How Leaders Can Improve Communication to Empower Their Teams
In Part 1 of our series, we emphasized the foundational role strategy alignment plays in driving the company’s bottom line performance. Now, it is even more important that teams are working in concert with one another to deliver value while ensuring the company’s bottom line remains profitable. Notably, misaligned teams almost always produce the opposite result.
Strategy alignment alone does not ensure your teams are working together or routinely share market intelligence. Effective communication allows the enterprise to adapt rapidly to changes in the market, control costs, and shift resources when necessary to ensure priorities remain on track.
Radical transparency in cross-team coordination and collaboration allows companies to execute at the speed of the business cycle and ahead of competitors.
McChrystal Group's research across a broad array of industry sectors indicates only 44% agree that ‘Teams within my organization collaborate in a way that contributes to the overall success of the organization.’ This lack of collaboration often leads to an uncoordinated approach to the market, costly mistakes, and frustrated customers—a trend companies need to reverse under these market conditions.
Why is communication between teams much harder in practice than it should be? The answer partly lies in the way companies are structured. Too many adhere to traditional hierarchal organization charts where information flows vertically between senior management, meaning decisions are made at the top and front-line teams are responsible for execution with little role in decision making. This tends to create siloes among business units and a focus on individual unit objectives rather than the objectives of the company.
In an ideal scenario, there is alignment between unit objectives and the big picture strategy, creating cohesion and clarity from decision through execution.
Therefore, leaders must implement processes and systems that drive cross-team coordination and collaboration rather than reinforcing the tendency for siloed execution.
We know high-performing teams cultivate strong situational awareness throughout the organization. Not only does every team understand its own priorities and actions, but each has an in-depth understanding of the actions of other teams and how they work together to support overarching priorities. These organizations continuously work to increase shared consciousness through radical transparency in all their communications.
How do companies improve information sharing?
One way is to ensure your meetings are inclusive, widely open to members of the organization, and focus on connecting teams executing the highest priority initiatives.
Most of the interaction during operations forums should be horizontal between business units responsible for execution. Teams identify actions they are taking to deliver on the priorities, where they need assistance, and when they have resource shortfalls. Executive leaders focus on making connections between teams and ensuring the organization remains aligned on the long-term strategy.
Leaders should emphasize identifying and removing obstacles to execution and allocating resources needed to deliver results. If the team executing the highest priority effort needs resources, other teams shift resources to the higher priority team.
A successful example of this approach is an aerospace company where the new CEO realized the company’s business units were heavily siloed and pursuing independent projects with resources so misaligned that the company’s future was in doubt. After aligning on an overarching strategy, he implemented radical transparency in their operations forum to create a high level of situational awareness and cross-team coordination throughout the organization.
As a result, hundreds of people across dozens of locations were connected through a weekly video teleconference. Teams spent 5-6 minutes each updating the actions of the past week and upcoming actions, with a focus on interdependencies with other teams and resource requirements. After 18 months, the company not only thrived but positioned itself ahead of its peers to win several multi-year competitive bids that will ensure growth for years to come. The CEO credits their success to the team’s ability to rapidly share information, optimize resources, and adapt to changes in the market.
Your own organization can look to create open and inclusive meetings to foster radical transparency. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but that means it’s different from how things were previously and you’re probably on the right track.
Practical steps for leaders to do now:
1. Check how well your teams coordinate by asking front-line leaders:
- What teams rely on you and are you able to offer the support they need?
- What opportunities are we missing to coordinate across teams that would better allow us to deliver products to the market or improve value for our customers?
2. Assess if your current operations meetings are creating situational awareness and connecting teams responsible for execution.
- Is the discussion primarily a bottom-up status report or a horizontal conversation that connects teams and resources?
- Would fewer more inclusive meetings create broader situational awareness and provide for more effective use of time?
For leaders serious about outpacing their operating environment, competitors, and the next business challenge, take a hard look at the internal dynamics that drive or hinder company-wide communication.