peter Willis as a facilitator for a number of strategic processes we embarked upon last year with our senior management group. Peter was excellent, grasped the culture of our company and its nuances extremely quickly and was able to tap into our requirements very easily, to the extent that it felt like he was one of us. He organised the processing of the meetings extremely efficiently and was able to drive all meetings to the point where real deliverable outcomes were a reality.”
Any group has the potential to think as a coherent unit – it just takes patience and an empowering ambience.
“Thank you, Peter, for your excellent facilitation of the strategic planning workshop for our Centre for Statistics in Ecology, Environment and Conservation. You helped us not only to decide on an exciting research agenda but also to strengthen our group identity.”
Dialogues for System Change
I have for years been interested in exploring how deep, diverse dialogue over sufficient time (that rarest of commodities in our age) could help create a real shift in some of society’s most intractable problems. To that end I am currently initiating a business-led inclusive dialogue process that will focus on one big challenge…and then another…and another. If you would like to know more, please ask.
I grew up in the English countryside and studied history at Oxford University. My first job was in the UK Department of Industry, liaising with the French government on the Concorde project. Thereafter, through the 1980’s, I created and ran several small businesses in the field of publishing and marketing. In 1993 I moved to Cape Town with my wife (a South African) and our small son in time for the first democratic elections. From 1995 to 2014 I pioneered in the field of sustainability, helping leaders make strategic sense of major social and environmental trends and for the last 12 years of this period was the South African Director of the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. In that role I designed and facilitated numerous senior executive programmes, including the annual Prince of Wales Business & Sustainability Programme.
Since 2014 I have been a freelance facilitator and advisor. I also mentor a number of young men and women and several senior professionals. I remain a Senior Associate of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.
“Circles in a Circle”
1923 by Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866 – 1944)
Kandinsky’s work has always moved me when I’ve encountered it in museums. I only recently learned that he was effectively the founder of modern abstract art and was constantly exploring the interaction between points, lines and planes. This painting not only illustrates that exploration, it also speaks to me of the complexity, creativity and ultimately the beauty that can arise when a conversation is conducted within a well-defined and safely held circle. I also find it has something of the quality of a mandala and my mind dwells upon it very easily and peacefully.