November 2012

One of the joys of working as a management consultant is the people you meet. A couple of weekends ago I held a workshop for a youthful management team – the focus being communication. It was an eye opener! Consider this.

Each member of the team is a highly intelligent, motivated, and articulate individual. Yet from my previous interactions, I’d noticed that the team had lost the habit of properly talking to one another. So what?

Well it was damaging the business for a start.

How so? Well, how about management meetings where the same voices are heard. Meaning that the same voices are also not heard – yet all equally intelligent and committed? A formula for running a business at half-speed if ever there was one!

Everyone knows how youngsters communicate these days…

But look what's happening in the workplace:

Set this against office life of the 60’s. There has to be a reason why MadMen, the US award winning sitcom about work/life at the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce advertising agency is so, well, award-winning.

For a start there’s something missing in Dan Draper’s world. There are no computers on desks, emails to check, or headphones to block out people. Instead there’s a palpable sense of something very human; an electric undertow of chatter, small talk, intrigue, power, gossip, and yes - sex.

It’s what used to be called the ‘office buzz’. And that’s what was missing these days.

But where’s the relevance to business?

Well, the office ‘buzz’ was/is fundamentally about communication. And the word ‘buzz’ is no accident - redolent as it is of a productive bee hive; perfectly coordinated, each member working in sync, with a perfect and intuitive understanding of their role. It means that individuals know what’s going on, and are part of it. And guess what; it’s good for business.

But don’t take my word for it.

“With remarkable consistency, the data confirmed that communication indeed plays a critical role in building successful teams. In fact, we’ve found patterns of communication to be the most important predictor of a team’s success. Not only that, but they are as significant as all the other factors—individual intelligence, personality, skill, and the substance of discussions— combined.”

- Harvard Business Review April 2012: The New Science of Building Great Teams by Alex “Sandy” Pentland

No shortage of buzz in this office:

As a result of lessons drawn from the Harvard Business Review and the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce advertising agency, here are a few of the steps that my team have now taken:

  • Headphones off
  • No more emailing when face to face talking/phoning will do the trick
  • And making sure that everyone i.e. the more reserved individuals (particularly in important management meetings) – gets the same airtime! This is CRUCIAL!

The jury is still out. But the feedback so far is positive. And the company is heading for a record month. Can’t be doing any harm. If you’d like to discuss communication – you know what to do. Pick up the phone!

Meanwhile, here’s a date night without texting. You choose.