Sandwiches, silos and sharing: Why conversation matters

Bagels, by Ezra.Wolf, on Flickr

Bagels, by Ezra.Wolf, on Flickr

As I work with leaders and leadership teams, at some point in our work we almost inevitably arrive at the clear insight that more, and more effective conversations in the organization, will lead to greater effectiveness and higher performance.

In the absence of effective conversations, crucial information does not get flowed through to where it is needed in a timely way. This results in inefficiency, missed opportunities, stresses and strains on relationships, blaming, and a whole host of other negative outcomes.

Why, if it is so obvious on reflection that effective conversations are necessary, is it so easy for leaders and teams to not have the necessary conversations?

Peter Bregman’s story of his attempts to get an open-faced bagel, with cream cheese and salmon on both sides highlights some of the factors at play. . .

Despite two attempts to get his seemingly simple order right, Bregman settles for a bagel with salmon on half of each half, and cream cheese on half of each half.

What makes this more than a simple “bad restaurant” story is Peter’s follow-up with the waiter as to why, even though he knew the order was not right, he did not communicate directly with the chef to get it right.

The waiter’s answer: He did not want to risk offending the chef by passing on the critical information about what the customer actually wanted.

Here are a few lessons to highlight from this story – lessons that apply far beyond the world of open-faced sandwiches.

We need to understand that the complexity of work in most cases requires collaboration. This applies at the level of getting a sandwich right, and at the level of getting our marketing strategy right.

We all need to shift towards a mindset that accepts the interdependency of work, and towards a sense of shared responsibility for outcomes. We need others to do our work well.

As leaders we need to ensure that we create contexts and systems that support collaboration, connection, conversation, and communication. We need to make it easy, not hard, for information to flow between and among the interdependent members of the system.

Everyone needs to have the courage to have conversations that will allow the sharing of information and insights that will lead to effective collaborative efforts.

The courage to have these conversations will grow as we strengthen our collective mindset of collaboration, while also developing our conversational competence.

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