Project Management

Why I Focus On Conversations

From the The Project Shrink Blog
Bas de Baar is a Dutch visual facilitator, creating visual tools for dialogue. He is dedicated to improve the dialogue we use to make sense of change. As The Project Shrink, this is the riddle he tries to solve: “If you are a Project Manager that operates for a short period of time in a foreign organization, with a global team you don’t know, in a domain you would not know, using virtual communication, high uncertainty, limited authority and part of what you do out in the open on the Internet, how do you make it all work?”

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I read an article a couple of years ago that contained my missing link. It is an article called: “Culture and complexity” and it contains this paragraph:

“… culture is the result of all the daily conversations and negotiations between the members of an organisation. They are continually agreeing (sometimes explicitly, usually tacitly) about the ‘proper’ way to do things and how to make meanings about the events of the world around them. If you want to change a culture you have to change all these conversations—or at least the majority of them.”

Yes. Culture as emergence of conversations. And. Interventions should be focused on the conversations.

Thank you.


If you want to have a culture that is in tune with a project, you have to make sure certain essential conversations take place. With our team members, our stakeholders and ourselves. About the goals, the roles, what people have done before, the trip itself, the way interaction with the stakeholders is done, how we know how far we are. Stuff like that.

But here is the catch.

Conversations aren’t just about the content. They are about all the cues that come with them. The way you have these conversation, the way you talk in these conversations determine if people are willing to listen and engage.

When someone has a Powerpoint presentation crammed with bullet points of text, I tune out. I have to force myself to listen. Too bad, as the actual content might be great.

Others will thrive on all factual text. Oh yeah, baby!


The way these conversation take place, the words used, the symbols attached, determine if people enter the conversation.

A small thing can have a rippling effect. 

So. Now you know why I focus on conversations, the cues around conversations and the spaces in which the interactions take place.

I probably have to explain this to myself next week again.

Bas de Baar is a Dutch writer who draws. Documenting a world in transition. He loves to make inspirational cartoonstravel guides and other story-telling structures for the collaborators of our brave new world. 

Posted on: November 14, 2013 08:11 AM | Permalink

Comments (1)

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Too true, and all too often it is the tacit, unspoken, even sub-conscious agreements that really define the culture. Which of course are the hardest to discover and the hardest to change, as often the participants won't even know they exist, or if they do won't be keen to admit it.

The only way to deal with these is to immerse yourself in the culture, work inside this until you FEEL these agreements, and can then start to shift them. Some of my best culture changing came from embedding members of my team into the groups they were working with - not as observers, but actually doing the job of those teams for weeks, even months.

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