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Tony Melville is co-owner of Dialogix with Sarah Hill his business partner.  Dialogix facilitates powerful conversations across boundaries working with top teams globally. Tony Melville is a former Chief Constable of the UK Police Service  where he spent 34 years of his career. In 2010 he was chosen to lead the National Transformational Change Program for the entire UK police service. Tony is skilled  in behavioural change and organisational interventions, hostage negotiation and crisis management.

Show Notes

Podcast episode summary: Tony appreciates the skill inherent in productive conversation and how being unskilful as a Leader working in organisations can lead to harm. This conversation ,by way of understanding Structural dynamics and dialogue , deconstructed & demystified the often-nebulous nature of our conversations to provide a lens for seeing what is or is not taking place. Tony described the first level of structural dynamics and explained dialogue to show that in combination we can have very different conversations on teams.


Points made through the episode: 

  • As a hostage negotiator Tony valued the importance of face to face communication and more importantly skilful communication
  • He also realised the harm unskilful communication can have on organisations and the people who inhabit them
  • Important to grasp insight on self, your behavioural repertoire, adopting a mindset that allows for the collective wisdom to shine and the nature of complex systems
  • Structural Dynamics helps a person understand their preferences in communication, what they might avoid and why and where that story started.
  • Structural Dynamics reveals, by way of the four levels David Kantor describes in his theory of communication , the structure of what is happening in a conversation.
  • It is a complex theory, but it is also easy to comprehend. Level one comprises four action stances, Making Moves, Follow, Oppose and Bystand. All four are necessary in a productive conversation and the use of one or two can lead to inaction and worse dysfunction on a team
  • Being able to read the room, decipher what is happening, notice what is missing, see where participants are getting stuck is a fantastic skill for a leader /team member to possess
  • Dialogue is a shared enquiry, a way of thinking and reflecting together where people suspend judgements, voice their ideas and respectfully listen. It is infinitely more generative than debate, winning or being preoccupied with solo runs or monologues.
  • Dialogix approach is to conduct behavioural profiles with individuals on teams, interviews and interventions that typically run over a period of time to allow for real behavioural change
  • Useful resources to consider as a leader/team member include David Kantor’s book “Reading the room” Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together by William Isaacs and The Tso of Dialogue by Sarah Hill and others just published.
  • Leaders need to unlearn the habitual use of skills and practices that got them to their new role and instead focus on what the organisation needs of them now. Leaders need to develop and grow to fulfil needs of new roles.
  • Tony gave examples of what he had to unlearn, skills that proved very effective as a detective & hostage negotiator were not the same skills required as Chief Constable
  • Important to recognise there is always a hierarchy in systems and organisational life no matter how seemingly flat.
  • In Policing it is often much more evidenced by way of for example the symbol of the police uniform. People can and were extremely deferential. To get at more oppose in the organisation , necessary for the order of change required Tony and his top team needed to change and create a safe place for people to feel OK to challenge.
  • Fear is real in a hierarchical situation and important that fear is addressed, and safety is cultivated
  • Get practiced at noticing conversations, start noticing your own team meetings, who is making moves, who is following, who is doing the oppose and is there anyone offering a bystand? Notice the quality of the conversation when any of these actions are missing. Adust accordingly and notice the results.
  • At its simplest if anyone or everyone could grasp the concept that in any conversation having these four action stances improves the productivity of the conversation in terms of decisions, discussion and alignment.
  • Find the time to pause and slow down to get perspective


Quotable quotes “Finding the way to bring the stakes down for you & others is likely to lead to better interaction, decision making & productive conversations”  


Resources: the following include the resources we alluded to over the course of our conversation


  1. Kantor, David. Reading the Room: Group Dynamics for Coaches and Leaders
  2. Isaacs, William. Dialogue and the art of thinking together
  3. Hill, Sarah ,Lawrence, Paul. The Tao of Dialogue

Tara Nolan

Author Tara Nolan

I wasn’t always a coach, in fact I never conceived I would be a coach, the word simply wasn’t in my lexicon. I love, however, where I have landed. The truth is I really did not know what I wanted to be when I first started. I had a vague inkling I wanted to be successful but that was the sum of my plan

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