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Building Better Business Book Club 

Reading, sharing insights, getting recommendations, staying informed.

A Buzz in the Building by Kate Mercer

This is a book for anyone thinking about, or in the midst of, building a business, a business team or working with others. I found the structure of this book to be really useful. Kate has written 10 chapters (and a conclusion). Each of the 10 chapters is written to a particular and consistent style, which makes the book easy to navigate. The opening of each chapter provides context, and then identifies the causes of the issues she describes. Giving us insights into the prevailing mindset that exists in organisations, generally, followed by a suggestion of a more productive mindset enables us to understand more about the causes and solutions, some of which can be counter-intuitive. After all, if they were intuitive then businesses would self correct, and they don’t. The chapters go on to discuss discussion how that alternative mindset might apply and what the impact of doing so would be.

The structure makes this an easy book to read, but the content and the value of it, is more powerful than that rather simplistic description implies.

In the 10 chapters, Kate discusses the nature of organisation starting out by using an effective analogy of a beehive. She correctly identifies that we all have a role to play in creating a healthy and thriving hive. She addresses the reality that the hierarchies and structures within organisations are both important to the operation, and yet they do, and must, change as the organisation and its environment change. 

In my own work with businesses. I’ve seen many struggle at various points in their growth cycles. Typically this is where the organisational structures needed to change, but the levels of inertia and pressure to retain the status quo can, and do, hold back development. 

In one chapter the important interplay between business performance and individual development is discussed in detail along with how those two things need to be kept in harmony. That raised a small cheer from me, as this is so often overlooked. For many business owners as the organisation develops, the goals, personal and organisational, change from one of expert at doing, to mastering leadership and the different styles that requires.

In my own work I believe that this change is what happens when somebody who is good at what they do, a “practitioner” develops their individual skill and expertise and becomes recognised as an expert in their field. At that stage, they will continue to do most of their work delivering the product or service of the business. It’s not enough. As they muster and gain the wisdom and insight that is needed to understand all aspects of their business then they must take a leadership role. In that role they will develop others to deliver whilst they can increasingly focus on building better business.

A Buzz in the Building moves on to talk about how individuals must stand back from the day-to-day work and start looking out for where the organisation needs tweaking, working on the business, not in it. I think this is a critical element, and one worthy of study and the time and effort to hone the skills and deliver great work. Anyone seeking to run a business with others, employees perhaps, or with associates and outsourced partners, has to be competent to survive and expert to succeed.

It’s this leadership that is needed is that the crux of the strategy of every business that excels. After all, strategy without leadership is just so many good ideas. Strategy without leadership rarely delivers any real value. The author recognises this wholeheartedly but from a very practical point of view. The book also looks at a real challenge that most leaders face of having to change the nature of their relationship with those, with whom they work. We’re all in this together gradually evolves to have a hierarchy, and works better because of it. Nobody can be the leader of an organisation, a boss, and a friend and peer. These roles are incompatible and over the years I’ve seen those who try to be both fail to be either, over and over. I’ve tried it too, it’s not pretty. 

Yet for most businesses, the people holding those roles will have been peers, they will have been friends. Now they need to find a new way to structure the relationship. Here I think the book provides a great case study, and some thought provoking ideas.

The final three areas of business leadership that the book addresses are, I think, vital in any organisation, setting the (right) culture, being more self-aware of your personal impact, and adapting your style at the right time for the situation. These three things are, in my opinion, critical to any business, and these chapters are worthy of re-reading regularly. 

It really doesn’t matter whether you’re intending to build a larger organisation with more employees than you can possibly imagine, or a lifestyle business with just yourself directly employed. We all have teams, employees, suppliers, associates, partners, who provide the services that the business needs. The culture that you’re creating for yourself, your own style and approach, and how you are seen by others, customers, or the market generally are all critical to success. 

This is a book which I think sets a great foundation for the key elements of running any successful, exciting, business. Regardless of who you are, regardless of the size of your business (either now, or that it will become) understanding how to create a buzz in your building will make a difference. That is something we should all seek to do. 

Let’s get Buzzing.