Do you have a communication culture?

browningyork Communication channels, Communication lessons, General communication, Organisational culture

Photo of a laptop with the words Culture is not something that can be emailed outBeing an independent communications specialist with my own limited company, I wear many hats, often several at the same time. I am employer, employee, communications expert, finance director, accounts clerk, marketing team, social media manager, facilities manager, business developer, tea maker… the list goes on! Personally, I enjoy the variety (most of the time) and love how much I am learning.

A couple of years ago, to develop my thinking about what a business ‘should’ be, I read ‘Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness’ by Frederic Laloux. It provided fascinating case-studies of successful businesses from around the world who have adopted radically different ways to run their organisations.

In contrast to out-dated command and control structures or hierarchical organisations, these businesses have adopted self-management practices, where teams and individuals do not have bosses but work together to agree what needs to be done, how and by whom. The book explains why this approach makes sense in the modern world and the practicalities of how these businesses make it work on a day-to-day basis.

Genuine communication culture
Whilst reading the book, I found myself considering the material from the perspective of a communications specialist as well as a business leader. In order for teams to be self-managing, a totally different way of working and interacting with each other is needed. Amongst other things, these organisations have a much deeper trust between colleagues than you might typically find in more traditional organisations and a willingness to be more open and honest in their communication.

They appear to have what I would describe as a genuine communication culture. The ability, necessity and willingness to communicate effectively with each other is woven into the ‘way we do things round here’.

Not box-ticking
In my work with my clients, I often explain the difference between formal communication methods and activities, such as newsletters and intranets, and the more organic, more informal communication that goes on between individuals throughout the company. My heart sinks when I hear a client say ‘We need a communication about this project’; what they really need is to talk to their colleagues about their project in a way that is meaningful and can be replicated in other conversations across the organisation.

By simply turning something into a formal ‘communication’, such as a newsletter article or blog post, you run the risk of it becoming a standalone, artificial impression of having done something. A chance for you to tick the communication box, without having achieved any meaningful aim of understanding or behaviour change.

Genuine, effective communication is no box-ticking exercise.

An intrinsic part of how things work
Organisations – whether they are self-managed or not – will be most successful in terms of communication where the process of communicating with each other is not something that individuals have to stop and think about separately. It should be an intrinsic part of the way that things work.

In these situations, communication is fundamentally about its impact and not its mechanism. A communication is successful if it has raised awareness of a project, encouraged colleagues to get involved and/or changed the way that a process is carried out.

The statement is therefore not ‘We need a communication about this project’, but rather ‘We need everyone to start buying their IT from this supplier because it is better value for the business’.

There is a place for formal communication activity such as newsletters, intranets and blogs, but these need to be viewed as part of the overall communication culture. A place where colleagues trust each other enough to have open and honest conversations, to pass on information that they know will contribute to organisational performance. Formal channels can be used as trusted information sources that underpin the more personal, tailored conversations that happen all the time, without stopping the working day.

How does your organisation manage this balance of formal and informal communication? Would you describe yourelves as having a communication culture? If you would like help in developing a culture like this, please get in touch.

Until next time
Sarah