Of Course Talk, Don’t Everybody?

Without communication there is no organization.

If you think about this even for a couple of seconds, you see how clear this is.  If I want to work together with someone, I have to communicate with him.  This doesn’t mean I have to talk; study after study tells us that  a high percentage of our communication is non-verbal.  But messages get sent, and received, from nearly everything we do.  If we expect to work in connection with someone else, we had better communicate with that person, so we have a method of coordinating.  Otherwise, we have a large number of disparate parts, everyone doing his own thing, and no coordination except by accident.   This is massively inefficient and often destructive.

This seems so obvious that you’d expect every corporation, every company, every club, every group of whatever size, heck, every family, would know this.  You’d expect that everyone would make communication a high priority, and spend significant time on it every day.

And you’d be wrong.

I’m a member of a half-dozen organizations, some formal and some informal, some for-profit and some not.  They all do the communication thing with varying degrees of attention and success, but one of them is so abysmal at it that I have to use it as a case study in what not to do.  There are dozens of people at this organization, in various capacities, and the nature of what they do is highly technical, so that to do it correctly requires a great deal of coordination and cooperation.  One step outside the rules, and the whole thing could come crashing down and destroy the entire enterprise.  Add to that the fact that in the current economy, raising funds to continue operating is, to say the least, hard work.  It requires that the organization use all its personnel effectively, with minimum of duplication of effort, or very possibly the organization could cease to exist altogether.

And yet, with the exception of pockets here and there, certain groups and committees, the organization is unable to communicate at all.  I mean this in the most direct way possible: being a part of this organization is like getting a group-wide dose of the silent treatment.  Inter-departmental communication is practically non-existent.  Lines of authority are scratched in the dirt, then walked on until they become impossible to detect.  Even within the various committees of the organization it is routine for one person to say to another “do you know what we’re supposed to be doing?” or “I don’t know if we can carry out that initiative because I can’t get the other people to tell me whether it’s okay.”  Everyone is “busy”, and some people are even effective, but rarely is that effectiveness the product of a cohesive effort on the part of all the members of a team.  Through the main effort of certain key players, and the really excellent quality of the members of this group, the enterprise has not failed, and perhaps will not.  But the organization has big dreams, far above its current station.  I can make you this promise, having been a part of this group over a period of years in practically every capacity there is: the organization will never achieve anything of durable quality until it gets its communications fixed.

Is this true of your company?  Is it true of your church?  Is it true of your civic group, or your government, or your rec-league basketball team?  Think about it.  Even in my work work, in mortgages, the number one complaint from borrowers is the lack of communication from their loan officers.  This problem dwarfs all others, and also makes them worse.

When communication is bad:

  • people are hesitant, and do not take risks
  • they fail to get the help they need, or offer what they chould to advance the project
  • people refuse assignments that are not directly related to what they know they must do to remain employed
  • multiple individuals find themselves doing the same tasks
  • tasks are accomplished in a variety of different ways, to varying quality standards
  • higher-ups frequently have to re-do the work of subordinates
  • subordinates that take initiative get ahead of higher-ups
  • good people leave
  • work slows
  • money is lost
  • companies fail
  • clubs disband
  • governments fall

Sound familiar?  I bet it does.  We’ve all been part of some of this, even been a cause of some of it.  Authentic communication is the lifeblood of practically everything we do.  Look around you.  Is there a way you can tell someone what you’re doing, and what you need, in a way that allows her to help you?  Is there something you’ve accomplished that you should report to the person that requested the action?  Is there a way you can make it clearer to your employees what the company priorities are?  Can you accept responsibility for something that will give the team around you space to create something better?

What are you communicating right now?

P.S. For those of you ancient-movie-challenged, the headline for this article is…no.  You tell me.

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