Thursday, November 30, 2020

The Truth About Communication

Organizations today are suffering from a plague of pointless and unnecessary communication. People are rushed off their feet because they waste so much time attending meetings, talking on the telephone, or reading e-mails, all in the cause of “better communications.” Team working is in danger of becoming as much of a plague as termites—and just as destructive. “Improving communications” is not a panacea for all management ills; often, it’s not even relevant to the actual problem. It’s time to shut up and let people get on with their jobs.

Here’s an interesting and provocative post from management consultant Kevan Hall. It starts like this:
Want to give yourself an extra productive day every week without spending any more time at the office? You can do just that—and improve job satisfaction for yourself and others—by cutting out unnecessary teamwork, reducing communication and relaxing central control.
What Kevan is promoting is unabashed management heresy, and I couldn’t agree with him more! We don’t have too little communication in organizations today, we have way too much. Let me put that more clearly. There is far too much communication of the wrong type, and not enough of the right kind.

What’s the wrong type of communication? The things Kevan writes about. Here are some examples of my own:Have you ever asked yourself why so many communications are “top down?” The answer is simple: because they are all about control. My guess is that a huge majority of meetings have far less to do with co-ordination or co-operation than they have to do with the boss staying in control and knowing what everyone else is doing. If you tell someone to achieve a result and let him or her alone to get on with it, you have to trust that person. If you set up a team, and convene regular “progress meetings,” you can give the illusion of delegation, while checking up on everyone in minute detail. In fact, you can probably so tie them up in “reporting back” and “sharing ideas” that you will, in effect, reduce them to obedient toilers while someone else (you) controls exactly what they do.

What are the right reasons to communicate? Simply these:
  1. To explain, simply and clearly, exactly what you (the supervisor) expects: the objectives, the means to be used (if you know), the extent of initiative allowable, the time-scale, and the means for contacting you for help or guidance (but only if necessary).

  2. To make clear your support for the person to whom you have given the task; and to bolster his or her confidence.

  3. To listen to what they want to tell you. A teaspoonful of genuine and truthful bottom-up communication is worth more than a barrelful of the usual top-down kind. If you truly want to know what is going on, shut up and listen.

  4. To respond to questions (only if asked) and give praise for a job well done at the end. If the job isn’t well done, you either didn’t train the person well enough before they started, gave the job to the wrong person, messed up the briefing (see point 1), or failed to listen. In just about every case, more than 50% of any blame (usually more like 90%) lies with you. If you feel the need to chew someone out, start with yourself.
Communication is a tool, just as team working is a tool. As the boss, it’s your job to choose the right tools at the right time, and use them correctly. If people don’t know what they are supposed to do, can’t keep other (necessary) people informed when required (and only then), go off at a tangent, or just get plain muddled and lost, you are the one primarily at fault. And that’s not a communication problem, it’s a personal one.

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Enjoyed this post and relate to the picture...reminded me of a post of mine called Corporate Diarrhoea - might make you smile -
Thanks for your comment, mabellandharry.

Your post is so on the button! I did smile—and very broadly too.

Keep reading, my friend.
Your comments on teamwork are very compelling and insightful!

I've always explained to co-workers and clients that teamwork refers to a dynamic, whereas a team refers to a unit of organization. Teams are most appropriate when members are involved in interdependent tasks. Teamwork can be useful when one individual does not have all of the information needed to make a high quality decision or to solve a vexing problem. It can also be useful when a need exists to develop members of an organization.

robert edward cenek
trends and research in the world of work
Thanks for your comment, Robert.

I like the distinction between teamwork as a dynamic and a team as a unit of an organization. Very useful. You have a great site, and I hope readers take a look.

Keep reading, my friend.
I highly recommend reading "160 Degrees of Deviation: The Case for the Corporate Cynic" by Jerome Alexander. Alexander has this issue pegged.
Thanks for the suggestion, Anon.

I'll take a look.
You might be interested in reading the book The Responsibility Virus. It touches on some of the things you've stated here--particularly, it discusses why in some cases lowering accountability might actually be a good thing.
Thanks for the suggestion, Anon. I'll take a look.
Great post! I find one of the pitfalls in practice is the difficulty most managers have in defining exactly and only what is essential for a good project outcome. All too often the briefing stage includes baseline expectations and the manager's own half-considered solution. Accountability can be enhanced by being clear about what problem the project owner is expected to solve.
It seems to me that one of the most common problem regarding communication is the lack of a clear vision. Having a vision basically makes a bunch of decisions for you ahead of time.

If you don't have a clear vision the result is lots of meetings for people to try to figure out what to do. Having a clear vision doesn't do away with meetings entirely, but it helps get rid of the ones that serve no purpose.

Thanks, Joey.

Excellent, perceptive point.

Keep reading, my friend.
Good point, Mark.

There's far too little thinking done, before handing out work.

Keep reading, my friend.
Thanks for the comments (I am the author of the original article you mention)

I was amused that your site is about Slow Leadership - the article is a summary of some content from my new book "Speed Lead"

I think the underlying problem is outdated attitudes and expectations to how we work together - most of my clients are complex multinational companies and many traditional techniques either do not work or are too expensive to apply.
Thanks for your comment, Kevan.

I would certainly agree about "outdated attitudes and expectations" about how we work together. It seems clear to me that many traditional management techniques and ideas sorely need replacement.

Slow Leadership isn't about speed per se: the idea is to go at the right speed, whatever that is. Sometimes it's fast, sometimes slow. Often it's slower than people think, because much of the speed they imagine is needed is based on little beyond folklore.

I think that applies regardless of the size of the corporation. Nearly all of my own career as an executive was in large, multinational corporations, and I saw nothing different there.

Thanks again for reading and commenting.
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