Archive for July 2012

Why Don’t We Train Our Managers (Part 5)

July 28, 2012

This week marks the 125th anniversary of Esperanto, the “universal” language comprised of unique combinations of world vocabularies and dialects.  We should applaud the vision, and lament its poor adoption, for we continue to struggle with communication – in personal relationships, within teams, between supervisors and worker bees.  I’ve often thought that any executive seeking a solution to the poor communication in her company ought to hire an Esperanto linguist and insist that everyone learn the new language and use it exclusively in meetings.

Apparently, many prefer the post-Babel confusion in their organizations because of a cynical or fearful belief that poor communication between and within working groups is a universal rule, like gravity or the inexorable physics of plant life.

And yet…

When a recent client (COO, great person, well-respected, sincere) complained about the communication within his organization (“…a perennial problem here…”) I asked him the following questions:

  • Do you have regular one-on-one’s with your staff?
  • Do you hold weekly meetings with the entire team?
  • When was the last time you convened an All-Hands meeting?
  • Do you travel to the company’s remote offices?
  • How often do you speak with customers (internal/external)?
  • How current is your departmental information on the company’s intranet?
  • How often do you simply “walk the halls” for casual (drive-by) conversations?
  • Is there a practice of cross-attendance between teams?

He sighed, and admitted that he was so busy, these things rarely happened – so many fire drills, so many unexpected demands, a relentless stream of urgencies that began Monday morning as soon as he walked in the door and continued until late in the evening on Friday.  He skipped lunches, answered email until midnight every night, often worked on the weekend simply to catch up.  He was exhausted and overwhelmed, and couldn’t imagine finding the time to try one of those suggestions.

One? 

The secret to solving organizational communication issues is not by trying one or another of the practices listed above, but all of them.  Consistently, so that everyone can begin to depend upon the (eventually) steady flow of information.  As for finding the time to do these things atop an already burdensome workload?  The truth (so plainly obvious, yet so easily ignored) is that 90% of the fire drills and unexpected requests (et. al.) are symptoms of poor communication practices – improving the bi-directional information flow within a system (engineers know this as a set of communications protocols between functional modules) improves the performance of the overall system.  In other words, he needed to solve the root cause of his organizational chaos rather than remaining preoccupied with the symptoms that seemed to require so much of his time.

Ultimately, communication is a participatory challenge, not the obligation of one individual.  By assigning one solution to each of his team, the entire group became responsible for communication, not just “the boss” although that was a good place to start.