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internal-communication-issues

Common bottlenecks in internal communication

9 min read

No man is an island – this old proverb applies to business, too. You might be working with cutting-edge technology and the best professionals out there, yet you still won’t reach your goals if good communication habits are not in place. While the managers and CEOs always put an emphasis on the technical side of things (which is, obviously, perfectly justifiable), the value of smooth internal communication is often overlooked. But in many cases, this is the crucial issue when processes begin to falter, when tasks end up inadequately completed, and when people react too late to risks and opportunities.

I think you know what it's like when misunderstandings occur. You know how nerve-wracking it is when problems arise that could have been easily avoided with clear communication. You know that many mistakes, such as missed deadlines and improperly implemented tasks, have their origin in poor communication. So now that we all know about this - well, we've been there -, let's talk about how to avoid these situations.

These are the biggest problems with internal communication:

There is (almost) no internal communication

Obviously, the worst kind of internal communication is no communication at all. That may be a very harsh way of putting it. However, the fact that there is too little exchange in companies is a very common problem. I don't think I really need to mention that a massive lack of communication within a team or within an entire corporation can have serious consequences.

What is definitely worth mentioning, however, is that there can be many different reasons why silence often reigns within one's own company, and unfortunately it is not always that easy to find out what they are.

Now, what can be the reasons for this?

Employees tend to communicate very little if they do not feel valued and noticed and are therefore not confident enough to express their opinions. After all, people won't actually bother anyway.The situation is very similar in a work environment where the standards are too high. Employees will only express their ideas and opinions if they feel safe and free to make mistakes. Also, it's not really helpful if an overly competitive mindset dominates teamwork, because this leads employees to think it might be rather beneficial for them to keep great ideas a secret rather then telling their competitors. Employees will not develop a sense of community, which inevitably discourages collaboration as well. A well-functioning team pulls together and tries to work successfully with all colleagues, which, of course, also means that colleagues will support each other in achieving success.

Just as important as taking a look at the teams is illuminating the communication behavior of the management level. If they do not communicate - quite explicitly the "top-down" way - this will have a massive impact on the entire organization. They put the trust of their employees at risk and fail to fulfill their role model function. But why does company or team management fail to communicate, or why do they communicate only sporadically? Perhaps they are purposefully keeping negative information under wraps. Maybe they don't think it's important to get employees involved. Either way, this approach is bad for employee motivation, the sense of belonging and the work environment in general. Of course, you can't always involve everyone in decision-making processes, BUT: employees, who are expected to work every day to achieve the company's goals, have a right to be informed about important developments affecting the company. At least, they should feel that their opinions matter, too.

The solution: a safe environment, appreciation and team spirit

Build a safe communication culture

Encourage employees to share their ideas and views in an open and honest way. The company benefits from everyone's input, but that's only possible if people are able to speak in a safe environment that takes all input seriously - even if it's seemingly "bad ideas." If you are afraid to express your opinion because ideas are often ignored or bad-mouthed, you won't contribute the real good suggestions either. And let's be honest: everyone can be creative and sometimes we have good ideas and sometimes... not.

Support team spirit

Instead of pushing your employees to competition, you should rather focus on team spirit. You could easily support this by replacing individual goals with team goals. Employees will be encouraged to collaborate better and to communicate more. In addition, individuals feel stronger being part of a group with less fear of making mistakes.

Involve employees in processes

Be careful not to ignore certain employees and colleagues in joint projects and consult with them when important decisions are to be made. This way, you can convey a sense of appreciation to your teammates and also benefit from different points of view.

Information gets lost or overlooked

Another common problem with internal communication is this: You are aware that communication is important and also in which areas you need to pay special attention to it, however, you often find that important information gets lost or completely overlooked. The bad thing is: information that falls out of sight is worth just as much as an exchange that doesn't exist at all - namely, nothing at all. The good thing is: Where there's a will, there's a way. You can fix this problem very easily with a little organization.

But first: What are the reasons for information suddenly disappearing?

In many cases, it is simply the wrong use of digital tools in internal communication. Those are actually there to improve communication, so: The more the merrier, right? No. These tools are great, no question, but they can cause your team a lot of headache if you don't use them the right way. Not right in this case means too many and too unspecific.

Multi-channel communication is an all-time danger spot, especially in project management, when many people are working together on a large task. Work progress will be recorded in the project management software, some things will be discussed over the phone, news is often simply forwarded by email and then there are excel spreadsheets on the drive and a separate chat tool used to discuss things in between. Can you see where this leads?

The information is scattered all over the place. If you are looking for a specific piece of information, you don't even know where it was recorded or whether it was recorded at all. In the end, you don't even know if your colleagues were informed about the news you received via email. And even if we don't want to admit it to ourselves, our brains simply can't remember everything or simply retrieve it at the right time. After all, that's what we have digital solutions for, that store important information for us.

The solution: a central location and clear rules

Define a central location for all information

As I said, the solution to this problem is quite simple. Choose the right collaboration tool where you can store all the information in a centralized and bundled way. For this very reason, we made Stackfield an all-in-one collaboration tool, that allows you to attach all the important files, images, and comments directly to the related tasks. This way, communication takes place directly where it should take place - on the topic. Only if this prerequisite is given, employees will know where to find all information anytime. They don't have to keep track of multiple channels, just one, and they can be sure that updates always reach all team members involved directly.

Set rules for internal communication

Of course, there will still be exchanges through other channels from time to time - such as email exchanges with customers and other stakeholders, or one-on-one conversations in meetings and phone calls. The only important thing is that everything that is discussed at these meetings also ends up in the central information pool. Simple rules can help you ensure that this is the case. Encourage employees to store all details that are discussed elsewhere directly in the collaboration tool they use. How you structure the tasks is up to you. Custom fields and comments as well as subtasks may be appropriate places, depending on the workflow and process. It's best to take a close look at internal processes first and consider how they can best be mapped in the rooms and tasks.

Miscommunication is a major issue in internal communication

It is what it is: we're having a conversation with a colleague going through the next steps for the upcoming project. I'll take care of that task involving the appointment and you'll take care of the issue that was brought up in the conference today, all right? Full of drive, we get to work only to check back in with the colleague a week later for a brief consultation, and we realize: the colleague has done a completely different task than the one originally agreed upon. Perhaps he didn't? Unfortunately, miscommunication is an everyday problem at work, and in the worst case it can lead to deadlines not being met and goals not being achieved. Sometimes you can't avoid them completely, but you should at least try to keep them to a minimum.

But how do misunderstandings occur?

The way people articulate themselves and how detailed information is passed on is quite an issue in this regard. Thus, the colleague who "misunderstood" the instruction may not always be the one to blame. Perhaps the problem is on both sides, but that's exactly why it's important to be careful about being clear and concise.

The solution: a precise and clear language

Articulate yourself with precision

That particular topic that was discussed in the meeting - this is a statement that is virtually predestined for misunderstandings. When relaying information or even work instructions, always make sure to express yourself precisely.

Separate the important from the unimportant

It is also very important to pass on information entirety. Of course, you shouldn't come up with a whole-length bedtime story when it comes to short instructions, because after all, too much information can also be confusing. However, it sometimes happens that important changes or details that came up during the process are not passed on to the next person in charge - details that are actually urgently needed for processing. If the task due date changes from Monday in a week to tomorrow, that is definitely something that should be addressed explicitly - and preferably verbally.

Simple is better

Business rule number 1: Why keeping it simple when you can make it complicated? Every sentence is peppered with specific technical terms and abbreviations in order to appear as professional and smart as possible. But maybe the new trainee or the colleague from another department is not familiar with these terms? They can ask! The non-specialist colleague may also have no problem asking several times what SLA and connectivity actually mean or what the heck he is supposed to do with an "appointment slot" and a "wrap-up". But maybe the new trainee has problems with it and feels intimidated, or the employee who is not very fluent in English? Overuse of complex terms won't make anyone appear smarter - but it will certainly make things a lot more complicated. Wasn't it Einstein who said, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"? Well, he understood...

News won't reach every employee

" How come nobody told me that the system is down today? I made 3 customer appointments on this!"

" It was announced in the meeting the day before yesterday."

"I was on vacation."

Ups.

If important news and changes in the process workflow are not communicated to everyone involved, you may quickly run into problems. Things get especially difficult as outdated information starts to be communicated to customers, as promises are being made based on outdated processes, policies or product data, or, as in this case, as people make appointments that can't be met due to short term deviations.

How can such situations arise?

Witha certain number of employees or team members, it is simply not so easy anymore to keep track of everything. An employee may be unable to join the info meeting or people simply forget to inform a person about certain news. Perhaps they just don't consider that this certain piece of information could be relevant for a certain person. Either way, you need to clearly and reliably communicate to all relevant parties. A meeting is a good approach, but as we can see, there are one or two weak points here as well.

The solution: a global channel and verification

Create a global channel that keeps everyone in the loop

Any news that affects the entire team or even the entire organization should be disseminated through a global channel that everyone can actually access. The intranet would be such a channel, but so would the collaboration platform in use. It is advisable to create a room or a chat where particularly important news is posted and to tell the employees that everyone should keep an eye on it. If you use Stackfield, you can easily mark rooms as favorites in the sidebar and thus fix them separately in the upper area. This way, new activities are always directly visible.

Make assurance double sure

Of course, in some cases it also makes sense - it is even advisable - not to rely solely on employees keeping an eye on all messages. Two is better than one, which is why you definitely won't go wrong with an additional announcement in a meeting and a short reminder.

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Lena Wimmer
About the Author:
Lena Wimmer is Product Marketing Manager at Stackfield. She is passionate about American literary history, great content and cinematography.
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