The cost of communication waste.

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.

3 thoughts on “The cost of communication waste.

  1. Nice post. I wrote about some of Bob’s work on Fat Behavior here:

    I also experienced Bob’s study of the infamous Wiremold rise and fall in the last decade culmaniting in a visit this week. The mindset or behavorial waste is the most critical element to supporting a culture of lean sustainability.

  2. Tim,

    Thanks for the comment. I think you’re spot on when you say that the mindset or behavioral waste is the most crucial element. In my own work, I’ve noticed that it’s terribly difficult to change the existing mindset. Perhaps it’s because behavioral waste is invisible? That raises the question of how to make that waste visible. Any thoughts?

  3. We find that what’s being called behavioral waste (we prefer focusing on communication as that’s what drives the behavior) is a function of the fear level in the group. The most fundamental element of a Lean Conversations paradigm is having an atmosphere of mutual trust, respect, and safety. To make that issue visible, address the fear. What’s the proverbial rhinoceros in the corner that no one will talk about (we call that a “Real Issue…”)? Address that one effectively within the group and the safety level starts going way up.

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