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3 Steps to Better Communication Among Departments

(This is the first blog in the blog series, “What Keeps C-Level Execs Up at Night,” from Jeanette Prenger, president and CEO of ECCO Select)

 

“What is going on?!”

Believe it or not, this is a common refrain I hear from many business leaders I talk to. They feel frustrated and angry, and they’re unsure how to tear down that one common obstruction we all face in the business world—poor communication.

It’s an easy villain to unmask. Maybe different departments in your company are doing conflicting things, maybe the right work is being done but the right people never seem to know about it, or maybe work simply isn’t getting done at all. While you have a thousand fires to put out on any given day, a lack of communication across your departments can easily – and quickly – become the inferno that consumes you and everything you’ve built.

Far-reaching consequences

Miscommunication might seem like an issue you can overlook or at least postpone, but the consequences are actually quite staggering. One study published in The Holmes Report surveyed large companies (those with 100,000+ employees) and estimated the average cost of “employee misunderstanding” for each company to reach $62.4 million per year.

And you don’t have to look far to read about a crisis or a sharp decline of normally healthy companies—all done in by pervasive internal communication issues. BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster, Enron’s collapse, and shakeups at Thai Airways were all caused in part by communication problems that snowballed into much larger issues.

When your internal departments aren’t communicating like they should, conflict arises quickly and the finger-pointing begins. How can you ever hope to maintain productivity – or even positive morale – in such an environment?

Steps to better communication

The good news is that improving your communication will have an almost immediate positive effect on your company culture. Many times, the issue can be solved through a comprehensive look at basic internal processes between departments. For example, maybe your IT staff is expecting detailed Waterfall documentation at the start of each development phase instead of iterative additions to the documentation associated with Agile. It won’t be long before frustration turns into resentment between IT and the Business Development team, and a simple communication breakdown turns into a big problem.

As you begin to evaluate your company’s issues, keep some basic tips in mind that will help improve the overall communication climate:

  1. Communication starts at the top – While it’s tempting to play everything close to the vest, experienced leaders know that the best way to encourage transparency and open dialogue is to lead by example. While you obviously can’t tell every employee every detail, try to make a better effort to keep an open door.
  2. Listen, listen, listen – The most important part of good communication happens when you stop talking. One of the first steps in the process for our business consultants at ECCO is an interview process with employees from all of the departments. When you really hear all of the various perspectives, the pieces of the problem start coming together.
  3. Get in the habit – Like anything in life, the more you do it, the more ingrained it becomes. Establish regular processes – a weekly conference call, an online internal newsletter, a quarterly all-staff meeting – and stay up-to-date with the latest and greatest communication tools for business. When employees know when to expect the latest information, they’ll be more relaxed and focused on larger priorities.

While improving communication among departments can easily seem like a daunting task, you have the power to lead your company over this common hurdle. It may always be a work in progress, but it’s definitely worth the effort.

(And, while we’re on the subject of working more efficiently, check out next month’s blog topic, “Too many manual processes?”)

This is the first blog in the series, “What Keeps C-Level Execs Up at Night,” from Jeanette Hernandez Prenger, president and CEO of ECCO Select, a talent acquisition + advisory consulting company, specializing in people, process and technology solutions for our clients. ECCO’s experienced advisory consultants can help your organization with a variety of business challenges, many of which are caused by communication issues. Learn more at www.eccoselect.com, or let us know your thoughts on Facebook or on Twitter @ECCOSelectCORP.