Workplace communication is integral to every organisation. Still, many companies struggle to cultivate communicative company cultures. According to one study, 60% of companies don’t have a long-term strategy for internal communications.
Numerous other studies illustrate the negative impact that poor communication has within the workplace. If left unchecked, it can create a domino effect of unhappy and unproductive team members.
One of the primary reasons poor communication remains unaddressed for so long is that management fails to recognise communication issues. Understanding the signs and treating the problem goes a long way towards helping your company overcome your communication challenges and grow stronger as a team and business.
Signs your company has communication issues (& solutions)
Poor communication and common communication barriers can go undetected for long periods, masked as poor performance or inability to follow instructions. But in many cases, it’s not the employee who needs fixing; it’s the entire communication structure within the organisation.
Even the most talented employees will be unable to perform to the best of their abilities if the company lacks proper communication protocols. Here are a few signs that you need to improve communication in your organisation:
Problem: Lack of trust across different departments
If there’s a lack of trust between departments, projects can quickly fall apart. Individual employees may hesitate to work with others or share their thoughts, which is common in workplace cultures where specific departments are given more credit and responsibilities than others.
Solution: Eliminate rigid team structure
Separating your employees into departments helps keep the company organised, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But siloed teams require a very precarious balance and can create a few common communication barriers. As much as you need different departments, you also need to encourage those departments to work together. Create tasks that offer opportunities for your employees to collaborate with members of other departments.
Another way to build better relationships between departments is to allow open meetings within those departments. For example, if you’re having a marketing meeting, allow members of departments to sit in on them.
This gives them a chance to see their colleagues at work and learn more about how other departments handle their projects and manage goals.
Problem: Employees frequently report mistakes that other employees make
Whether you call it “tattling,” “telling,” “snitching,” or “reporting,” it’s all the same; your employees are coming to you to complain about a mistake another employee made. This is a clear sign of employee dysfunction, particularly when it’s frequently happening.
In some cases, employees tell on their co-workers to absolve them of personal responsibility for something that went wrong. Perhaps they’re overcompensating for a missed opportunity or delayed deadline and want to cover their tracks by placing blame on others.
And in other cases, employees “tell” on each other because they want to grow rapport with management. In reality, this type of back-door reporting only highlights the fear and uncomfortability your team has with one another.
Solution: Don’t beat around the bush
In a company-wide (or department) meeting, inform your staff that telling on one another isn’t doesn’t help. In the majority of cases, it only hurts the situation, results in more meetings and mediation, and detracts from the work at hand.
Let your team know that if an individual feels as though an employee has made a mistake, they should talk to them directly and with an empathetic tone. Remind them that they’re there to help each other, not bring each other down.
If a mistake is major or attempts at speaking to the employee aren’t working, the final step should be to talk to upper management.
Problem: The team forgot its mission
Most companies start with small teams and humble beginnings. No founder or business owner set out to create a divided or toxic company culture. Chances are, when you started your company, you created a business plan and mission statement.
Your mission statement summarised your values and goals and outlined the core purpose of your business’ existence. After a while, you might notice that the company you are today no longer aligns with the plan and mission statement you created.
Solution: Go back to your roots
It’s not uncommon for companies to lose sight of their mission; in fact, it can happen seemingly overnight. The growth of your business can exacerbate the deterioration of your mission. Now is a good time to go back to your roots.
Go back to the business plan you originally created and take a look at your executive summary. Your executive summary highlighted what your business was all about, the goals you had, and what made you unique.
Do those core values still hold true? Share your executive summary and mission statement with your team. Make it a collaborative exercise by asking them to contribute to it and redefine it.
What core values are important to them? What mission do they feel confident standing by? Including them in this process reminds them that their opinion is valued and standing together as a team is important.
Problem: Employees Agree With Everything
Now, this might not seem like a sign of miscommunication, but it can be. A great team doesn’t consist of a leader or manager telling everyone what to do. This totalitarian style of management tends to hurt the company and is one of the common communication barriers.
If employees are blindly following instructions, it’s impossible for them to provide value, feedback, or creative iterations of their assigned tasks.
Solution: Ask for Feedback
Instead of always telling people what to do, request their feedback and ask them if they have any ideas of their own. You’d be surprised at how your employees will go the extra mile to prove themselves by coming up with even better solutions and processes.
Cultivate a culture where innovation and feedback is accepted and welcome. You don’t need a complete overhaul of company procedures to do this; simple things, like ending an email with “please let me know your thoughts and if you have any suggestions on how to accomplish this better” goes a long way.
Problem: Deadlines are frequently missed
If deadlines are often missed and extended, you have to take a step back and ask yourself, is this really happening because of employees, or because tasks and expectations aren’t communicated accurately? Or perhaps you’re setting unrealistic deadlines and not giving your team the ability to provide what realistic deadlines look like and why.
Bottom line: frequently missed deadlines are almost always a sign that there are internal communication issues that require attention.
Solution: Don’t blame the employee
When a deadline is missed, ask them why—in a non-accusatory manner. Explain to them that you want to understand what caused the missed deadline so that you can set more attainable deadlines in the future.
By asking these questions you might learn that certain bottlenecks tend to hold projects up. From here, you can readjust expectations and better understand the barriers and roadblocks that employees are experiencing in their roles.
If you don’t already use a project management platform, now is a great time to start trialing different solutions. Many miscommunication errors can be mitigated with proper task management and collaboration tools.
If your current project management platform is confusing or lacking features conducive to your needs, try testing alternatives to see what works best for you.
Problem: Hearsay about company matters
Gossip and watercooler chat is nearly impossible to eliminate. Unfortunately, when conversations about what the company is doing and where it’s headed spread throughout the team, it creates confusion, uncertainty, and lack of trust.
There are many reasons why upper management hides or classifies information regarding company financials and future plans, but there are risks involved in this approach, as previously mentioned. Secrecy breeds uneasiness and exacerbates miscommunication.
Solution: Be more transparent
Transparency is the foundation of clear and open communication. One survey from Harvard Business Review found that 70% of surveyed individuals are most engaged when senior management communicates openly with them. Another study from Trade Press Services found that 74% of employees believe they are missing out on company information and news.
If transparency is prioritised internally, employees are much less likely to make assumptions about their role, performance, and company. Leading with transparency sets a high standard for effective communication, improves employee performance, and results in greater employee advocacy. Transparency has also been linked to reduced employee turnover.
Miscommunication tends to alienate employees, increasing disengagement and decreasing productivity. It might feel as though these symptoms don’t have an impact on your bottom line, but they do; disengaged employees cost companies $450 billion dollars each year.
No matter what industry you’re in, workplace communication is the bridge that connects all employees, from management to assistants and associates. It’s the bread and butter of collaboration and company morale, and can make an instrumental difference to overall success.
Almost anything can be solved with proper communication, regardless of your position or company. Communicating your value, strategy, and purpose should be a key priority. And keep in mind that how you communicate is just as important as the act of communicating itself.
Combat common communication barriers by empowering your employees with encouragement, kudos, and responsibilities that show you trust them.
Lastly, collect anonymous employee feedback. If your goal is to create a more positive and communicative culture, it won’t happen overnight, especially if there’s an existing level of uncertainty and distrust.
Make it easy for your employees to offer candid feedback and advice without being reprimanded. Lead by not taking offense and instead integrating your feedback into new policies and communication changes. Your team will return in kind by working harder, smarter, and spreading those same values.
About the Author
Dave Lavinsky is an internationally renowned business plan consultant who specialises in the fields of capital raising and new venture development. He is the co-founder of Growthink, a leading business plan consulting firm that has helped over 1 million companies grow over the past 20+ years.