Better Decisions, Faster: 7 Keys to Create Open Communication in Your Company
The 4 steps between managers and employees, plus 3 key systems-based insights you need to create, enhance and maintain complete honest and open communication in your company
By our #CompanyCulture team
Achievers, conformists and throwing open those doors.
Having open communication between team members, across departments and right through from employees to management is the key to unlocking unprecedented levels of innovation, collaboration and self-management in your company.
Why is open communication important in teams?
Apart from the obvious benefit – people work better when they can trust each other. There’s some scientific evidence that open communication really works.
One 2020 research article shows how open communication has a direct impact on employee performance. And two separate studies, one from Europe and another in Africa, show how communication improves profitability.
So, that begs the question: How do you enable honest and open communication in your company?
Well, there’s a bit of a formula to it…
First: What is Communication?
The broad definition of communication is: the process of sharing information between people in the company.
Now, as soon as you hear the word “processes” you know it has to do with HOW things are done. And, as we’ve mentioned a couple of times before, as soon as something is about HOW we do things, it’s about your CULTURE.
Thus a more accurate way to phrase our question is: How do we change the communication culture in your company?
And, as you know from our performance culture model, the way to impact culture is to focus on the 3 main components it’s made up of:
The mindsets and perceptions of your people
The leadership’s approach to communication
And the systems that govern your communication
Great! Let’s see how to impact each of those 3 to give you open communication between teams.
7 Keys to Creating Open Communication in The Workplace
How to Help Change People’s Mindsets to Enable Open Communication
1. Shift from Measuring Individual Performance to Team Performance
An unfortunate little “Frankenstein” our business ecosystem has created over the years is the Personal Achievement Value System.
It comes from the way we’ve forced people to compete in the past (sometimes today still). Compete for jobs, compete for qualifications. Compete for a raise. All that competition comes at a price – trust.
See, most people in jobs today left school and college with the perception that it’s all about their individual performance. I need to be the most talented, give my best, work harder to get that promotion…
And we’re not helping by enforcing it through individual performance reviews. Because it literally results in a complete lack of trust in your organisation. I don’t have colleagues, only competitors. And how can I trust my competitors?
Change it by switching the perception of what success is. Literally. You need to find a way to make it clear that success is NOT when I do my best, it’s ONLY when our entire team delivered. And I only did my part to make that happen.
That’s when people will willingly start sharing information, helping ad maybe even coaching and supporting each other naturally.
2. Encourage People to Speak Up and Question Ideas
Easier said than done. But it’s perhaps better to understand where the behaviour of not speaking up comes from.
A lot of new employees get an immediate perception of control from your company structure and hierarchy. From day one, you see all the big wigs and the managers, and you know that to survive here it’s probably best to be obedient and respectful.
Don’t question instructions. Don’t speak up in meetings.
It’s called the Conformist Worldview. And communication does not thrive in that setting at all.
Change it by shifting the belief that there’s only one way to do things – the managers’ way. And allow people to start thinking and questioning. That unlocks real innovation. (More on this under point 4.)
How to Help Leadership Enable Open Communication
3. Measure Manager Performance by Team Contribution
Again, that same Achievement Value System is what stops most managers from stepping up and becoming great leaders.
See, because a lot of companies want to promote internally, that inadvertently pits all your employees against each other. The only way for me to get a promotion is to take my manager’s job. And the same for that manager, as well as the people working under me. Now we’re all competitors, instead of colleagues.
From a manager’s perspective, basing success on that kind of individual performance puts them in a trap. That manager was probably a great individual performer (that’s how they got promoted), but they have no idea how to get that level of performance out of a team of people.
(That’s why so many managers end up doing their team’s work for them, by the way.)
Change it by measuring the success of the group (team) under the manager’s performance and contribution. It needs to be super clear that to be a successful manager is ONLY possible with an empowered team – that’s when a manager has to start trusting their team, and focus on training and coaching them.
4. Trial-Run a “Don’t Wait for Anyone” Campaign
With the Conformist Worldview (point 2), people don’t communicate out of fear and obedience to a very dominating company structure. If you have a very hierarchical, traditional top-down or organigram type of structure, people are likely to hold back – and you won’t have open communication.
Now, the best way to do away with that is to change the company structure entirely. Which is probably a bit unrealistic (not impossible, but very hard to even get going).
But a single or small group of managers can start experimenting with solutions by running small internal campaigns.
Change it by having individual managers test campaigns in their team (or perhaps between two managers) to encourage creating a sense that no one needs to wait for someone else to enact change or come up with new ideas.
It can be simply arranging an open platform for one team to openly question, add ideas, and participate more. Test it, and see how it goes. You might, at least in this one part of the company, get better communication and faster decisions.
How to Change Systems to Develop Open Communication
5. Flatten Organisational Structure
As you might have deduced from points 2 and 4, your organisational structure is usually the biggest barrier to open communication. Old school management hierarchies and organigrams are proven by research to underperform when it comes to communication – as opposed to more modern alternatives like holacracy and sociocracy etc.
Flattering the structure, or at least reducing layers so that there are fewer barriers to communication between the person at the very bottom and the very top of the hierarchy, will go a long way to opening and creating trust.
(NB: We’ll be as bold as to Guarantee your company will be just as productive – probably more so – if you remove those layers.)
6. Open Up Cross-Functional Communication Lines
Bring middle managers and supervisors in similar roles from different departments together regularly, so that they can share information and insights (inter-departmentally). That’ll help improve the flow f of information throughout the company as a whole.
It doesn’t have to be physical meetings. Online platforms can also help this a lot.
7. Have an Open Door Policy
The absolute best solution is to allow anyone, from anywhere in the company, to ask anyone else for anything.
Even the CEO.
And not the kind of system where you have to make an appointment through someone else to see them maybe in four weeks’ time. No. if the CEO’s available, anyone should be able to walk in and request the information they need.
Ultimately, that’s what helps create company-wide trust and transparency.
Access to information is what allows people to make the best decisions that’ll deliver the best results for the organisation.
That’s how we function in a high-performance culture.
Need some help creating open communication? Ask us here.
Learn to build a team with a mix of complementary skills.
See how to use KPIs and metrics to improve performance.
Discover 5 simple ways to build more trust in teams.
And see how to develop leaders that are inclusive.
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