If you thought novels and management theories were unlikely bedfellows, think again - there's a whole subsection of business books known as 'business novels'. Set in fictional companies, these 'fables' attempt to demonstrate new management theories through the actions of their make-believe characters. Dan Brown or John Grisham page-turners they are not, but the device can be a useful one, if executed properly.
Take Patrick Lencioni's The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Lencioni creates a fictional internet company of 150 employees on the west coast of America. The dotcom business has started well, but after a couple of years - and despite having better qualified staff and more cash than its competitors - it has begun to lose its sheen. The story follows a new chief executive who helps her managers understand why they are not performing at their best.
Competitive advantage boils down not to finance or strategy, but to functional teams. All managers, from chief executives to junior charity managers, must strive to create teams that perform at their best. According to Lencioni, the way to do this is by avoiding the five dysfunctions that can befall a team: the absence of trust; fear of conflict, a lack of commitment; avoidance of accountability; and inattention to detail.
"All great relationships require productive conflict in order to grow," he says. "This is true in marriage, parenthood, friendship and certainly business."
- Emma De Vita is editor of the books pages on Management Today