Communication: the ultimate enabler or disabler of successful teams and businesses. Why is the exchange of information that we all take for granted so easy to get wrong?

At a workshop that I recently facilitated, one of the participants raised the issue of company values. The general response from the co-workers was ‘What values?’ I watched as management’s temperature began to rise. Management interjected, ‘The five company values that we launched in April. You should all know what they are. Have you not seen the information cards that we have provided, as well as a gold-framed certificate at the main entrance below our mission statement?’

When I asked the team to relay the five values, the reaction from the group resembled something close to bewilderment. Only two of the values were mentioned.

Why had the team not done what management wanted?

Then there is the story a friend related to me last week. Megan owns a small events company. She poured her heart out: “There are only three of us, so how hard can it be to work towards the same objective? I’m so tired of things falling through the cracks. What is most annoying is discovering that we have actually all completed the same task without the others knowing.”

She continued, “It’s not to say that we are delivering a substandard product to our clients, but we reduce our profit margin when we don’t co-ordinate properly.”

Why was the team not co-ordinating their activities?

And finally, a conversation I had with Matthew, who also runs a small business. Matthew has a client who isn’t bringing him as much business as he used to. He has spent a lot of time trying to figure out why the client has cut down on his business, but can’t come up with anything reasonable. Being naturally inquisitive, I began to ask questions and saw similarities in the three situations:

Why did management at Organisation X believe their employees would pick up the information card from reception, and accept and ‘live’ the company values?

Why did Megan simply expect the three people in her company to work towards the same objectives?

Why did Matthew think he could guess the real reason his client was not coming back?

The resulting conversations were fascinating, and riddled with assumptions – assumptions that started with the belief that all employees pass through reception, to trusting that the team would understand the objective because they attend company events.

We all know that assumption is the mother of all disasters. So how can we expect to avoid disaster if we insist on making assumptions that directly impact upon our strategies and bottom line? Can we really justify being annoyed when the outcome isn’t what we expected, the objective isn’t reached, or our standards aren’t met?

The fact of the matter is that mind reading isn’t a talent that many of us possess, and media developers have yet to figure out how to distribute information by osmosis.

Encarta World English Dictionary defines communication as the exchange of information between individuals, for example, by means of speaking, writing, or using a common system of signs or behaviour (nowhere does it say anything about mind reading or osmosis).

Is it any wonder we battle to create successful and sustainable teams and businesses if we don’t understand how to communicate effectively?

How often do we confuse people rather than create a common understanding?

In order for us to communicate effectively and create a common understanding, we have to focus not only on who, what, when and where, but also why. Unfortunately too often we tend to ignore the ‘why factor’.

Did Organisation X stop to explain why their business principles were based on the five chosen values, or even why doing business in this way was beneficial to the company as a whole? Did they stop to ask if employees believe that management represents these values and if not, why not?

In Megan’s case, did she ask her team why none of them understood the company’s objectives? Had she taken the time to explain it to them in the first place? Did she stop to ask why people were duplicating tasks, while others were not being done? Did Megan ever take the time to explain why ignoring small factors that negatively impact upon the profit margin could have a huge impact on the business?

And finally, the question I asked Matthew – had he taken the time to ask his client why he was not returning as regularly as he was a few months ago?

When we include the ‘why factor’ in our communication we create understanding, support and trust. When we create understanding, support and trust we create the foundations for successful, sustainable teams and businesses.

Small Business Forum

The Small Business Forum is an independent network of entrpreneurs and small business owners established to encourage and support the creation, growth and development of small business in South Africa.

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