This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Organizational Psychology for Managers
Communications get the blame for an awful lot of organizational problems. Sometimes it’s even justified.
In order to function, members of any organization have to communicate with one another. If they don’t, not a whole lot gets done. The trick is to recognize the patterns of communications and the nature of the message.
In many groups that believe they aren’t communicating, they really are: just not with one another. If you’re talking to the wrong person, it doesn’t really matter how many good communications tricks you learn. Effective communications require a sender and a receiver. When you only have one of the two, it doesn’t work so well.
Leaders easily and naturally become the center of communications in their group. Practically speaking, this means that no matter who is talking at the moment, the leader is the only one viewed as a valid sender or a valid receiver. People might address the group, but the message is really just for the leader; this is particularly true in stage one where the leader is the one making the decisions. Similarly, no matter who is speaking, group members will often attempt to gauge the leader’s response before expressing their own. If we were to draw the information flow, it would look like a wheel, or sometimes a letter Y or a chain, with the leader as the center. Once you know to look, it becomes comparatively easy to spot.
“But we send emails to everyone!” is a refrain I hear quite often. That may be true, but it doesn’t change the basic wheel structure. When you are communicating in a wheel, many people will ignore the email until the leader responds or will rapidly recalibrate their responses. This does change as the group develops, as we will discuss shortly. The goal is to transform the pattern into a star or a circle where everyone talks, and listens, to everyone.
The level of urgency of the communications also matters. Some years ago I worked for one Silicon Valley company where my manager had a habit of walking into my office just before noon and asking for information that he needed “immediately.” So much for lunch.
I quickly noticed that no matter how urgently he needed the information, he would not act on it for days. The urgency was really about satisfying his needs for control rather than any real business need. I learned to leave for lunch earlier.
When all communications are “urgent” or of “high importance” then pretty soon none of them are. People discount the urgency, which leads to an increase in “volume” from the sender. This triggers another round of scurrying about until people realize that this new level of urgency is also a chimera. Unfortunately, when you constantly amp up the urgency you have the side-effect of reducing communications, not increasing it. In the end, all that really happens is that stress levels go up and information flow is blocked. Save the urgency for the things that really are. If you are convinced you always need an instant response, odds are something else is very wrong.
Riveting! Yes, I called a leadership book riveting. I couldn’t wait to finish one chapter so I could begin reading the next. The book’s combination of pop culture references, personal stories, and thought providing insights to illustrate world class leadership principles makes it a must read for business professionals at all management levels.
Manager Mechanics, LLC
Nationally Syndicated Columnist and Author