Having observed a lot of meetings and team activities I have concluded that many workers speak “Office Funagalo”. Author McCall Smith tells us that Funagalo a language invented for giving instructions in African mines is good for telling people what to do: it has “many words for push take, carry, load, and no words for happiness” (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency).
Funagalo’s limited repertoire restricts speakers’ range of possible actions and responses. Researchers report that this kind of inflexible language narrows the range of behaviours that occur when a team works together.
Office Funagalo has no words to express support, acknowledgement or appreciation. Speakers can give or receive instructions, or criticise others. But such language leads to impoverished interactions among team members and damages performance.
Tony goes on to cite research which suggests higher performing teams have greater levels of appreciation, and more willingness to enquire than to advocate. I sometimes work with Virginia Satir’s Temperature Reading approach, which creates room for appreciations and puzzles as well as information and complaints. In doing so, I think it helps teams create more space to escape the Funaglo trap.