Breaking Through Communication Barriers

Bad things happen when you and your employees aren't on the same page. Here's a deeper look at communication breakdown.
National Business Innovations
May 09, 2012

Recently, an associate of mine received a call from someone at a company he used to work for. The caller asked him to recommend someone at the company to go to for information about a particular type of product. Apparently, the caller thought talking to someone who used to work there was better than talking to someone who actually does work there. This indicates a badly broken communication and knowledge management network.

The Flow of Information

Business flows at the speed of information. When information flows smoothly up, down and across an organization, decision makers are equipped with the facts they need to not only make the right call, but to make sure the message permeates the entire organization in a consistent, clear and cogent way.

Every organization has its formal communication channels, whether it be intranet sites, e-mail distribution lists, etc. But the truth is that the real communication that happens within an organization is typically through informal networks, including person-to-person talks, meetings or even instant messsaging. These networks can be valuable, but they also turn into rumor mills.

Creating an Effective Information Network

Maximizing the effectiveness of information flow throughout an organization can’t be effectively done by just adding one question on an employee engagement survey and talking about it in workgroups. A more progressive approach is to map and then analyze the actual communication network. By going through a communication mapping process, several specific barriers will become clear. Here are some examples of the different types of communication hurdles that can exist at a company:

  • The fire hose. Information that flows only one way, without any clear mechanisms for upward feedback

  • The cohesive fortresses. Self-contained groups that have great communication among themselves, but very poor or distorted communication with others (a rich breeding ground for parochialism)

  • Data misers. Chokepoints where information flow stops, becomes distorted, or gets filtered before disseminating further, if it disseminates at all

  • Outcasts. Individuals or groups within an organization that have no effective means of receiving critical information, or disseminating information to others

  • Obstacle courses. Situations in which there are too many middlemen and intermediate steps that need to be taken before communication can occur effectively between two individuals or groups

These are only a few examples of the wealth of information that can be gleaned by mapping and diagnosing information flow. Once an organization is equipped with this level of detail, corrective action can then be taken to strengthen the communication network, remove barriers, and foster greater knowledge sharing, communication and organizational effectiveness.

What communication barriers exist at your company and how to do you work to overcome them?

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