It may be the number one priority for comms experts, but how easy is it to achieve effective communication in the workplace? We look at the various types of communication going on in your business and the fixes that can contribute to a high-performing, positive, and united workplace culture.

Missed deadlines, projects derailing, blame, conflict in teams, a siloed workforce – these are all issues in the workplace, and generally symptomatic of one thing: a lack of effective communication.

Businesses who have effective communication are generally high performing. There is very little confusion and the open channels of communication contribute to a positive company culture that helps people become accountable and have purpose. But while it may sound simple, sending a message and receiving it accurately every time across your organization can be a major challenge.

There are lots of different types of communication happening within an organization every day. From peer-to-peer catch-ups to a CEO announcing major change within the business, it’s essential that not only are messages being delivered correctly but that they are able to be heard and understood by the relevant parties. Any small hiccup along the way – poor phrasing or the wrong channel, for example – can result in huge problems down the line.

For internal communicators, this is one of their biggest challenges: what is the best strategy for effective communication and how do you ensure your business achieves it?

Generally, good communication begins at the top: it’s your senior leaders who need to demonstrate effective communication skills and act as an example to the workforce. When employees witness great communication, they can see it as a fundamental business practice. In terms of organizational goals – to ensure that workplace communication is developed enough for people to share their ideas and feel their contributions are valued – it should be at the top of the list for every comms expert.

So how do you know you’re doing your workplace communication right ? We look at the different types of communication, how it can go wrong, and look at how to fix it.

Team communication

Most teams speak to each other every day. Whether it’s online or face-to-face, this is one of the most important relationships within an employee’s working life so it’s essential that it is finely tuned.

But by teams, we don’t necessarily mean departmental teams. This term covers every group of individuals who are joined together by a common goal – whether that’s the managerial team, the team in charge of building company culture, or teams devised to push an initiative within the organization.

For many organizations, implementing effective communication within teams is a challenge. If your employees are predominately frontline, for example, there are a number of obstacles getting in the way of your communication channels. In fact, it’s reported poor team communication in U.S. hospitals is costing the sector $12 billion per year. For such a fundamental component, it’s clear we have some way to go before effective communication is commonplace in business.

The effective communication fix:

Teams are, by their very definition, interdependent. This puts a huge emphasis on communication as a means of exchanging necessary information to reach the desired goal.

Team communication comes in many forms – from verbal, to written, to digital. Depending on the structure of the team, your set of comms tools will differ. But with more and more employees becoming dispersed, teams are now typically working apart, and often at different hours of the day. This means getting the right digital tools to sustain the new way of working. Luckily there are a countless array of options to help all types of communications, from one-to-ones, water cooler chat, group discussions, and ideation sessions.

With working remotely a relatively new experience for many employees, the channels you use to communicate will no doubt keep changing. New software will come on the market, people will start using different free tools that suit them better, others may choose one multi-purpose tool for chatting, video, and audio calls. As a manager, it’s important to ensure you keep in control of what tech your team is using.

And determining what style of communication each person responds to is critical, particularly in teams who are working closely together. With so many personality types, something like the DiSC (Dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness) assessment is a great tool for working out communication styles and discovering the best ways of getting the most out of the various personalities. Your team might work best with the top-down approach. Others will benefit from more flat structuring, with more two-way dialogue and debate.

Top-down communication

Many businesses, particularly global organizations, struggle with senior leader visibility.

Senior figures are a huge factor in our company culture. Talk from the top is critical, particularly in times of crisis or change. However, the bigger the organization, the more likely these leaders are to be invisible to the majority of employees. When employees don’t hear from the C-suite, particularly in times of change, rumors and gossip abound. This can be very damaging to morale and productivity. There’s so much resting on regular contact from those who run the business, so how do we connect senior staff to those who need them the most?

The presence and management of your leaders during difficult times have a direct relation to how employees engage and respond – and, ergo, the long-term success of the business. However, when times are tough, senior leaders are occupied with navigating the challenges they’re confronted with. With all these demands, creating that connection between employees and senior-level has never been more challenging.  

So, how do we change our leaders from elusive figureheads to human beings our staff can connect with?

The effective communication fix:

Many businesses, particularly global organizations, struggle with senior leader visibility. But keeping your employees informed and updated isn’t as difficult as it first appears. There are plenty of ways to ensure that the workforce feels a connection with senior level. One easy way is through regularity. When a senior figure is dropping quick notes to the business, this frequent contact can become synonymous with visibility. Consider an area of your intranet dedicated to the posts of the CEO. These can be one line micro-blog updates every day, eg: “Today, I am meeting with the sales team to look at the challenges they face in the wake of the pandemic.” These small-scale interactions act as reassurance that the business is proactive, listening, and working out ways to overcome present issues.

The visibility issue has become more widespread as many more workforces have become dispersed in 2020. The quick fix to connecting with people who are working from home, in a different country, in a different time zone, is to use video conferencing software to do a live stream meeting or pre-record a message to employees. This type of visual creates a richer, more connected form of communication, with the face, voice, and nonverbal cues that contribute to a better experience. A quick vlog is so easy to do and can take less than a minute. From a ‘happy weekend’ message to a longer all-hands meeting, it’s simple to set up, everyone has the technology on their phones and it can be hosted on the intranet or whichever comms platform you have set up within the business for employees to view at their leisure.

For more focused forms of business leader communication, it is also very worthwhile to set up smaller, team-based communication, perhaps on a less frequent basis. The senior leader can hop on to a weekly team meeting, daily project stand-up, or an impromptu presentation within individual departments. It’s here that the team can ask the leader questions, and conversely, the leader can find out more about the team, learn a little more about them, any issues, and ongoing projects.

Simply put, your staff need to hear from the C-suite on a continual basis if they’re to build a connection or sense of loyalty towards them.

Manager communication

Line manager communication is a challenge that consistently ranks top of the internal communications agenda.

Effective communication should be one of the most pressing priorities on a manager’s task list. The way a manager communicates with their team is fundamental to how the employees feel about their job, team, and the organization itself. As the old adage goes, employees leave their bosses, not their jobs. In fact, according to Gallup, managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement. Which is why it is so essential that employee communication skills are mastered by every individual charged with running a team. It’s crucial to staff retention and long-term success.

Line manager communication is a challenge that consistently ranks top of the internal communications agenda. In a study, companies ranked communication skills twice as important as managerial skills. It’s not hard to understand why. Managers are that all-important link between the the team and the wider organization, and impact everything from morale and productivity to engagement, retention, and the employer brand.

But many managers have found themselves running teams because of their technical skills, not necessarily their people skills. While attempting to drive their teams forward, they can often create issues by their lack of focus when it comes to communicating their message. To be truly effective at managing people, you need the necessary amount of soft skills. So, how can this be overcome?

The effective communication fix:

Despite this being an incredibly fundamental part of management, few organizations invest in formal training to equip direct reports with these skills. The first step is to establish a training program for any member of staff in charge with communicating internally.

New managers should be provided with communication training that covers the fundamentals, including the importance and value of good communication, their responsibilities as a manager, the comms tools or channels available, and best practices.

For this to be successful, managers must be aware of how important effective communication skills are. It’s important that they are shown how great communication can support their team, objectives and morale.

Managers are the first port of call in any organizational change, and responsible for cascading information. So their training must cover all types of communication,  including everything from how to delivering bad news and communicating during a crisis.

And this should be ongoing. An employee engagement survey or a quick pulse survey should be able to pick up any issues in manager-employee communication.

Peer-to-peer communication

Now, more than ever before, do our employees need to find new ways to connect to their colleagues.

While those other types of interactions can be heavily safeguarded by internal communicators, peer-to-peer communications is something that is far more organic.

However, as workforces become more and more dispersed, internal communicators are instrumental in facilitating the means for peer-to-peer communication. Now, more than ever before, do our employees need to find new ways to collaborate, track down a co-worker to share knowledge, or simply connect with new colleagues.

Whether it’s home offices, or different countries – our workforces will need help recreating the same level of connections with their peers as they would in a traditional office space. And in lieu of simply wandering up to someone’s desk is a whole array of tech and tools that can imitate all those conversations, exchanges, and conflabs that are so necessary to building company culture, completing projects, and empowering teamwork.

The effective communication fix:

While internal communicators can’t apply their coaching or training to peer-to-peer communication, they can facilitate it – and this should be part of every internal comms plan. Examining every aspect of the employee journey, comms leaders can work out the best option to enrich each touchpoint.

This could mean offering staff a comprehensive and accessible People Directory. These can provide profiles of every individual that go beyond name, job title, and email address. A rich profile will include shared interests, specific skills, qualifications, and more, providing employees with a more in-depth record of their colleagues. When you know their favorite book, expertise, and the name of their pets, it enables you to connect and communicate more easily with someone – even if you’ve never met them before.

Another focus is on your digital workplace and the tech and tools your organization offers to your workforce that allows them to communicate, connect and collaborate – regardless of their location.

Different channels are suited to different types of peer-to-peer communication. Collaborating on a project or piece of work, for example, may call for specific project management platforms or a DMS; one-to-one and group conversations may be best suited to an enterprise social networking tool, such as Slack, Yammer, or Microsoft Teams.

A place for employees to connect without the impetus of work is also recommended. Without a break-out room or cafeteria to socialize, employees require a place to share stories and let loose. This type of space can support positive company culture, facilitate greater ideation, improve morale and retention rates, drive greater problem-solving, and more. Peer-to-peer recognition is also a powerful tool in today’s workplaces.

Cross-departmental communication

Ineffective cross-departmental communication leads to silos, isolation, inefficiencies, and a blame culture.

A lack of understanding about effective cross-departmental communication makes this one of the least used interactions within an organization. And because this is one of the most avoided types of comms, it leads to silos, isolation, inefficiencies, and a blame culture.

The fact of the matter is that the best organizations have closed ties to the various departments in their organization. Effective communication channels throughout the whole business not only adds to a better sense of community, it also improves processes. After all, a business is like a chain reaction: if a customer makes a complaint, it should trigger a line of events from accounts working out a financial reparation, to marketing checking their messaging, to product development assessing how the complaint came about. When there pre-existing breakdowns in communication, these improvements, and decisions don’t get made. So, it’s essential to long term success that one department should be able to flag an issue that sets off the necessary actions to resolve the problem. Similarly, if there is good news, change or feedback – all departments should be able to be notified in a timely manner.

However, despite the huge surge in improvements to digital communication, this one area still remains a challenge for so many.

The effective communication fix:

One of the first go-to solutions for organizations working out their cross-departmental communications is to invest in a comms platform or intranet. This is the ideal foundation on which to position all communications across the business. Through blogs and updates, to forum posts, comments, and likes – this is a great environment to drive business comms, as well as enjoy a more social experience. And as everyone has access to the intranet from their device of choice, a cloud-based platform like this is perfect for a dispersed workplace. And as mentioned, with the staff directory carrying so much info on each employee, users can get a better idea of who they’re about to contact, before they’ve even introduced themselves.

Another reason for this type of communication breakdown is often the result of not understanding the challenges that other teams face, so knowledge of what the other departments in your organization do is essential. You can do this by incorporating a shadowing session during the onboarding stage for each employee, where the beginner sits on calls, demos, meetings, or presentations to further their knowledge. This can provide a deeper understanding of the various arms of the business, which can help aid business knowledge as well as relations between departments.

When an organization has effective communication, it can inspire so many more wins. Their employees are more likely to be engaged, proactive, and happier in their roles. There is more cohesion and harmony among working relationships. Processes run smoother, information is dispersed easily, far fewer mistakes are made. But effective communication is task that can never be finished – it’s an ongoing chore that needs to maintained, reviewed, bettered if possible. And its importance needs to be understood by everyone. Communication can unify an organization, and in the words of Henry Ford, if everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself. Once your organization starts communicating effectively, the hard work is done.