Poor Communication in Your Organization
Typically in any organization there are always issues with communication. All organizations, large and small, are looking for solutions to improve communication. I have been leading people for the past 10 years, during which time I have experienced good communication and poor communication. I have categorized my experiences into three areas to be targeted in order to lend itself to better communication across the board. First and foremost is recognizing that potential barriers exist to begin with. As a leader it is important to recognize that there is always room for improvement and not to become complacent in the first place.
1. Chain of Command… Remember in elementary school playing the game “telephone?” My teacher used it as an example of how gossip spreads. We were all asked to form a circle. Then Mrs. Woodruff whispered a “secret” message in the first child’s ear. This message was then whispered from person to person around the circle until it returned back to Mrs. Woodruff. She then asked this child to repeat the final message aloud. To the astonishment of us all, that message seemed to be different from the one each of us had received around the circle. Her point was made! It has been my experience leading people that this childhood game still holds true. As messages are passed up or down through the layers of the organization, they pass through a number of different people who can add, take from, qualify or totally twist the original message. In my organization, communication begins with the directors who receive instruction directly from me. They are then asked to share this information with their group of front line agents. One way I try to make sure the directives or communication that I pass down actually get to the front-lines the way I intended is to randomly conduct “round table” discussions. I pull 3-5 front line agents in for a discussion that is very informal and ask specific questions to get a feel for the messages I have passed down and to make sure the director is doing their job. Give this a try, it is an extremely enlightening experience.
2. Authority…the very fact that you or I are in a leadership position or authority over another creates a barrier to open and free communication (in most cases). As a manager, it is our responsibility to hold employees accountable, perform employee reviews and create employee incentives. All of these things tend to lead people to give us the information they think we want to hear versus true frustrations, job problems or disagreement with our policies. Again, “round table” discussions are a forum I have found to gauge the true temperature throughout the organization. Of course, as I conduct these discussions, I have to build trust and not violate the confidentiality of the employees who are openly and honestly sharing. These round tables are usually conducted at a time without their director’s consent or knowledge. Again, the key to honest feedback is to create a trustworthy relationship that employees believe will not come back to hurt them later.
3. Silo Effect…I am a very big fan of the “principle of specialization”. This means I believe operations are more efficient when employees perform just one task or only certain aspects of a task in order for that job to be conducted at its highest level. One problem that arises with communication in this type of environment is each group begins to create “jargon” or “terminology” that are widely known and understood within their department, but completely foreign to outside departments. In my experience the best way to over come this is through having a commonly used terminology cheatsheet that is a living document and consistently current and accessible for all employees to view. It is amazing how many different definitions you might get for even the “most common” of terms.
No matter what your level in the organization, good communication is the responsibility of all employees. Hopefully, this posting will give you some insight and potential ways to overcome the communication barriers that may exist where you work.