Many professionals think they are pretty good at managing their internal communications. Maybe you have a system of color-coded, prioritized folders in your email inbox, of which you’re particularly proud. Or you’re that senior leader who makes a point to get coffee with your direct reports individually once a month, so you’re confident that everyone on your team is in the loop.
If you think either of these methods of communication are enough to make employees—and ultimately customers—happy, you’re good intentions are severely misguided. In fact, outdated communication strategies could be the very thing holding you, and your company, back. Solutions like these don’t address how we think and work today. There’s a reason you don’t use a fax machine to send files anymore . . . there’s simply a better way.
But with a conscious effort to evolve, you can help you shift your mindset and become a better, more efficient communicator. Here are the first three steps:
With today’s complex, fast-moving business environment, and the growing number of virtual organizations, it’s not realistic to gather around the same table and collaborate face-to-face. But that doesn’t mean important team conversation needs to take place over email—in fact, that’s one of the worst places for it.
Email is great, but it’s no longer an optimal tool. It was designed to replace memos and one-way, one-time communication, not rapid, deep, ongoing productive conversations. How many times have all of us misplaced or not read an important team communication because it was buried inside a deluge of less important one-line, bantering exchanges or spam? The speed that business moves today is far faster and complex than in days past, and requiring a communication nervous system for instant communications and rapid-fire discussions is becoming paramount.
Relying on email alone to be your only communication tool will leave you in the dust every time. Use email when appropriate, but embrace emerging technology that offers much faster, better communication to deal with the growing complexity of business. The lesson here is that even if you are in the habit of doing things a certain way, recognize there could be, and most likely is, a much better way, so get ready to embrace it.
Most companies will give a spiel about being transparent and valuing all members of the team, but when you really look at your organization, can you say this is absolutely true? Many businesses start out with great intentions, but as they grow, it becomes more difficult to see these ideals realized. Instead of thinking departmentally and hierarchically, it’s time to think in terms of teams. Team collaboration instead of hierarchical communication is the most efficient and effective way to share information and get results.
For example, General Stanley McChrystal eloquently argues in his book Team Of Teams the need to decentralize team communication and decision-making. Layered upon this notion is the importance of truly transparent communication. McChrystal effectively illustrates the power of giving small groups freedom to experiment while being transparent in communicating progress and goals up and down the larger organization.
I’ve employed this mentality personally and experienced great success. Instead of micromanaging employees or getting hung up on titles, I’ve emphasized the fact that everyone should know everything they might need to know. Granted, there are delicate conversations that need to be private, but most should be open and transparent so everyone can subscribe to the "signal" that is important to them while filtering out the "noise." Anyone that’s tried to unsubscribe from reply-all hell in email knows how much of a time and energy suck their inbox has become.
How do you change your internal structure? Start by making your leadership accessible to everyone, encouraging open communication across departments, and reorganizing your business to function as a "team of teams." Teams should be fluid and rapidly adaptable. Employees that have great insight through team communication can be empowered to make wise and rapid decisions on their own and avoid the frustration of being kept in the dark. This approach also eliminates a business epidemic that must be stopped immediately—keeping information from management.
Communication needs fluidity across an organization so everyone has insight into the goals and progress of the business. Employees that can seek and quickly acquire new information are able to efficiently connect the dots and avoid huge mistakes by simply having access to important information about what other people and teams are doing. Information is power, and teams that have easy, quick access to as much of it as possible make decisions to beat their competitors to the punch. The only way to do this is by radically embracing technology to facilitate team communication that is not dependent on email.
It’s simple: If your business is to succeed, your goal has to be to radically improve the communication within the walls of your company. Start by freeing yourself from your familiar and habitual relationship with email. Open your mind to new ideas. Then, reinvent your organization as a "team of teams," whose people are empowered to act within defined limits because they know and understand what is going on. Seek out ways to incite dialogue with every member of your business. Very quickly you will see meaningful and fluid communication go from a far-off fantasy to become the new backbone of important communication for a faster and more effective organization.
Pat Sullivan is a serial entrepreneur and CEO of several startups including ACT!, Fly Paper and SalesLogic. He recently launched his next startup venture called Ryver.