As a project manager, one of your (many!) duties is to make sure that there is a constant and effective flow of information between the people involved in the various steps of the project. Yep, I’m talking about communication.
As you might already know, effectively managing communication within and between teams (not to mention stakeholders and clients…) can be very complex. It requires having the right systems and structures, establishing and using a sound plan, and dealing with people’s highs and lows.
Moreover, as we’ll see below, it’s a constant search for balance. Too few information, and what you get is people working at cross purposes or getting lost in the woods. Too much information, and it’s hard to spot the right piece of information between all that noise.
Communication is at the center of virtually everything we do. From the early days of wall paintings to our modern equivalents, communication has been a fundamental driving force to innovation and growth. Of course, this is especially true for team efforts: The better our communication, the better our team will be able to solve problems and advance objectives.
However, when there is a failure within communication, the opposite is true. Timelines aren’t met, objectives aren’t completed and the overall success of a project is in jeopardy.
Some of the most common problems that can arise from poor communication include:
Understanding how to properly identify the cause of your communication issues, and how to properly rectify behavioral changes, or systematic changes to ensure optimal channels for communication, can mean the difference between a failed project and one that is successful. Thus, creating a solid foundation for effective communication is key to ensure the success of our projects.
Below are some of the most common issues when it comes to effective communication. Being able to quickly identify the root of the communication problems, will allow project managers to make the proper adjustments to rectify the situation.
Without a clear objective, people are left to guess. One of the major issues when it comes to communication is that the message isn’t refined or clear. Vague instructions, lack of detailed steps and similar issues, will force team members to “assume” their role within the project. It’s the job of the project manager to disclose the parameters of the project as clearly as possible.
On the other hand, too much information is also not ideal. On the opposite spectrum of “lack of clarity”, information overload occurs when there is too much information to digest. Perhaps, the project manager created a 100-step solution, where 10-steps could suffice. While it’s important to be as clear as possible when communicating an idea or objective, it’s similarly important to remove all the “unnecessary” information that distracts from the objective.
Another issue could result directly from linguistics. Every industry develops its own unique terms and processes. While those familiar with this “jargon” utilize the vocabulary to speed up communication, it alienates all those who are not familiar with niche terminology. Therefore, if you find yourself in a situation where multiple areas of expertise overlap within a given project, establishing a “base language” could assist in communicating ideas. Refraining from using “hyper-specific terms” within memos, emails and other forms of general communication can eliminate confusion.
Additionally, creating a glossary of the most important terms could also be beneficial. This brings everyone on the same page and facilitates the delivery of information.
This issue could stem from physical barriers in communication such as bad information systems, old computers, conflicting platforms, and the likes. It could also deal with a lack of proper supervision and employee training. People go through stages of development and learning when joining a new project. The leadership approach to each of these stages needs to be adjusted to effectively “sell” the idea of the objective. Simply leaving team members to fend for themselves is a recipe for disaster. It’s the responsibility of the project manager to keep all parts moving, to have all team members on board and working towards a common goal.
Even if we’d like to think that we are rational beings and most of our decisions are primarily motivated by analytical reasons, the truth of the matter is that emotions play a key role in the vast majority of our decisions. The emotional state of the individual will create barriers within or between teams, especially if there are negative emotions towards one another. Thus, it is important, when there is tension between people, to quickly address these issues and resolve them. As a super-partes manager, be ready to assist in this process and play the mediator role.
This point ties into the “Emotional Noise” aspect, however, a better term to use is “Cultural Noise”. Cultural differences and personal experiences can create problems in communication. A common cultural reference could fly by those who do not share the common experience. Thus, it’s recommended to rather “create a culture” within the team in order to establish common ground. This team, or corporate culture, would act as a bridge between the individual cultures of team members, eliminating potential miscommunications.
When you have identified a snag within communication, it’s important to act quickly. Consider the best possible solutions available for a quick and smooth resolution. However, it’s also not good to simply rush the solutions. You need to have a nuanced approach when it comes to rectifying communication problems.
In cases such as “outdated technology”, solutions might seem simple. However, when getting a new system or a new tool, it’s important to consider learning curves, time of installation, training duration and additional costs first.
Perhaps getting the “new platform everyone is talking about” won’t serve the overall objective of the project and it might be counter-productive.
In fact, for the vast majority of the issues that can arise with communication, one thing stands above the rest. Have a Simple, Clear and Concise Message. Simplicity is the key to effectiveness. This goes for systems, interpersonal communications, and instructions.
Make it as easy to understand for the recipient. Utilize imagery and visual content to help communicate key concepts.
Additionally, creating a base-language for each project can assist with speeding up communication issues. This ties in with creating a “team culture” or even a “project culture”. It establishes the ground rules for all participants and can greatly facilitate communication.
Managing a project effectively means that all areas of communication operate at optimal levels. Being able to quickly identify the areas that are causing conflict, and resolving them properly, will enable team members to respond adequately to any problems that may arise throughout the duration of the project.
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