ITL #518 Communication for calm: improving organisational or team chaos5 months, 4 weeks ago
Rushing to address symptoms of chaos without first understanding the root cause is doomed to failure. By Jenni Field.
Within an organisation or team, a sense of chaos – where there’s misalignment and inefficiencies across an organisation – can manifest itself in different ways. Perhaps it’s an inability for teams to work together productively, or a high level of people with stress or off work on sick leave.
There may be a sense of injustice due to an imbalance of reward across the management hierarchy. Whatever the issue that's causing chaos, it needs addressing to make sure things are flowing seamlessly, and at the right pace, to bring a sense of calm. Communication is at the heart of this. Improved productivity, increased profitability, growth, employee satisfaction, a better employee experience, business longevity and agility are key characteristics of successful organisations and teams.
When there are symptoms of chaos, there have often been previous attempts to solve the problem. Many of us don’t like the feeling of chaos, or of things being unsettled, so we rush to solve issues or help people out. However, these attempts are frequently short-term fixes because, without understanding and dealing with the root cause, real change can’t happen.
Our bias is towards taking quick action; we’re more comfortable with doing something, even if it’s counterproductive and leaves no time to understand or diagnose what’s wrong. But truly fixing an issue is about making changes that last. The aim is always to gain a deep understanding and seek a diagnosis of the cause of organisational or team chaos so that we can take a more strategic, long-term view that increases resilience, fosters innovation, and creates value.
Four main areas to explore
There are four main areas that need exploring in most organisations: leadership, blockers, culture and strategy. With leaders, it’s often about improving the skills of anyone who leads people, from line managers up to the board. With people who block change inside an organisation, it’s important to determine why that is happening. With culture we need to look at aligning it with behaviours. And with strategy, often a lack of understanding is part of the root cause; everyone needs to clearly understand what is happening and why.
All this links to communication. Whether it’s how leaders behave and the language they use, how teams work together and how meetings are managed, all routes lead to communication.
Let’s look at some of the key causes of chaos:
When chaos hits the leadership team, it can have a huge impact on the whole organisation. Chaos related to leadership can result from a lack of alignment with organisational goals, inability to make decisions, absence of leadership skills or egos that prevent progress. There are seven themes to explore here; accountability, adaptability, capability, communication, connection, strategy and velocity. Analysing these elements will help identify where there is a lack of alignment and where the focus needs to be. When we worked through these themes with food services and facilities management company, Sodexho, it meant that we were able to help the leadership team identify areas that could make a positive cultural change in the organisation. Without doubt, improving communication within a leadership team results in improved alignment to the strategy and less chaos.
An organisation that has a toxic culture, often exhibits a level of fear, dysfunction, lack of enthusiasm, confusion, passive leadership, gossip, or high staff turnover. And where there are unhappy employees in a working environment, it’s no surprise that productivity, engagement, and wellbeing will be affected – as will the bottom line. When addressing a toxic culture, open dialogue and diagnostic tools allow organisations to understand the causes of disengagement, explore lack of trust, and get underneath the fear driving certain toxic behaviours. The solution might be a plan to re-engage people, moving people into a different role, improving capabilities within the leadership team or someone leaving the organisation. It could be creating a solid strategy around equality, diversity, inclusion and belonging. What’s important is having an honest conversation. If people can’t be re-engaged then it may be time for them to move on. As with the end of any relationship, this can be challenging.
Just like toxic culture, if there’s one thing that’s going to hamper progress, it’s team friction. Disagreement, gossip, low morale, silence, reluctance to join in, passive-aggressive behaviour or concerns about inconsistent leadership actions – these are never going to create an environment in which to share ideas, overcome challenges and celebrate success. From losing business to reducing efficiency, team friction causes all types of issues. The antidote to conflict is trust, better relationships and – of course – improved communication! Fitness business The Evolution Project needed to address the communication issues and team friction that was impacting sales. Getting behind these issues and working through them resulted in a happier team, helped the business move forward and increased sales.
Change can bring chaos too. There’s often a lot of excitement around a merger and acquisition, with promises of sky-high profits and a keen interest in the ambitious plans. But we’ve also seen failed mergers where joint resources and expertise didn’t yield the fortunes they promised. Sometimes progress stalls and impacts the process of integration, as was the case for Gallagher Employee Experience and Communication. It had experienced a huge period of growth, alongside multiple acquisitions that brought three collective communications businesses into the group. A different mindset was needed for the ongoing leadership journey. Investigating things like combining and resetting cultures, changing the business model, reviewing organisational design, the leadership team and changing the operation brought a sense of calm.
Similarly, growth is another tough one. In smaller businesses it can happen rapidly, and this means everyone in the organisation needs to adapt quickly. With rapid growth – whatever the size of the organisation – comes an important window of opportunity to adapt, re-evaluate processes and ways of working which, if missed, results in toxic chaos. The difficult thing about growth is you have to look at the whole organisation all at once, get under the skin of the business quickly, acknowledge the fear, think about purpose of over profit, and realise what worked before won’t work now. All while keeping your workforce informed and engaged to avoid losing valuable talent and knowledge.
Working through the journey of transformation from chaos to calm isn’t a finite process, but without truly understanding and diagnosing issues first, organisations can’t move forward, overcome issues and thrive.
Jenni Field is a CEO, communications strategist, author and speaker. She developed The Field Model™ to help organisations move from chaos to calm, by taking them through the three phases of understand, diagnose and fix.mail the author
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