Not a Communication Problem

“I am a bit confused,” Sarah explained. “As an executive management team, CEO included, we were frustrated about some issues that were not going well.”

“And, what did you do?” I asked.

“We thought it best to take a survey, kind of a company climate survey, to let everyone chip in and express their opinion about things gone wrong and how to fix them,” she said.

“And, what did you find out?”

“Just as we expected, a large number, more than 50 percent described our problems, related to productivity and morale, as a communication issue.”

“And, how did you go about addressing the issue?” I pressed.

“We hired a communication consultant, and held a series of communication seminars, so everyone could attend,” Sarah stated flatly.

“And, the results?”

“It’s been two weeks. At first, everyone was fired up. People were being nice to each other, but, here we are two weeks later and nothing has really changed. Productivity statistics are unchanged and we still experience heated exchanges about who is to blame.”

“Do you think communication is really the underlying problem?” I wanted to know.

“When you use the word – underlying, it leads me to believe I am looking in all the wrong places,” Sarah sighed. “So, is communication the problem, or only a symptom of the problem?”

“Let’s assume, for a moment, that communication was accurately identified by your survey as a symptom of the problem,” I floated. “What might be the underlying cause of the problem?”

Sarah had to stop, a bit of silence. She finally spoke, “Some people in the survey said they were unnecessarily blamed for things going wrong, that it really wasn’t their fault. Others said that if productivity was really wanted, that the incentive program should be changed. Some said they knew how to fix some of our problems, but they didn’t have the authority to make the decision, they were overruled by their manager.”

“I think we are moving away from the symptom, and getting closer to the cause,” I observed. “Most people, when they call me, tell of a communication problem. After some time, I can usually convince them that communication is not their problem. It’s usually an accountability and authority issue.”

One thought on “Not a Communication Problem

  1. Kendall Lott

    Having seen some of this dialogue as represented in the blog before, I was “fore-armed” and just 6 weeks ago had a client have the same issue. I was called to give a comms workshop, to help the team communicate better, as there were communications problems. Instead, after some stakeholder interviews, I held a workshop to help them think about customer delight and future planning (a different model)–but on the way to that discussion, opened around accountability and authority–and we never got passed that. The meeting rapidly got wrapped around this issue, with PM unwilling almost to hear what what was being said, but the underlying issue was people felt roles did not have the correct accountability, and even in cases where that was aligned, the individuals could show that they were not authorized. I went at it, btw, via a project management approach looking at the “R” and “A” in a RACI model. This is real; this is how it happens. PS: We havent gotten to the comms workshop yet!


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