A Practical Guide for L&D Leaders
What communications challenges plague your organization? For many, it goes beyond the volume of communication and the sheer noise disrupting so much of what teams are trying to say to each other. Simply put, the biggest challenge is the lack of effective communication.
In other words, volume and noise are symptoms rather than the cause of communications challenges. If everyone in your organization communicated effectively, there would be much less noise and the quantity wouldn’t be as much of a problem.
Let’s explore how to identify what’s driving the problem — and what you can do to resolve it.
Step 1: Identify the Causes of Ineffective Communication
Like a doctor seeking to cure a patient, the first step is to find the root cause of the communications challenges — it’s not enough to simply treat the symptoms. With that in mind, here are three ways to diagnose the problem.
How do you make time for high-quality work?
One of the biggest challenges to great communication, as we’ve written elsewhere, is a lack of time. People often feel hurried to type up that email or throw together slides for that presentation at the last minute — not because they’re lazy, but because they simply don’t have enough time.
Chat features are one culprit for why people feel as if they don’t have enough time. Instant messages may feel like an easy way to get a quick answer from a colleague, but they actually represent a significant disruption. In fact, thanks in part to instant messaging features, office workers are interrupted every three minutes, on average. The result is that many workers are unable to do their work without interruption, which harms people’s ability to do high-quality work of any kind. The same is true for a multitude of other communications channels, such as endless emails flooding your inbox, back-to-back meetings clogging your calendar, and urgent last-minute requests from colleagues.
But here’s the thing: When you make time for high-quality work, better communication will follow.
By freeing up people’s schedules and privileging asynchronous communication (which we’ll discuss in more detail later), employees can focus on producing high-quality work instead of responding to a consistent stream of messages as quickly as possible. This kind of approach to time allows people to make space for designing better presentations, creates opportunities to edit for clarity, and allows for more thoughtfulness to be put into effective, efficient communication.
How do you break down communication silos between teams?
Another driver of poor communication is a lack of transparency and information sharing between teams. A World Economic Forum interview noted that this was one of the greatest challenges facing teams in the new virtual and hybrid working environments, specifically “overcoming communication silos, particularly between the weak ties between workers and across departments, as well as sharing non-codified information and knowledge.”
To communicate more effectively, help your teams collaborate and share knowledge more quickly and easily. Consider, for example, how much better the analysis of data could be if teams were to share the information they own earlier in the process than they typically do.
Keep in mind the difficulties concerning the volume and noise of communication mentioned earlier. Also keep in mind that as collaboration increases, so too can transaction costs to work more closely together, which can encourage the first cause of poor communication mentioned earlier: a lack of time.
It’s a double-edged sword. Successful organizations communicate across teams, but breaking down communication siloes can lead to an overwhelming amount of work. The key is balance. Remember to keep communications channels open, but recognize the effect this can have on each individual’s capacity.
How do you save time by embracing asynchronous communication?
People feel rushed for all kinds of reasons, but too many meetings might be at the top of the list. When it comes to an unsustainable frequency of meetings, the digital revolution is partially to blame. It’s so easy to “hop on a call” and chat through a project instead of sending an email or waiting for a meeting that’s already been scheduled. The result is that meetings pile up and clog calendars, which leaves people with little time to actually get work done. Most successful professionals, however, have learned to take a different approach to their calendar — one that emphasizes reserving work time that’s free of meetings.
Before scheduling a meeting, ask yourself if the topics you’d like to discuss could instead be distributed in a short brief or email, leaving only the most necessary conversations for a scheduled meeting. Our natural inclination is to put a meeting on the calendar to provide better context, elaborate on certain points, or respond to inevitable feedback from stakeholders. But this isn’t the most effective way to use time.
Instead, reserve meetings for only the most vital information that requires immediate and crucial feedback in real time. For example, board meetings or annual strategy sessions might fall into this category. Additionally, you should consider recording meetings or presentations to be reviewed on employees’ own time.
By reducing the frequency and length of synchronous communication, you can create time for developing clearer and more concise messages, while also combating meeting fatigue, which can harm productivity and individual well-being.
Step 2: Understand the Role — and Value — of Training, and How It Can Solve Your Problems
High-quality communications training can make a world of difference for teams and individuals alike. That’s because business communications training helps people understand how to effectively engage and persuade audience members while also giving teams a shared language to discuss and plan communications strategies.
Consider ways that you can provide resources for people in your organization and, just as important, make sure they have time to work with them.
Offer training resources designed to meet the needs of the organization
Whatever training partner you choose, it needs to meet the unique needs of your organization. One of the best ways for individuals on your team to improve their communication is to have them take a course or read a book on the subject.
The first option — taking a course — can be a fun, interactive way to learn effective communication skills and apply them to their real work. By immersing themselves in a collaborative learning experience that provides ample resources to make the learning easy to retain and practice on an ongoing basis, employees can dramatically increase their clarity and effectiveness by working strategies such as storytelling and data visualization best practices into their daily business communications.
The second option — reading a book — may seem like it won’t make a huge impact. However, books can serve as reference material that your people can use as they’re building their next communication. If you don’t think your team would be interested in reading a book on the subject of business communications, consider other options such as videos from industry-leading experts. Whatever medium you select, these kinds of resources can be a cost-effective way to improve your team’s communication skills in ways big and small.
Of course, none of this works if people don’t have time to dedicate to reading a book or taking a course. (Remember our conversation above about how people often feel rushed?) For this reason, take steps to ensure that people have time to participate in professional development activities. One way to accomplish this is to schedule time for it every week or every month. Whatever approach you take, putting time on your team’s calendar for learning means no one will feel pressure to work on other projects, because everyone will be emphasizing professional development at the same time.
Ensure the training is relevant to day-to-day work so it can be applied immediately
The best workshops allow participants to bring in the tasks they’re currently working on and revise them in real time based on the instructor’s teaching and feedback from peers. Workshops that allow participants to bring their existing projects as samples increase engagement and relevance of the training. They also help make learning “stickier,” or less likely to fade, because the training is being put to use from the very beginning.
Ensure that managers are able to coach their teams, and that they can leverage peer coaching
Once a training concludes, it’s critical for people to be able to share what they’ve learned with each other and offer support. For managers, this means providing high-quality coaching. This kind of mentorship reinforces learning and helps teams implement the skills they’ve learned.
Successful teams also reinforce learning through peer coaching. Learning socially in this manner helps to reinforce key skills and provide accountability going forward, both of which increase the likelihood that learning will stick. In this scenario, people will not only learn together when the course takes place, but in the weeks and months that follow. With a shared experience, individuals can support one another in the ongoing learning process that occurs as lessons from the training are applied in the flow of work.
Communication Doesn’t Have to Be a Struggle
If your team is struggling to identify its communication needs, much less address them, you’re not alone. Luckily, there are tools you can use to diagnose the cause of your team’s communications struggles, and effectively treat them. So, if you’re looking to make a change in your organization’s communications practices, consider how changes to the way you schedule meetings can make work more efficient, as well as how people can benefit from training to build the skills they need to increase the quality of their business communications.