We need more / better communication! But not from me…


When it comes to communication, everyone points the finger elsewhere (credits: Evalottchen/FlickR)

When it comes to communication, everyone points the finger elsewhere (credits: Evalottchen/FlickR)

I hear that a lot, in many organisations: communication is not good enough or there isn’t enough of it.

What does it really mean though? We are quick at pointing the finger to the problem, but not so keen on explaining what we really mean and what this implies.

Unfortunately also, too often we assume that the communication officer or team will solve all these problems, because ‘communication is their field, not mine’.

The reality is once again less black-and-white than it seems.

What they (might) mean What is really happening (and what we can do about it)
They don’t know enough about other people and departments’ work  Not enough is documented about: ongoing projects, movements (calendaring), meetings and events, outputs published.♣ Contribute to these records: share your travel plans, schedule your meetings publicly, channel your outputs to the official repository. 

Crucially, use a public (working out loud) channel to share information about what they’re doing, their questions, finds and ideas – be it on Yammer, a corporate Facebook group, Sharepoint or the organisation’s Intranet.

♣ Do this individually and in your teams. And stimulate others to do just the same. 

♣ If the above is impossible (e.g. because channels don’t exist), contact the communication team to help make it happen.

They don’t find relevant information through the formal communication channels and experience little connection and relation between the informal (bilateral chats) and formal channels They may not know how to look for information and where, there might not be any information for lack of content ‘fuel’; they receive little information as compared with corridor talks and chatting with people at events♣ Look for an overview of communication channels and procedures. 

♣ Contribute to these channels to enrich them – otherwise there will always be a disbalance between formal and informal channels.

They experience lack of coordination The different relevant entities of the organisation have few structural channels and processes to share relevant knowledge and information among themselves and rely on ad-hoc encounters to share strategic information♣ Use conversation channels and wikis that help people get in touch with each other despite distances, leaves documentation traces for themselves and others, and allow collaboration on joint projects.

♣ Use meta tags to ensure all relevant resources are tagged according to the taxonomy or folksonomy in use.

They feel they are reinventing the wheel There isn’t enough documentation going on during and after projects to share useful insights. Perhaps not enough attention is paid to the process of conducting projects and the specific approaches followed, as opposed to just carrying out stated objectives♣ Very similar to the previous point, this relates to the lack of records or their disorganisation (e.g. for lack of metadata). The agile organisation will ensure resources are easily findable and the persons related to these resources easy to locate. A social network analysis/mapping of sorts might be helpful here. 
They feel the organisation is not well equipped to face up and coming challenges that require more complex cooperation They feel the limitations of the above in doing their job and know they need to connect to other sources of knowledge but are perhaps not so sure as to how to proceed♣ This is where an engagement-focused communication team could really provide high added value support by helping design, facilitate and manage engagement processes with other parties and stakeholders, inside and outside. 

♣ What could also help is to organise more conversations (brown bag seminars, conferences, discussions) that bring together different parts of the organisation and external parties, to shape up a big picture that matters to the organisation’s agenda.

They don’t enjoy enough communication support They may have some genuine capacity needs in terms of communication and knowledge management/sharing but may not be aware of these, and perhaps there isn’t any (adequate) offering to fill these gap or perhaps these are not well known♣ See below. The task of the communication team is to connect the dots and to ensure that people use existing channels and processes to their advantage, without burdening them.
They hear “we ought to do more about communication” There is just external pressure (from donors, partners etc.) to communicate, reach out to and engage with other parties… Either way there is a problem of externally felt need, not a self-recognised weakness♣ This is not an ideal situation, but better realise it than remain ignorant. In this case, all the above applies, and perhaps it would be good to connect with other people, networks, communities of practice and organisations that seem better prepared to 21st century engagement, to get some ideas about what could work or not in this organisation. 

Of course the communication officer or team does have a role to play, that is to:

  • Set up the channels (public calendaring system, output repository, chat/knowledge sharing platform to share simple updates)
  • Set up recommended processes to use these systems
  • Provide training initially to help staff members make use of these systems and processes/procedures, at various levels (from simple users to power users and administrators), with particular emphasis on meta-standards which help organise information more systematically and retrieve it more easily
  • Coach staff and answer their question (seek their feedback on what works or not) to adjust the work
  • Monitor how these channels and processes are performing over time and contributing to accomplishing the organisation’s objectives
  • Over time, contribute to stimulating a culture of knowledge sharing and open enquiry that is conducive to adaptive management and proactive leadership cultivation

So, next time you wonder why communication in your (team, organisation, network) is so bad, ask yourself what you can do to improve it, and how your communication team can help you help yourself 😉

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