Chapter 2: Effective Coordination through Conversations for Action

Effective coordination is essential for the success of any company. Poor coordination jeopardizes important business commitments both inside and outside the enterprise. It is a form of friction that produces delays and waste throughout a company. Companies cannot afford to tolerate this waste. Companies must focus on producing alignment within an organization to produce value for shareholders and customers.

Most of the thinking on coordination and processes has evolved from the traditions of information technology and industrial engineering. The focus has been on improving material, paper and data flows, and giving people greater access to information. Designers have made great advances in getting the right material and information to people in organizations for the sake of accomplishing their activities. But there are issues of coordination more fundamental than these, that, until recently, have not benefited from the same rigorous treatment. These issues are about coordinating people rather than things or information flows, building coherence between people’s interpretations intentions, and commitments.

How can people effectively intervene in this cycle of miscoordination and distrust, and begin to reverse it? The perspective we bring to the problem is the critical role of language. We often tend to de- emphasize the role of language in our lives and in our work. “Talk is cheap,” and “It's easier said than done,” are expressions we have heard many times. This common perception of language hides an important fact: language is our primary means for coordinating our activities. When you think about it, others in the company only know what you're currently working on when you or someone else speaks to them about it. Language will play a crucial role in any shared enterprise we take up and is essential for pursuing our cooperative activities effectively.

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