Book review by Small Business Trends
The following review was published by Pierrer DeBois on Small Business Trends on 21 Sep 2014:
I’ve seen a ton of books on how to work on teams, but let’s face it. Not every group is perfect, and interpersonal dynamics will lead to conflict at some point. The rise of entrepreneurial activity online also means conflict can occur. I know I’ve seen my fair share over the past 5 years, and I know many of you have seen even more.
To set better expectations from your groups, read the tips from the new bookBlamestorming: Why Conversations Go Wrong and How To Fix Them by Rob Kendall, (@robkendall) I learned about it while browsing NetGalley and picked up a copy. The perspective offered by Kendall outlines a solid framework to make working together work well.
Scale Projects, Not Arguments
Blamestorming is a type of discussion in which a group assigns responsibility for a failure or mistake. It can creep up as a project is struggling to complete milestones or is approaching a point of failure. Kendall brings a wealth of experience. Based in the United Kingdom, Kendall has been a highly respected management consultant and authority in the field of communication over the past 20 years. He has coached teams at many international companies including American Express and Zurich Banking.
Kendall’s background makes me appreciate the book’s tone even more. While having worked with larger firms, Kendall has tailored his suggestions for smaller firms as well. The book centers on warning signs when a blamestorm is coming, and how to best avoid needless conflict. There are 20 self-contained chapters, 19 of which get into one of four aspects that can occur, according to Kendall:
- The Tangle — misunderstood intentions, which lead to uncertainty and poor expectations.
- The Big Arguments – when conversation spiral out of control.
- The Bad Place – where you are in the middle of a horrible conversation.
- The Lock Down – when feelings are withheld, limiting progress towards meaningful solutions.
Much of the book does emphasize the causes for “The Big Arguments” but also helps to reveal how and why these aspects happen.
Putting Prevention Into Action
I liked how the chapters are laid out. There are actionable “What To Do“ suggestions at the end of each chapter, with a summary lesson statement that is perfect for busy minds to remember. This statement from chapter one rung true for me:
“Don’t just be in conversations; observe them.”
I’ve observed conversations when possible, but some times one needs a means to know how to handle what they have observed. That’s where the “What To Do” comes in. You need a few straightforward words that elaborate to stir deeper thoughts or appreciation. The What To Do chapter certainly contains straightforward stirring commentary. Here’s an example:
“Becoming an expert starts with being curious about the dynamics of conversation. Take time to consciously step back from the content of conversations you’re having and observe what moves them forward or brings them to a grinding halt.”
A few of the chapters have ideas that you may have heard before. But despite the standalone design of each chapter’s topics, all the chapters combine to paint an effective and actionable picture of how to consider what you observe. Check out this passage from chapter 13 about language and what it can reveal:
“Our language provides an insight into our past. For example, the average work meeting contains terminology that reflects our bloody heritage. We talk about being held to ransom or going in for the kill when closing a deal…Such expressions are like a plane’s vapor trails, leaving evidence of what’s gone before….Language also provides intelligence about the way someone processes information. If a person says I need to think about this, it probably indicates that they’re quite reflective in nature.”
Who Would Benefit Most From This Book
Business owners who are expanding their operations from being a solopreneur to a small team will definitely want to give this book a read. Those who have development teams, particularly software and web development, will consider this a useful change up from books that focus on project management techniques.
And to be fair, this book can extend into personal conflicts – after all, arguments are not just within a manager’s office.
Chapter 8 examines the addicted advice giver, admonishing those who think they can fix every problem. A parent learning to let children solve their own problems could appreciate Kendall’s view. Chapter 7 examines fears, featuring an interesting juxtaposition: A professional’s realization against an interview comment Judy Dench made about her success – the idea of living with a fear, but working to accomplish a task. These type of comparisons reminded me of the book Clutch, and how its author Paul Sullivan examined one aspect of life, sports, against professional performance.
Expecting perfect relationships in every business relationship is to also expect unicorns to bring cash infusions to every small business. Reading Blamestorming will not create an environment for perfect relationships – and cash-laden unicorns, for that matter. But it will usher an environment where everyone can communicate effectively and respectfully.