Talk, Inc.: How Trusted Leaders Use Conversation to Power Their Organizations by Groysberg and Slind is a book with a lot of practical relevance to project leadership.
Talk, Inc.’s guiding premise is that the strength and consistency of a project’s culture can be judged by the quality of its communications. The “project conversation” not only manifests the culture, it also plays a key role in shaping it. Talk is a powerful tool for creating more effective project teams.
The authors point out that project members require a less hierarchical approach, one that acknowledges and supports how information actually circulates through a project. Project leaders can’t control this kind of talk, but they can engage in it, and in the process unleash energy greater than any leader can command.
The authors believe that effective project conversation always involves a combination of four elements: intimacy, interactivity, inclusion, and intentionality.
Intimacy means that talk takes place face-to-face: informally, between two people or in small groups. Project leaders who communicate intimately do so by talking to people at every level of the organization in ways that are personal, authentic, and transparent with regards to intent. They address real concerns in direct language that avoids euphemism and condescension. Because it is rooted in relationships, intimate talk demands that project leaders “get real,” meaning that they have to listen and to be willing to examine their own underlying motives and presumptions about the people with whom they are engaging.
Interactivity means that talk is two-way: there is give-and-take. Profoundly social by nature, interactive talk both elicits responses and provides a means for participants to pass on information. The authors note that interactivity is well served by social media platforms, which facilitate and sometimes mandate two-way communication. But they caution that such technologies are tools that, if misused, can just as easily be counterproductive. Chat windows, for example, are highly ineffective at generating interactive communication because participants perceive one another as “people in a box” rather than partners in an authentic conversation.
Inclusion means relying chiefly on project members’ talk to generate ideas and content. “If you let them build it, they will come,” write Groysberg and Slind. Use the intranet document project experiences, speak through blogs, and let the project team decide what to include . . . and exclude.
Intentionality means that talk is purposeful as well as flowing. Groysberg and Slind note that those who speak with intention do so with a sense of where they hope the conversation will lead and what they want to accomplish. In projects, intentionality is expressed by making sure internal conversations are aligned with personal and project goals.
Talk, Inc. makes a powerful case that effective talk is the primary means of motivating and inspiring loyalty among today’s increasingly social and connected workforce. Knowing what’s going on and feeling that one is part of a larger endeavor is the kind of nonmonetary reward that the new generations of project team members in particular are demanding.
Talk, when it is — intimate, interactive, inclusive, and intentional — is the cultural instrument required to get people engaged . . . and more productive.
James L. Haner