It happens everywhere, in companies of all sizes. It happens all too often. And no doubt, it’s happened to you.
Your project is rolling along. It is on schedule, and perhaps even under budget. All indications are it will be delivered to a satisfied client just as promised. Then, with no warning, it’s off track. A step in the process has been implemented incorrectly (or left out entirely). A modification has been ignored or worse, executed and then reversed down the line.
The easiest question to ask is always who dropped the ball? Somebody did something wrong and there’s a rush to find out who. Most of the time, however, it’s the wrong question.
The right question to ask is who was out of the loop? The communications loop.
In an age when communicating is easier, with more ways to engage others than ever before, lack of communication in the workplace remains a problem in most organizations. An argument could be made that more ways to communicate has even diluted further the ready flow of information.
Communications breakdowns happen everywhere: employee to employee; management to employee, employee to management, company to customer. Too often, communications suffer from what’s been called the silo effect (vertical communications within a department with no sharing with those in other areas). Communications silos hamper your operation and, if allowed to continue, can lead to conflict within any organization.
It doesn’t have to be so. While there are dozens of ways to break down silos and improve communications among all stakeholders, here are four easy solutions you can implement now.
Emphasize teamwork. Almost every company relies on teams or departments to carry out the routine functions that drive it. Somehow, even in the smallest of companies, information does not organically filter out. It requires focus. A cross-departmental system is easy to develop. Whether it’s a spreadsheet that is reviewed manually, or any number of cloud-based project management tools now available, keeping project details in front of the entire team is crucial. This is especially trying when tasks overlap (and for whom the responsible department might be overlooked completely). Making communication a strategic priority is the first two to avoiding confusion and conflict between team members and the ultimate failure to achieve objectives.
Share resources. Some departments work better together than others. If one area has a method that works, encourage sharing of those methods with others. For example, the system an administrative worker uses to notify others in advance that he will need to use the copy machine for an entire day to complete a project may work equally well in the shipping department where monthly subscriptions monopolize the postage meter. Creating an environment where successful communications systems are shared among departments can benefit the entire organization.
Reduce uncertainty. As much as possible, standardize how information flows from project start to project finish. Create coding that, once learned can be interpreted by anyone in the production chain. Faulty information creates uncertainty, and uncertainty always leads to stress and conflict. If one employee is waiting for another employee to deliver key information necessary to complete his or her portion of a process and the other employee does not respond in a sufficient timeframe, the first employee may be forced to begin in order to deliver in a timely manner. If the employee guesses wrong, others down the production chain may suffer from this uncertainty. Create a system that keeps data flowing and information clear.
Eliminate finger pointing. Finally, eliminate the question of who dropped the ball. There is nothing worse than when the solution of the problem becomes identifying who made a mistake. Mistakes belong to the entire organization. Teams rarely fail due to the incompetence of one player on the team. By encouraging a one-for-all mentality, everyone benefits by helping each other, and communication improves.
Make breaking down communication silos a goal for 2017 for happier customers or clients, and an improved, more open internal culture.