Back to one of my favorite topics today, communication. It’s the center of everything. It’s actually even more important than that in real estate. There’s nothing worse than implementing some amazing new office only to learn the business had decided to double their headcount and they won’t fit. Communication.
Sadly, one of the main reasons that communication breaks down is “too much work.” When people get busy they don’t want to “waste time in meetings” or “spend all day answering emails” or “stop and chat on the phone.” Said another way: they get too busy to communicate.
I’ll be the first to argue that many meetings are a waste of time. Some days it feels like many meetings are primarily a way for some people to appear busy without achieving anything at all. Other meetings feel like they are ripe with potential to achieve great outcomes only to be foiled by poor planning. Communication without thought is often worse than no communication at all. At least with no communication people may feel compelled to use their best judgment.
Communicating is the core component to every job. You need to be able to relay the thoughts in your head. You need to be able to convey the needs of your team. You need to be able to receive the current state of your partners. You need to be open to understanding your vendors. You need to be able to participate in group decisions.
On the surface, communication isn’t hard. But somehow most people fail at successful communication much of the time. Even successful communicators sometimes forget what to do.
Responses to change occur on a spectrum between emotional and rational. Based on how much experience they have with the particular type of change they are being faced with, they may respond out of fear or out of inquiry.
During the course of any change event, people will change their response type as they learn more. Sometimes they will move from rational to emotional because they suddenly realize there may actually be an impact to their job. Other times (and hopefully usually) they move from emotional to rational as they realize there will be less impact to them than they originally expected.
Knowing where your audience is on this spectrum will allow you to better communicate with them. Never share messages targeted at managing emotion at a rational audience. They will simply see a message that implies they should be concerned and start to wonder why they aren’t. Similarly, rational messages targeting an emotional audience will be completely ignored because it isn’t addressing the concerns that people are feeling.
Communications are the key to successful project outcomes. Effective communications start from understanding not just the audience but the audience’s state of mind. When both components are brought together, you will be in a much better position to drive your change project to a successful conclusion.
Good communications are hard to do. Over communicating can take up all your time. Under communicating can leave your team in confusion.
Figuring out the right line for their team is a manager’s primary job. People need information in order to make good decisions but they also don’t usually need incomplete, possibly wrong or sensitive information.
It is easy as a subordinate to take a lack of information to mean there isn’t a plan. Sometimes there isn’t a plan and you find out only too late. Usually, there is a plan and good reasons for limited information getting out until ready.
Branding is important to getting things done. Personal brands tell you about the nature of the people you are dealing with and how to get things done working with them. Product brands tell you the safety and risk associated with a procurement activity if something were to go wrong. Corporate brands tell you about the team and their goals, objectives and working styles.
Branding can, to a large degree, also be thought of as culture. The Google brand and culture often go hand-in-hand. Same for Apple and Microsoft. Look at the list of best companies to work for and you also encounter many of the best companies to hire.
The brand of your team will let people know when you will be easy or difficult to work with. It will tell them what kinds of projects you will endorse to move forward and which you will push back on. It will tell them what work is prioritized and which is delayed. Ensuring that this branding is clear both internally to your team and externally to your customers is important.
Externally, if you are sending conflicting messages about the type of work you do then you will constantly be stuck dealing with inefficient pre-planning sessions to get people to the right starting point. You will also constantly receive project requests that don’t meet your requirements that you have to send back. This will only lead to wasted time and organizational frustration.
Internally, if your team doesn’t understand the types of projects they are supposed to endorse they can’t be educating and training their customers. Also, at the end of the year, their actions will not have aligned with the team objectives leading to a lesser review or lost personal opportunities.
Branding and culture are ultimately about communication. If you are clear, direct and concise you will be able to position you and your team for increased success. If you leave things open to interpretation life will get a lot messier.
Noise is something that people complain about regularly. In the office, noise is thought of as distracting. In gossip, noise is thought of as inappropriate. In management, noise is considered a nuisance.
However, noise is a key sign that people care. They are actively trying to collaborate, share and find out more information. Noise is the symptom of a workforce that is trying to do better.
Silence is what you need to watch out for. When people stop raising issues to management and simply do the job they are asked to do the culture has declined to such a point that things are about to get much worse. Silence is also very hard to diagnose because it means that issues are no longer being raised and “no news is good news” mentalities start taking over.
Black and white are rarely the only two sides to a discussion. Even when there are only two people involved there are more than just two sides. For each person, they will have opinions and needs that change and shift given the context and timing of the discussion. Thinking in terms of sides is a quick way to consistent misunderstandings.
I was having a discussion with a colleague last week who described one of our conversations as a productive conversation that many may have seen as an argument. At the time we both understood we were trying to solve a problem that neither of us yet had a complete answer to. In the moment we were pushing hard to try and get to a point of alignment and occasionally pushing hard may have seemed harder than necessary to an outside observer.
But to us at the time, we were simply trying to figure out the answer and there was nothing personal in it. We were simply trying to wander around an undefined room to determine where to place the walls and furniture so that we could eventually get down to picking the colors for the walls.
It’s easiest to see this in politics these days where people are defining sides as Republicans vs. Democrats as if there were only two possible answers to moving forward as a nation. There is nothing sillier than taking a large topic and pretending that there are only two answers – left or right, right or wrong, black or white.
Most issues are more like a Rubix cube with several sides that are currently scattered all over the place.
We are used to hearing about team chemistry when it comes to sports. Coaches apply some mystical spell on their team and suddenly everyone is moving in the same direction or no one buys into it and the team falls apart. It’s binary and all about the coach. Sometimes there’s the “on-the-field leader” who is bringing the team together as well but it’s just a branch of the same logic about the coach.
The reality is much messier. Teams aren’t successful simply because of their leader. They are successful because each individual on the team understands the job, strengths and weaknesses of the people around them. They are successful when they pick each other up and play to their collective strengths. They are successful when they can communicate effectively when the “leader” isn’t around.
Simply put, success starts with each person on the team knowing what needs to get done and how they can best do that while taking into account how everyone else is doing the same. There are no duplicated efforts, there are no useless activities, there is no faulty communication, there are no incorrect assumptions.
The job of the leader is to ensure that the team is given an environment to thrive in. No two teams thrive in the same environment because the work and individuals are different each time. Even the same team that was successful in the past can fail in the future if their approach no longer matches the work that needs to be completed.
True leaders understand these variables and can adapt to make it work. They understand that sometimes you need to make your team uncomfortable while other teams you need to hold their hand. The way you treat one member of the team is not the same way you interact with others. There’s planning and thought put into every interaction.
Teams are what get things done. How are you helping build your team to get the right chemistry?