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Avoid communication breakdowns when growth occurs

Posted: March 22, 2008 3:15 a.m.
Updated: May 23, 2008 5:02 a.m.
As a company grows, one area that often becomes a bottleneck is communication. There are certain dynamics that take place in communications, as the number of involved people increases.

For example, in a small two-person company, there is the greatest opportunity for direct conversation and discussion throughout the day.

There are only two possibilities for verbal communication and it's usually quick, easy and descriptive.

If, however, a third member is added to the team, then six possible lines of communication are created - an increase of 300 percent.

Direct communication becomes more difficult, and often messages are interpreted (or misinterpreted) in a variety of different ways.

Now, add a fourth team member and your communication possibilities increase to 12. A fifth person increases the possibilities to 20.

That's 20 different ways a message can be sent and interpreted.

At this point a "communication failure" can occur. At a time when the company should be focusing on growth and expansion, it is instead faced with confusion, misunderstanding and wasted time.

Here are a few tips for avoiding the breakdowns that may occur when the lines of communication become overwhelming:

• Periodically pull together all members of the team. Choose one time to convey your message, new policies, etc. If possible, find a time when there are few distractions, such as when machines are shut down or when the phones aren't ringing. There is often a strong case to meet away from the usual place of business.

• If the message you plan to convey is long or complex, present it verbally, then distribute written copies of the same statement. This technique increases retention and understanding substantially.

• When there are at least five team members, the company's communications system becomes more formal and written communications - notes, reports, internal ails - become a part of daily operations.

• When holding meetings, provide a quick review of what has transpired since the last meeting and what should be happening before the next one. The key to these meetings is that they be brief and held on a regular basis. It may be worthwhile to keep simple notes along the lines of what was discussed and what is pending.

• Make notes about what should be followed up, previous items previous that have been successfully handled, what should be brought up at the next meeting and why?

By having scheduled meetings, each team member knows that she/he will be briefed on all company matters that pertain to them. The lines of communication remain intact and one clear message is received by all.

In addition, people will feel a bigger part of the company and will invariably respond positively to the common goals/growth objectives.

The captain of a smooth running ship must be able to give orders that are readily understood and carried out. If your business isn't running as smoothly as you'd like, perhaps the Captain needs to re-evaluate his/her methods of communicating.

Commentary by Dr. Maureen Stephenson, a local author and owner of REMS Publishing & Publicity. Her column represents her own views, and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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