It goes without saying that communication contributes to many problems in the office. In fact, on paper, it is possible to plan and forecast almost every process or project down to the minute details. Whether it’s simple or complex, a plan will help lead to success.
However, one thing that constantly gets in the way of executing this plan is the communication environment. Without all of the members of a project or team communicating efficiently, there will be snags along the way. We will look specifically at communication between departments but take a bird’s eye view of the entire process to get some scope.
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Departments often include separate teams and employees, plans, management and processes. There are essentially small, compartmentalized companies within a bigger company. Yet, they must work seamlessly with other departments to produce goods or services.
Communication challenges arise from this separation:
- Departments have separate leadership
- Communication platforms may be different for each department
- Information platforms are siloed
- Responsibilities have not been properly assigned
- An attitude of “us vs them” forms
All of these issues lead to decreased productivity and morale. Some companies will throw sheer manpower at the problem and hire more people unnecessarily. With the communication systems in shambles, this only exacerbates the problem and allows it to grow and spread across all departments.
Let’s look into some of these specific issues
Separate but equal
Many small and medium-sized companies’ hierarchies include a CEO and COO/president with vice presidents or senior managers representing each of the functional departments that make up the enterprise.
Often, these senior leaders possess responsibilities for running their departments with individual key performance indicators as a priority when planning and operating. These directives will come from the top and have an overall goal to achieve for the business. The management team will meet in board rooms and discuss plans, ideas, reports, and problems and then leave the room to go back to their separate departments.
For some, this is the end of a senior manager’s communication duties; the board room meeting. It represents a bottom-up approach and leaves everything else to chance. Department heads will play a passive role to communication between departments, which will lead to big problems.
This is one of the areas where a conflict will start. Department managers set goals and priorities for their teams. They focus on those individual KPIs assigned to them in the board meetings. These priorities often conflict with how other departments assess their priorities. These differences in priorities make it hard for departments to work with each other, especially since they must rely on each other to produce and deploy a final product or service.
Repairing this defect requires action from the top, not the bottom.
Company-wide strategy and planning must ensure that departmental goals are compatible with each other. It is an extra step, but it will help lead to success. It is important to understand the effects that one goal has on another. Rather than leaving departments to their own devices, the CEO or president must ensure that there is a strategy for departments when they must compete for resources in order to fulfil their own individual goals. Without this, teams will suffer from being unable to rely on other departments and desperate pleas and communication will go ignored, starting a blame game.
Secondly, department heads must work together to ensure that their teams are able to rely on other departments by working with management.
Communication and information platforms
These days, communication and information platforms are interconnected. Email, for example, is both a means of communication and a source for storing and retrieving information. Recently, there has been an explosion of platforms where different types of information can be stored and retrieve. There are CRM, HRM, CS, project management and other software platforms where vital business information is created. Access to each of these systems, however, are not wide-spread across departments. It is unlikely someone from Customer Service will be able to access sales data from a Sales CRM, nor would they be able to modify or leave comments on it, a communication process.
There are many reasons why departments choose to silo their information. One is purely cost savings. It costs a lot, per user, to implement cloud SAAS across an organization. Often, a privileged manager will have access to data and then relay information to each team member. This cost-saving move could create unanticipated dips in performance. This practice will funnel vital information into one source for a team which will bottleneck the flow of information and the ability to proceed with work tasks.
Many times mistakes are made simply because a person didn’t receive needed information. They were left out on an email, didn’t have access to a file, got left out of a meeting, or weren’t told in person.
One way to overcome this bottleneck is to share an account (user privileges can be restricted) or find a solution to share information automatically. There are many APIs and automation services which will transfer information from one platform to another. Check out IFTTT for example.
Another scenario is using different communication software throughout an organization to achieve the same purpose. One team might use email, another Slack, another whiteboard, etc… While in the last example, it would be good to find an API or automation solution to handing off information, there are opportunities to implement organization-wide communication which can fit into existing department software. Great thought and planning should be taken.
Integrate communication platforms as much as possible. It will be easier to look at solutions applied to the company as a whole first, then to tweak things in the department. If there are places where information is translated or passed on from one department to another, it is important to ensure that these systems are foolproof and seamless.
The blame game
The last communication pitfall we will dive into are problems that come from playing the blame game. Departments all the time will blame their problems and frustrations on another department. There are always assumptions made about who is responsible for certain areas or tasks and when things don’t go well, it’s easiest to blame the other guys.
Anytime responsibilities are not clear, communication will break down. The reason this happens is because people will start to become apathetic to performance and start to make assumptions. They will assume that other people are responsible for pulling their weight and ensuring that workflow is efficient. They can always say later that they didn’t know and plead ignorance.
The same can be said about other departments underperforming and not sticking to their responsibilities. After a team member from one department gets fed up with another for not providing quality service, they will start to become apathetic and let the other team face their demise. After all, it’s not their fault, right?
This is why managers and department heads need to be on top of their game. They need to ensure that responsibilities are clearly defined and communicated. They also must make sure people are held accountable for their performance.
It’s a tireless duty to perform, but, that is the whole point of management. To manage and allocate resources. Without this, a manager is just another employee.