conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Working Together: A Final Frontier

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Talk Inc. Buries the BS Meter01172014-tumblr_inline_mvvm6xmVFy1qj79oe

Collaboration is hard for a lot of reasons. One reason is the power distance between people in a company. How can I say what I really think when I know my boss disagrees? Can I have a real conversation with an automaton who spouts corporate messaging and controls my salary?

Talk, Inc.: How Trusted Leaders Use Conversation to Power their Organizations by Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind starts with good intentions: to lay out this new challenge of interacting with employees as if they had something worthwhile to say.

But I should back up: old styles of management were about command and control: I’m boss so I’ll tell you what to do. And you’ll do it. New ways of thinking about the work of leadership and managing tout a more generous and collaborative approach to personal relationships. But these collaborative ways still have a hard time sifting down through the ranks of gatekeeping managers who intuitively see their mission as that of controlling others.

Talk, Inc. has a terrific vision, but the first section (three chapters on intimacy) is off-putting in that it quotes CEOs and VPs and various bosses at length, each talking about all they are doing to encourage collaboration. 01172014-bs-meter-1But Groysberg and Slind may have done better to start at the other end: giving voice to employees who have been given a voice. As it stands, the first three chapters are a difficult slog because anyone who has spent time in a corporation will recognize the smarmy PR tone of the program-of-the-quarter. My corporate BS meter kept pinging into the red.

The book gets better, but all the way through I struggled with the “trusted leaders” part of the subtitle. For a book that intends to talk about the power of conversation, there is still an awful lot of command and control monologue. Whether it was the suits from Cisco or Hindustan Oil talking, it was hard to take their comments seriously.

01172014-Talk-9781422173336_p0_v1_s260x420Talk, Inc. is, however, smartly organized into four sections (Intimacy, Interactivity, Inclusion and Intentionality). Each section has a chapter that plays out the vision, followed by a chapter that shows a company trying to carry out that particular part of the vision, followed by a “Talking Points” summary that helps the reader play it forward. The Inclusion and Intentionality sections offer more thoughtful reasoning and vision-casting for changing corporate culture so real conversation can happen. Groysberg and Slind offer solid examples of organizations that work hard at listening. But this is a story that really needs to be told from the “newly-voiced” perspective.


Image credit: Bill Domonkos via 2headedsnake

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  1. […] and yet routinely fail to get them working together on big ideas? Why is true collaboration still a distant dream rather than today’s pressing […]

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