Tear Down Communication Barriers With These 3 Steps

3 min read
Apr 29, 2015

iStock_000000474854_SmallIt might seem like a no-brainer, but open communication is the building block of any organization. When crucial information doesn’t flow freely between departments, it does more than just put the brakes on day-to-day activities. It builds distrust, increases friction between teams, and impedes positive growth.

But improving communication isn’t just about getting Sales and Marketing to talk to each other. It also requires management teams to make an honest assessment of the practices that may be causing interdepartmental strife, including those at the leadership level.

So how do you go from realizing there’s problem with your organizational culture to fixing it? Here are three steps you can take right away:

Promote Collaboration Over Competition

Organizational culture begins at the top. If workplace silos exist at the highest levels of the organization, those divisions begin to multiply down the line, and a toxic culture of distrust develops.

Reversing this isn’t an overnight process, but it begins with leadership. If you want employees to value collaboration over competition, you need to set the example. Start by engaging colleagues outside your team and finding out how their team works. Informal job shadowing can provide valuable insight into the functions of another department and also build personal relationships that can further break down barriers.

Simply put: you can’t ask your employees to do something you’re not willing to do yourself.

Encourage Team Projects

Group work unfortunately has a terrible reputation, no thanks to the assigned projects most of us endured in school. But they’re also a great tool in the workplace for improving the relationship between departments.

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Encourage cross-departmental projects with a common goal. When team members have a unified purpose, they’re less likely to get caught up in the internal politics and will work together to solve problems.

A group project also lets employees showcase their individual talents. When employees feel they have the opportunity to do what they do best, they are more engaged, not just with the task at hand but with the organization as a whole.

Supervisors can play a key role here by focusing on an employee’s strength. And there’s proof that this approach results in an uptick in engagement. A survey by Gallup found that when managers hone in on an employee’s strengths:

  • Nearly two-thirds (61%) of these employees were engaged
  • This is twice the average of U.S. workers who are engaged nationwide (30%)

Plus, companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share, according to another Gallup analysis.

Watch Your Language

How you talk about other departments is key to tearing down existing divisions. If your language reflects an “us-versus-them” mentality, then employees will adopt the same attitudes and perpetuate that mistrust.

One simple solution is to put a face to the “them.” Organize an informal lunch or happy hour outside the office with members of another team. Make sure to include employees at all levels so that everyone gets a chance to mingle — and eliminate the need for formality.

Establishing peer-to-peer relationships using face-to-face interactions is important because they put a human face to a different department. Plus, our Employee Engagement Report found that peers — not money — are the top influence on their colleagues.

Employees are more likely to communicate openly with someone they see as a peer or a friend, so create a space for these organic relationships to grow.

When you break down communication barriers and encourage a more collaborative environment from the top down, you’ll be rewarded with more engaged employees and a better bottom line.


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