By Susan Vafa, OD Consultant and Practice Leader of Facilitation and Training
“I don’t get information,” “Information is ‘stuck’ at the team lead level,” “No one communicates,” “I didn’t get that message…” These statements are ones I have heard many times as an Organizational Development Consultant over the last 15 years.
With each survey I conduct in both the public and private industry, communication is one of the top complaints from team members about what is “broken.” Many leaders try to fix the problem. They create newsletters, disseminate weekly reports, start instituting more all hands, meetings and/or daily stand-ups and create new employee packets that provide “where to” find everything from personnel to processes. But even when there are good intentions, focused initiatives, and a communication plan dedicated to increasing communication, the needle doesn’t move much past zero on improvement. What I have experienced is people start to complain that “we have too many meetings” or “that newsletter is a waste of the paper it’s printed on.”
I’ve pondered the solution, and it comes back to a simple expression my parents regularly told me when I was growing up, “You’re the master of your ship.” As I embed myself in organizations and talk to the people on the “front lines,” I know they’re frustrated and often think they are stuck being in the dark. But they don’t have to be if they ask themselves:
- What communication do I need?
- Why do I need it?
- Who do I get it from?
- If I don’t know who, who do I know who can help me figure that out?
- How do I get it?
If you answer these questions, in that order, it could be the start of breaking down the walls. If you need specific information to accomplish your work, there should be no argument from your supervisor, leader, or co-worker to ensure you get it. The key here is for the receiver to be a part of the solution and not to give up.
Is this process easy? No, of course not! Many times it takes patience, work, and time. For instance, if you’ve answered all of the questions and concluded that emailing the individual who is in “the know” gets you nowhere, then how you get it must change. It could be that this person is an “information hoarder” and holds onto it tightly so that emails will be ignored, as will demands. So what do you do? You develop a relationship and build trust with that person over time. I have had this experience with someone who admitted he hoarded information because he’d been burned in the past. It took me months to forge a trusting relationship with him, and now he communicates more information than I even need.
“It’s a people business.” Insert that line wherever you work, unless all you work with is machines. People are complicated, they have reasons for many bad behaviors, so if you stop looking at communication as mere information and more about relationships, it can open up more channels than you realize.