A few weeks ago, Kalamazoo was in the news. But not for a reason I would have hoped. On the morning of July 3, a train derailed rounding a bend in the tracks downtown, overturning more than a dozen boxcars and blocking major intersections. It is no exaggeration to say that the situation was an absolute train wreck, causing aggravating delays for commuters.
Luckily, as I was getting in my car that morning, I received a Slack message from one of my team members alerting everyone of the incident and recommending alternative routes to the office. That single message personally saved me at least an hour of bumper-to-bumper frustration; and if you multiply that among the other 25 members of my team, you can start to see the importance of effective communication.
In business, we must always hone our communication practices to avoid our own train wrecks, but also to improve our individual effectiveness. Effective organizations make use of speedy avenues of messaging like Slack, but simple day-to-day communication is still just as important when it comes to avoiding problems on the horizon.
It is standard practice in most organizations to have an orientation process for new employees. It helps them learn the ropes, acclimate to the organization’s culture and learn what each teammate does so they know who to turn to as they navigate their first few months in the office. That way, fresh-faced employees can avoid potential mistakes and learn from teammates who have the answers.
However, this principle shouldn’t just apply to new hires. Being in the same organization for years doesn’t mean someone can take things for granted. It is critical to communicate regularly with new and seasoned teammates alike to stay up-to-date with changes in process and approach. It is the only way we can hope to avoid a tangling traffic jam of misunderstanding or an organization-wide train wreck somewhere down the line.
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The clearer the picture your teammates have of how your organization operates, the better they will be able to do their job. Just like how new employees excel when they know which experts to turn to, your team will function much more efficiently if everyone has an informed familiarity with the people and processes of your organization. Ignorance is the enemy—we cannot prepare for problems we don’t anticipate.
What Conversations Can You Start?
As leaders, it’s incumbent upon us to make this regular communication a part of our organization’s culture. We need to make sure that we are asking questions that will enable us to connect with our team. That means asking what you may have not even thought to ask. A great way to do this is to simply check in once in a while with your teammates and see what they are working on.
Recognition and praise are critical, but we also have to be genuinely curious about why people do things the way they do. That way we can improve our own processes along the way and catch future mistakes before they happen. Often, the best thing we can do is be interested and ask, “Hey, what’s going on?” And be prepared to listen.