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My gripe with the instruction to "improve communication" is that it's too broad. It's vague. It leaves wide open the options of what should be done.
The result? Nothing much gets done. Because such a directive outlines no detailed particulars, "communication" will remain fuzzy, despite all calls to improve it.
As evidence that "communication" is an overly-broad term, Amazon.com lists over 374,000 entries in their books section alone when doing a search for the word on their site.
Solutions are found in the specifics. Which communication method should be used? How often? For what reason? What guidelines or parameters will be established?
When everyone is made aware of and adheres to agreed-upon protocols, "communication," as it were, will improve.
Essentially, don't say "we need to improve communication." Be very specific. Something like, "We need to start using X twice a day / every morning / once a week / every month / etc. so that Y gets addressed, and Z will be our guidelines."
Here are some specific tools with a few pros and cons for each:
Pros: Fast and free (love that). It also creates a written record of conversation. It allows for rapid responses and multiple participants. Can be used among remote team members.
Intranet and/or internal blogs
Much the same as Email—fast, free, a written record, and rapid response capability. Big benefit: reduction of email. Centralized and web-based, accessible anywhere the Net is available, regardless of email availability. Additionally, RSS feeds can notify team members whenever additions are made.
Pros: Voice tone adds much understanding. Allows for remote participation. Get rapid decisions.
Face-to-face greatly improves transfer of knowledge/understanding/intentions (body language and voice tone are right there). Rapid decisions with instant team feedback.
Same as face-to-face but with the added benefit of engaging remote team members.
Reason: It's better to choose a communication tool co-workers will use. For example, if teleconferencing is the overwhelming preference for a particular team, there's no sense in forcing them to use videoconferencing just because the technology is available.
Forcing an unfamiliar technology on them may only serve to diminish the productivity of their meetings.
This is not to say that people shouldn't explore the benefits of using new technology. Just keep in mind that like anything else, a certain ramp-up period is always necessary when learning new tools. Good introductory training is a must for removing fears or other internal resistance.
My reason for focusing on this topic is that too often I've see production or design teams be told to "improve communications" after a stumble or a miscue. Person A didn't tell Person B that "X" was occurring, and it ended up costing the company a lot of money. Or Person A misinterpreted Person B's email, and a time-consuming mistake embarrassed the company.
The directive "you guys need to improve your communications" is a common reaction. But again, it's useless because it's too general.
To find a useful fix, the issue should be addressed just like any other problem:
Agreement on the answers is a must. Then agree on a specific form and frequency of communication that bridges any existing gaps.
Whatever you do, don't say "we need to improve communication" and then walk away. Remember - solutions are found in the specifics.
Dan Bobinski is a training specialist, author, and an accomplished keynote speaker. He is also the president of Leadership Development, Inc., providing workforce and management training to Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller, regional concerns for more than 18 years.
In addition to being a certified behavioral analyst, Dan holds an M.Ed. in Human Resource Training and Development, a B.S. in Workforce Education and Development, and he is currently completing his doctoral work in Adult and Organizational Learning at the University of Idaho.
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