Your departments are staffed with capable, experienced, and talented people you can trust. You have all the key players in positions that play to their strengths. Your company is in good hands, so surely it should run like a well-oiled machine—right?
Unfortunately, you can have the most skilled, hard-working employees in the business, but it means nothing if they don’t know how to work together.
Facilitating communication among your departments isn’t just a feel-good management trend: It’s how effective companies get more done by working smarter instead of harder, and it’s how proactive companies avoid unnecessary (and costly) errors.
Communication breakdowns or undeveloped internal communication strategies are setting you, your team, and your company up for failure. Why is that? More importantly, how can you prevent your business from becoming the next victim of poor office communication?
Three Risks of Poor Office Communication
1. Stress in the workplace
This is bad for not only office morale but also overall company performance. People’s performance diminishes greatly under chronic adverse conditions, which obviously means that a team is more prone to making ostensibly careless mistakes—and whether that means lots of little errors along the way or the spectacular implosion of one major catastrophe, it’s going to spell inevitable disaster for your reputation and bottom line.
Poor communication could mean that certain departments are finding out about big jobs too late, being kept in the dark about important details, not being looped in about revisions to procedures or projects, or inadvertently tackling the same job in a vacuum. Unclear communication or unspoken assumptions will create the kind of last-minute snarls that make every project a fire-drill, which means staff members will be working under panicked, rushed conditions—and that’s never an ideal situation. Worse, it’s not fair to your clients who are relying on your team to share key data about their transportation, from the reservation to the actual trip.
Having checks and balances along the way, encouraging each team member to embrace accountability by updating all involved parties on a regimented timeline, and simply being able to discuss concerns, hiccups, or issues in an open forum are all good places to start repairing the pipeline of internal conversation.
It is absolutely critical that everyone who touches a job knows what their responsibility is, how it’s changed to suit either a temporary situation or certain project, and what they need to do to adapt to those in-flux expectations. No matter how good your team is, it’s a fair bet that none of them have mastered telepathy yet: Until your employees learn how to read minds or foresee the future, they’re only as good as the last verbal or written update they’ve been privy to. And they’ll be able to do their best work for your clients if they’re not worried about what last-minute emergency will pop up that seemingly everyone knew about but them—again.
"Until your employees learn how to read minds or foresee the future, they’re only as good as the last verbal or written update they’ve been privy to.”The bottom line: Good communication fosters a sense of being unified and working toward a shared goal in a stable environment; poor or inconsistent communication, however, adds layers of fear or tension that will only do more damage in the long run. Reduce unnecessary stress in the workplace by ensuring that communication among and between departments is healthy, open, and productive. This isn’t an opportunity for stronger personalities to steamroll other workers: It’s ensuring everyone is on the same page and has the information they need to do their jobs well.
2. High turnover, low morale
The 24/7/365 nature of this industry means that there is no downtime or room for mistakes. That stress, if left unchecked, is a danger to your business. Some employees will leave, resulting in the increased costs of hiring and training new staff; others will stay while becoming more and more disengaged, resulting in the ripple effect of a plummeting mood casting a pall on the office environment, even among those who were previously happy in their roles. Both instances can conspire against you to result in a toxic workplace.
When there’s radio silence where communication should be, people begin to fill in the blanks with their own presumed “facts”—and rarely to the company’s benefit. Beyond the costly errors that a stressed-out staff is more apt to make, the price of increased turnover will eventually eat at your profit margins as perpetually unhappy employees realize their concerns will never be addressed and jump at the first chance of escape. And those who stay will absorb the additional stress of unmet goals, flubbed jobs, and unknown details—which is how you end up with a vicious cycle of departments that don’t know how to breach the communication breakdown that divides them, and keep operating in their respective bubbles.
High turnover means departments and your overall team never get a chance to gel, and low morale can have the same consequence when those who stay adopt a “why bother?” attitude. It could also lead to crucial information slipping through the cracks as projects keep changing hands, key players making assumptions that inadvertently alienate newer coworkers, and longtime employees growing impatient with having to describe the same process to yet another new hire.
"When there’s radio silence where communication should be, people begin to fill in the blanks with their own presumed ‘facts’ and rarely to the company’s benefit.”The bottom line: From untangling messes augmented by disgruntled employees who feel their voices aren’t heard to the costs that comes with constantly hiring and training new staff to fill the same high-turnover positions, the price tag that comes with communication breakdown can be a hefty one. It pays to take the extra step to ensure that management listens to and addresses the concerns that individuals and departments express as well as keep an eye on office morale.
3. Unhappy employees mean unhappy clients
When the internal discord stemming from stymied communication channels bleeds into your company’s external performance, you’re at a critical juncture and need to repair the damage STAT. This, of course, is a worst-case scenario—but it happens.
When teams miss deadlines because crucial information was never passed along the appropriate pipeline, chauffeurs don’t know that pickup information has changed, dispatch doesn’t know a vehicle is out of commission, billing isn’t sure who to collect money from, new employees are afraid to ask for additional clarification about their roles and responsibilities, or any other host of instances betray the lack of in-office communication, it reflects poorly on a company that should run as perfectly as its vehicles. It’s not just logistics; it’s always about customer service. How can your clients trust your service when your team can’t even talk amongst itself?
And we all know that unhappy clients are perfectly happy to take their business elsewhere.
The bottom line: When duties and priorities are unclear or undefined, the entire job is in jeopardy—as is any project, directive, or long-term assignment where any key player is in the dark about their expectations. Without clearly communicated guidelines, it’s impossible for everyone with a responsibility to a specific task to know where their role starts and what the end goal is—and your clients can suffer.
Tips to Improve Office Communication
So what can you do? There are ways to improve communication without babysitting your team—no one wants to be micromanaged but since office trends start from the top, you can set a good example for the positive, effective communication that is the foundation of the A-plus team your VIP passengers deserve. Clear, positive communication makes people feel valuable—and when they’re not left to wonder how to break through communication barriers, stressed out about another needlessly dropped ball, or trying to read between the lines, their energy can be refocused far more productively.
Take a page from Richard Branson’s book before things escalate to the point of private communication issues becoming public-facing service failures. The philanthropist and founder of the Virgin Group—which controls more than 400 companies—champions an employee-first approach. His rationale? “By putting the employee first, the customer effectively comes first by default, and in the end, the shareholder comes first by default as well.”
In short, prioritizing your staff means happier employees, and happy people are more inclined to take the initiative to go that extra step, apply an ownership mentality to their work, and be genuinely positive ambassadors for the company.
More specifically, you can:
• Begin every project with clearly defined job descriptions until communication improves. You don’t have to necessarily sit down and define each person’s role, but you can facilitate a collaborative ownership of the job and check in with each department or individual to see how things are progressing.
• Make use of email and messaging apps. Ensuring that each department has the tools and information they need to succeed isn’t an intrusion and it’s not hand-holding, either: It’s a point of contact to remind your employees that you want to hear about and learn from their challenges while verifying that they’re on the right path and working with the support they need. Don’t demand instant answers—especialy if they are currently handling your clients—but do let them when you need an update and how their response time impacts the overall project they’re working on. Bonus: Your staff who focuses on the bigger picture will appreciate the context you’ve given their share of the work.
• Cultivate kindness in the workplace. Just as your affiliates want to work with people they know and trust, so does your staff. When people understand that broken communication happens and see that there isn’t an agenda behind simple human error, they’re more inclined to trust each other—and a team whose talents are reinforced by trust can imbue the same 24 hours we’re all given each day with endless possibilities.