Friday, 5 June 2009

It’s all about interpersonal and organisational communication

Have you read any of Steve Denning’s books? More particularly are you following his latest campaign towards his forthcoming book on High Performance Teams? I bought and read his previous most recent book The Secret Language of Leadership. I have to say the word “secret” in the title put me off, but it sells books. . . . . . .

I’m drawn to Denning because of his communication-based perspective on leadership and change. I don’t think he has all the answers though he perhaps pretends to because that’s what the Business book market wants.

To me it’s the communication angle that’s the key. Denning’s big thing is deliberate, designed story telling. I have coached clients in his basic story telling process and they almost always find that it’s very effective. I use it myself with success.

I like Denning’s confronting conventional Management wisdom such as when he states outright that
Richard Hackman is wrong in asserting (in a May 2009 HBR interview) that leaders can’t guarantee to produce a high performance team. Denning admits that it’s hard and a radically different way of acting from the way most organizations are run today. Interactive communication is an essential ingredient and so is not-Management.

He sums up “[It’s about] creating exhilaration in the workplace, igniting lots of shining eyes and delight, and in the end inspiring people to reinvent themselves. Because of the results it is producing, a radical new way of managing work is emerging. It involves a different way of thinking about work, a different way of managing work, and a different way of participating in work. It isn’t a quick fix. It isn’t an incremental change or a shift at the periphery. When fully implemented, it affects everything in the organization. It entails fundamental change.”

Denning to me is one of the current applied versions of the seminal 1970s and following work of Chris Argyris, further developed by the likes of Peter Senge in the 1990s. It clearly takes a long while for a new good idea to get traction! Maybe GM’s bankruptcy will add weight the sea-change in Management thinking and practice. I hope so but I'm sceptical.

I’m re-reading Senge and Co’s “The Fifth Discipline Field Book” and subsequent “The Dance of Change” - good "how to" in there but not a pop read for the busy executive (the one who needs to change first).

For heavy-weight logic and argument I like
Karl Weick. His latest book (2007) is Managing the Unexpected. I like the way Weick is comfortable with "un-organisation". That, to me, is real project life: real business life; especially small business life.


  1. It's interesting to contrast high performing teams with high performing organisations. Have you read any of Weick's work on the latter?

  2. Thanks for the tip Peter. You'll see that I pick this up in future posts.