Dwight Frindt over at 2130 Partners just published a white paper on "Lean Conversations" (download here). It's an interesting look at how the way we communicate within an organization can create waste. Dwight defines lean communication as a style that uses
less of everything: less intellectual effort, less time devoted to non-value adding conversations, less emotional energy expended, and less time to produce outcomes desired by a team of people or the organization overall. They are designed to eliminate the friction and waste from your own interactions and throughout your organization that have resulted from unproductive, unexamined conversational patterns.
Dwight's piece echoes Bob Emiliani's award winning paper, Lean Behaviors. Bob distinguishes between "lean behaviors" (those consistent with and supportive of lean principles) and "fat behaviors" (those that undermine lean and create waste). Bob writes that
the ability to communicate ambiguously and without ever making a commitment results in the avoidance of conflict. Refinement of this skill reduces people’s ability to say what they mean, sometimes even in the simplest of conversations, and forces other people to “read between the lines." If such behavior becomes the norm, then the unintended consequence is an organization that cannot effectively discuss important issues. Business problems linger unresolved, often for years, and it becomes increasingly difficult to confront the issues. Ignoring problems leads to repetitive errors that consume resources whose focus is usually on short- term solutions to appease management.
Conversations are reduced to simple comments, obligatory discussions, or debilitating debates…. Information becomes closely guarded, the transfer of knowledge is biased towards agreement or good news, and learning is stunted so that an organization is not able to accurately assess its competitive position.
Okay, so this all sounds very academic and far removed from what you deal with on a daily basis. But think about the pointless meetings, poorly-timed interruptions, meandering conversations, and unclear directives that plague your days. Think about how they undermine your ability to do your work well by robbing you of focus, clarity, and time to solve problems. That's significant.
Dwight's paper contains a short diagnostic that might be helpful. If you're serious about changing the way your office functions, it's a good place to start.