Friday, April 6, 2018
In all walks of life, successful teams communicate well, says Steve Hutin, the managing director of Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd.
At the root of most problems is a breakdown or lack of clarity in communication. It doesn’t matter whether one is at home, on the sports field, at work, or somewhere else; when a plan unravels or something goes wrong, hindsight usually reveals a moment in time when there was a shortcoming in imparting or exchanging information.
These days the means by which we communicate are varied so it’s even more important than ever that we sharpen our skills and keep our families, colleagues, team-mates, etc. informed.
In a busy family environment, communication is crucial to everyone getting along, eating, honouring their appointments, succeeding at work, excelling at school, keeping fit, participating in sports teams or clubs, and more. People leave the house washed and well dressed (in most cases!) because they’ve communicated beforehand. We need to know when the bathroom is free, who’s ironing the clothes, and whose turn it is to add shower gel and shampoo to the shopping list. If we don’t communicate these things, family life grinds to a halt. To stop imparting information is to stop functioning. Nobody gets anywhere on time and tensions mount.
It’s the same on the sports field (regular readers of this blog know I like a sporting analogy!). Go over the park this weekend and watch a football match; when a goal is scored, one side celebrates and the other looks crestfallen. Sometimes a moment of sheer fluke or brilliance has led to the goal, but in most cases both sides can single out good and bad communication as the cause of their success or failure.
The goal scorer might have called to a teammate to receive the ball in space, completing a move the coach communicated to them on the training ground. The beaten defence, meanwhile, looks to each other and ask why nobody told them to mark the goal scorer. Their manager might wonder why he didn’t relay his messages better in practice.
There are extra layers of complexity in the workplace, which is where communication is arguably most important of all. And that’s really the theme of this blog.
Take my company as an example; we have six depots and over 50 employees, fulfilling roles as drivers, fitters, testers, sellers, managers, accountants, and riggers. One of the most frequent messages I communicate to the whole business is the importance of keeping everybody informed. Knowledge and information equal power; they’re the keys to success. There needs to be a process in place that means nobody is in the dark or struggling to achieve something when information someone else has could make the task easier.
The easiest way to encourage any group of people to communicate is to motivate them to achieve a collective goal.
When a family understands that the more everyone puts into the function of living together, the greater the harmony they will achieve. The faster a football team realises that by working together they’re stronger than opponents who don’t, the quicker they’ll communicate to each other for collective success. Players will pass to teammates and tell others when they’re under threat from an opponent or running into trouble. It’s the same at good companies; everyone strives for shared goals, not individual recognition. Who cares who the top salesperson is if everyone has put in the same effort and benefits from the same success?
Typically at high achieving companies, no one department or team is made to feel more significant than another. Once the salespeople think they’re better than the drivers, friction ensues. If a manager takes all the credit for all his team’s hard work, they’ll understandably resent their boss. If courtesy isn’t shown to those on the shop floor when they’re given an order, sparks might fly. In all cases, communication breaks down. People recognise knowledge and information are power but they withhold it to suit their own agenda or prevent someone else achieving a goal that might put them in a favourable light.
The extra mile
Think about that when a last minute but profitable order comes in on a Thursday for delivery before a major outage at the weekend. It’s impossible to get everyone working together. The drivers won’t want to go the extra mile and demotivated employees will hardly see the point in striving to deliver an order only for their line manager to get another gold star.
At good companies, everyone pulls together. It’s like a football team playing against a good side; it might fall to one lucky person to score the winning goal, but it’s only possible if the defence is tight and two midfielders sacrifice advanced positions to guard against the other side’s potency. If players from the same side had gone hunting for individual glory, or communicated badly, they’d have lost 6-0. Instead, they ran out 1-0 winners thanks to a last-minute goal—and they hardly remembered who scored it.
In business it’s not always easy to make various departments focus on the same goal. A driver has a different mindset and skillset than a rigger, for example. And that’s no bad thing; departments should have their own approaches to work. However, at some stage they’ve each got to be appreciative of the company’s overarching reason for existing. That’s why I believe in an equal incentive and bonus scheme from depot managers to drivers. If there’s one goal, everyone knows what it is and works together to reach it.
That’s not to say I’d encourage a company structure free from hierarchy; we’ve already explored the importance of management, defence, midfield, and attack. Communication brings them together but they must each concentrate on their roles. The magical part is that the more an individual respects the overall goal, the more they strive to achieve their part in it. I’ve witnessed people working far harder in pursuit of the team prize than when a pair of salespeople has pursued a more insular goal of selling more than the other.
Spoilt for choice
So what communication methods work best in a modern environment that includes meetings, telephones, mobile phones, apps, social media, FaceTime, etc.? I don’t think it really matters; it’s the end result that counts. I like the old fashioned face-to-face way best but I’ve had to adapt, myself, as we have six national depots and making personal visits to each of them on a regular basis wouldn’t leave much time for anything else.
Telephone contact works well, yet email charts the progress of correspondence, while a text message might be faster. It’s important to guard against scenarios whereby five members of a team of six are in a WhatsApp group and the other gets left out of business and social correspondence. If one defender on a football team doesn’t know the offside plan at free kicks, what will happen?
I don’t buy into a dictatorial approach to management. It will break down when the leader wants something different to the team. Communication facilitates adaptability and flexibility, which are also key components to success. Good managers compromise, for example, but they can only do so when they have information to base their decision upon.
A leader should have no problem in changing their original position if a team member has presented a solution for positive change. However, they must have faith that the intelligence they’ve been given is transparent and accurate. The outcome of compromise is important because it’s not effective if it moves a problem from one place to another or, worse, from one person onto another.
Remember, a collective, communicative team spirit is to be harnessed for the better, not used as somewhere to hide or an excuse. I’d readily support any employee but I would want to know why even one person wasn’t pulling their weight. I still encourage a degree of autonomy, particularly with depot managers, so they understand that if an issue needs to be addressed, they have to stand by their performance and not use the overall business as a distraction.
If a football team wins a match but the right back was at fault for the goals they conceded and they didn’t put in the appropriate amount of effort, the manager would still want to know why they had a bad game. It’s the same as if Johnny gets straight As in most subject but is given a D in mathematics, one can be sure his parents will want to know what’s going on with his algebra and trigonometry.
What grade would you give communication at your company?
If it’s less than A*, fix it—today.
Thank you for reading.
Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd