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:
- Unnecessary teamwork and far too many tedious meetings. Team working has become a plague. Like termites, it’s creeping in everywhere and destroying initiative, self-confidence, personal responsibility, and creativity. I’m all in favor of working in a team when it’s appropriate: that means only when what needs to be done cannot be accomplished by individuals working independently. Believe me, that’s far less than you have been brought up to think. Team working is not the same as working in a coordinated way. Nor is it the same as being co-operative and helpful to others. Neither of those needs a team to happen. In the vast majority of situations, the best way to get something done is to give it to someone and tell them to get on with it. Getting a team together simply slows work up and ensures nobody feels individually responsible.
- Teams water down accountability. For some people, teams are great for this very reason. Accountability shared—as widely as possible—usually works out to be no true accountability at all. When things go wrong, nobody is to blame because everybody is to blame. Besides, the torrent of finger-pointing that goes on (It was her. No, it was him. I say it was both of them) obscures actual responsibility like a sand storm. There’s nothing like safety in numbers.
- All the meetings for “co-ordination” and “reporting back” waste so much time that the actual work goes more and more slowly. Then it drops behind schedule and that spawns still more meetings to “monitor progress.” If the meetings were thrown where they belong (in the garbage), there would be some actual progress. As Kevan says:
Participants at our online survey tell us that they spend more than a third of their time in meetings—more than half of which they don't really need to be attending at all. This meeting overload ties up something like 20 per cent of all management time—and it achieves almost nothing. A particular favourite is activity reviews where individuals tell you what they did last week. These consume around an hour per week of time for many teams and is [sic] usually of no interest or use to anyone.
- “Better communication” is treated as a panacea. Improving communication (as long as it’s the right kind) will only help in certain cases: the cases where communication is actually the problem. Elsewhere it’s either useless or actively harmful, if it draws attention away from the real cause of the difficulty. But “improving communications” training is a favorite of consultants and trainers precisely because it’s so vague and imprecise in meaning or objective that you can never prove why it didn’t work. Organizations have been brainwashed into accepting that it’s important. Communication is talking. To be successful you need to do something, for heaven’s sake!
What are the right reasons to communicate? Simply these:
- 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).
- To make clear your support for the person to whom you have given the task; and to bolster his or her confidence.
- 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.
- 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.
Your post is so on the button! I did smile—and very broadly too.
Keep reading, my friend.
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
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.
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.
There's far too little thinking done, before handing out work.
Keep reading, my friend.
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.
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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