Communication has become more than just a way to transfer a message; it has become front and centre to the success of our organisations. Effective teams are built on the railways of effective communication. 

Our internal dialogue – the dialogue we have with ourselves – shapes us. It’s more than just a story we tell; instead, it becomes a reality. We start believing these stories, which affects our mental and physical well-being – either negatively or positively. Many studies have been done on the effects of self-talk on conditions like anxiety and on physical health. We can affect our health by the stories we tell ourselves.

In the same way, the dialogue we have with our colleagues shapes our teams – either negatively or positively. Communication has become more than just a way to transfer a message; it has become front and centre to the success of our organisations. Effective teams are built on the railways of effective communication. 

Doing business at the speed of trust

We believe organisations are organic, not mechanic. There’s no simple solution or a formula to be followed that will guarantee more successful collaboration. Organisations are built through relationship – as Frederic Laloux said, organisations are vehicles for human collaboration. 

Relationships can only flourish if they operate on a foundation of trust. And trust, in turn, unlocks potential through communication: communicating fears and weaknesses, dreams and doubts, successes and celebrations. 

Thanks to communication, trust has the opportunity to flourish. With trust comes psychological safety and vulnerability, which encourages more communication. It’s a virtuous cycle.  Communication builds trust, on which relationships are built, which encourages more communication. 

If we can operate in an environment of trust, the speed of execution increases exponentially. We stop worrying about others’ intentions and interrogating their actions. The fact that we trust each other and we give each other the benefit of the doubt, means that we go ahead and act rather than asking for justification and clarification. We can start doing business at the speed of trust.

The case for communication

We make a big deal out of strategic communication. The first step after drafting a strategy is to communicate it to the individuals who can affect the execution of that strategy. Organisations can’t respond to threats if they don’t know about them. They can’t capture opportunities if they don’t know about them. So there is a critical dependency on timely and accurate communication, and it’s a leader’s role to increase these lines of communication. 

There are way too many teams that are stuck in a destructive communication cycle. Everyone gets onto a Zoom call, and there’s no greetings – dead silence. No one switches on a camera. Now because no one says hello in a group call, no one says hello in smaller calls. Then I start thinking about whether I’ve done something wrong because no one greets me, and I start reacting to that in negative ways – and down goes the spiral. 

Sometimes, all you need is a leader who starts saying hello. That might be all that is required to break the cycle. I heard a story a few weeks ago about a factory manager who wanted to build trust in his team. “Start with a greeting”, someone advised. He followed their advice, and after four days of saying hello, one of his workers confided in him about a situation at their kids’ school. All it took was a greeting. 

It’s a leader’s role to break the cycle of poor communication and start an open and transparent communication trend. 

Ron Friedman did a study on high performing teams and identified five things they do differently. See if you spot the common trait: 

  • They aren’t afraid to pick up the phone
  • They are more strategic with the way they conduct their meetings
  • They spend time bonding with colleagues over non-work topics
  • They give and receive feedback – specifically appreciation – more often
  • They are more authentic at work

Each of these five factors in some way increases communication with colleagues. Most of it increases verbal communication (e.g. phone calls, feedback); others increase the effectiveness of the method of communication (e.g. meetings); others are non-verbal (e.g. being more authentic). Nevertheless, all of them undoubtedly make the case that communication is critical.

General McChrystal’s four communication assessments

General Stanley McChrystal used to lead thousands of people in probably some of the most conflict-ridden environments we’ll find anywhere – more conflict than the ordinary citizen (which probably includes you and me) will meet in a lifetime. Through his decades of leadership, he devised four assessments that leaders can do to test their communication ability. He now advises senior executives at multinational corporations on navigating complex change and building stronger teams, using tools like these four assessments.

We like these communication assessments because they are simple and straightforward. Here are his four assessments: 

1. Are you able to communicate? 

The first test is about gauging your physical ability to communicate. With online messaging, cloud collaboration tools, video calls, and a legion of alternative methods too long to mention, there is no excuse for not having the ability to communicate. And we’re not even talking about when augmented reality and volumetric videos become mainstream, which will put remote communication into a different realm altogether. 

2. Are you willing to communicate? 

This test is mostly about being transparent. There could be a range of reasons that hamper a leader’s willingness to communicate. It might be because they don’t trust others – information might leak to competitors or be used against them in internal rivalries. It might be because they need approval to pass information. Or even more subtle – that they are unaware that the information should be passed on or that certain parties haven’t received the information. Irrespective of the reason, if there’s no willingness, there’s no communication and trust can’t be built. 

3. Is your communication of the necessary quality? 

McChrystal describes this as “accurate and complete, timely and relevant”. Where willingness is about transparency, quality is about clarity. We find that OKRs is a great way to create this clarity – a lot of thought goes into how goals and outcomes are articulated. In addition, the chosen channel is crucial. Not all people process information in the same way – some are visual, some require numbers and charts. If you want a message to land, be creative and liberal about the channels you use.

4. How will your communication be received? 

Communication is a two-way street. Although you can’t take responsibility for how someone else receives and perceives your information, you can help to affect it. For example, you can provide a chance for clarifying questions or ask for a replay of the information from the audience. Messaging is very seldom received in precisely the same way that it’s intended – there is a coding and decoding that happens between the sender and the receiver. With more organic communication, it becomes easier to code and decode messages in the right way – basically, you learn to speak each other’s language. 

There is often a last part of the communication cycle that is overlooked – feedback. Of course, there is always feedback from the receiver. This feedback doesn’t always go to the sender, though – sometimes it’s in body language or words to colleagues. So be open and acutely aware of this feedback. Here’s a simple rule – always listen to and take all feedback seriously, because as soon as you close that tap, it’s closed. 

Not everything needs to be communicated, but we would always opt for over-communication. Building trust without communication is impossible. Regular communication in a suitable format creates clarity in expectations and goals, and transparency about where we are and how far we’ve come. This is the internal dialogue that shapes our teams.

Paul Barker

Author Paul Barker

More posts by Paul Barker

All rights reserved Step Advisory