These days, most work is team-based, no matter what the type of organization. Interdisciplinary teams work together to propel their organizations forward, whether it’s in software, hospitality, manufacturing, or healthcare. This means that an engaged and well-informed team is one of a leader’s most important tools. But how do teams become engaged and well-informed? In this article, we’ll answer the question “What is organizational communication?”
Do you currently work in an engaged and well-informed team? If not currently, perhaps you’ve been a part of one in the past— yet nearly everyone has been a part of, or worked with, many teams that don’t live up to their potential. Diverse teams are typically more effective than homogenous ones. Sometimes though, even teams that consist of the organization’s “rock stars” don’t coalesce well. Let’s take a look at some reasons this happens.
Team members are humans, like the rest of us—and may not have the skills or the willingness to represent the variety of perspectives needed for the team’s optimal performance. Or, they are in an environment in which the team isn’t empowered to communicate openly, in ways that leverage that diversity. Whether or not a team is collectively conscious of the organizational communication environment they create and sustain is a kind of psychological safety. When individuals feel safe enough to freely share their ideas and perspectives, it’s easy to feel their ideas matter and are taken seriously by the others in their team and organization.
With psychological safety in place, a team’s organizational communication improves. Teams with conscious communication environments perform better: team members are more engaged and motivated, and their problem-solving abilities are enhanced through collective brainstorming.
Organizational communication also relies on its leadership’s communication styles. Leaders who clearly articulate goals and check for grasping are cognizant of how to provide real-time feedback that enables self-corrective improvement. These conscious leaders have the self-awareness to understand their own limitations, and create teams composed of members who are humbly aware that there are things they do not know. They respect others’ contributions. They nurture and rely on their teams’ psychological safety, understanding that additional perspectives help to generate a positive work environment.
The best leaders welcome being challenged and invite additional perspectives often soliciting feedback about how they might develop and improve. On the other end of the spectrum, the worst leaders simply view their team members as warm bodies rather than collaborative partners.
These are the leaders who aren’t interested in other perspectives, because they think they are smarter than the rest of the team. These leaders create organizational communication environments that lack trust—teams where members are disengaged, fearful, and deliberately uncommunicative. Organizations with this type of leader are at risk of high turnover, since they are only interested in being obeyed.
We all know that making unhealthy decisions leads to poor outcomes. For example, we know that a diet of junk food is bad for our health. And many people recognize what good organizational communication looks like—at least in theory. We also know how a well-performing team should function. Nevertheless, understanding what healthy decisions and team performance look like is different from many people’s reality.
When teams are run by people who aren’t fully engaged with members, or who don’t know how to fully engage, it could simply be due to a lack of education. After all, this kind of information isn’t central to management education; there aren’t a lot of exemplary models to follow. A good first step to improving organizational communication is not only to work to your own strengths, but also to identify your weaknesses. Then, you can find team members whose strengths complement yours and begin to create a communication environment where everyone feels safe about sharing their ideas and perspectives.