In recent years, a great deal of attention has been paid to what is generally referred to as a "business narrative" in which all manner of business concepts are presented within a story which consists of a sequential plot, a cast of characters, conflicts which generate interest and create tension, and then what is almost always a "happy ending." The best examples include Stephen Denning's Squirrel Inc., Eli Goldratt's The Agenda, and Marc Allen's Visionary Business.
After having read and then re-read it, I include Patrick Lencioni's Silos, Politics and Turf Wars among them. It is really quite entertaining as well as informative, indeed thought-provoking.
Here's the situation. Jude Cousins is a talented, energetic, and ambitious young marketing executive at Hatch Technology who, with his wife Teresa's support and encouragement, decides to leave his secure job after Hatch is purchased by Bell Financial Systems. He establishes an independent consulting practice and almost immediately obtains three clients: The Madison Hotel (San Francisco's oldest, largest, and most prestigious independent hotel), JMJ Fitness Machines (a manufacturer of high-end consumer and institutional exercise equipment), and Children's Hospital of Sacramento. Jude also agrees to help Father Ralph Colombano, pastor of Corpus Christi Church (in Walnut Hill, California) on a pro bono basis. Later, he adds his former employer as a consulting client but only after he has learned some important lessons.
One of the many challenges when writing a business narrative is to create fictional characters and relationships which are plausible. Although Lencioni calls his book a "leadership fable" (and it is), he anchors Jude in familiar, real-world situations during his journey of discovery so that the lessons he learns are relevant -- and applicable -- to most readers' own experiences. I also appreciate the fact that, while demonstrating with fictioinal characters how to destroy "the barriers that turn colleagues into competitors," he never allows those characters to sound like they are lecturing or preaching. Wisely, Lencioni includes only as much dialogue as is absolutely necessary. For example, involves Teresa Cousins only when it serves his narrative's purposesqe well-conceived novels have been ruined by clunky sub-plots? I can think of at least a dozen. The same is true of several films which have lurching back stories.) Silos, Politics and Turf Wars succeeds as a "realistic but fictional story" precisely because Lencioni achieves and then sustains an appropriate balance between what is fact (e.g. constant infighting among those in its workforce can tear an organization apart) and what is believable. After its "honeymoon," Cousins Consulting proceeds through a period which resembles a ride on a "roller coaster" until Jude experiences several "moments of truth."
Stated another way, if Jude were not a credible fictional character, nothing he does would be interesting and nothing he learns would be worth sharing. Moreover, what he learns is what Lencioni wants his reader to understand.
Lencioni has some quite serious objectives in mind. As he explains, "To tear down silos, leaders must go beyond behaviors and address the contextual issues at the heart of departmental separation and politics. The purpose of this book is to present a simple, powerful tool for addressing those issues and reducing the pain that silos cause. And that pain should not be underestimated." Indeed not.
One of Lencioni's cleverest devices is to have Jude complete a journey of discovery which reveals precisely what he (Lencioni) wishes to share with his reader. Hence the importance of the use of a third-person anonymous narrator which juxtaposes the reader (as observer) with Jude as well as with those with whom he interacts. Trust me, it works. Of much greater importance is what Lencioni has to say about how to reduce (if not totally eliminate) counter-productive "silos, politics and turf wars." He fully understands that some silos can be beneficial (usually on farms), probably agrees with President Harry Truman and others that politics are "the art of the possible," and recognizes that there are at least some "turf wars" that must be fought...and won. What he's concerned about in this book, obviously, are the contextual issues which can disrupt, weaken, and eventually destroy any organization. If its people are unwilling and/or unable to communicate, cooperate, and collaborate effectively between and among each other, they certainly cannot do so with anyone else in the organization's value chain.
Congratulations to Lencioni on a brilliant achievement.
In my opinion, the best advice on writing an effective business narrative is provided in Denning's The Leader's Guide to Storytelling, Annette Simmons' The Story Factor, and Doug Lipman's Improving Your Storytelling. Also worth consulting are Strunk and White's The Elements of Style and Brooks and Warren's Modern Rhetoric (although out-of-print, copies are available) which provides a brilliant explanation of effective exposition, description, narration, and argumentation.