The problem is, that’s hard to take action to improve, because it’s so vague. Bad. Communication. That’s it. A short phrase that can become an apologetic substitute for improving organizational health and effectiveness.
Here’s a list (certainly not exhaustive, but a start!) to help us as ministry leaders think beyond “bad communication.”
How’s Your Communication?
Is there an abundance of two-way communication between leaders and their teams? Is this communication building two-way trust? If not, consider why. Is it the frequency? Content? Medium? Interpersonal relationships? Etc.
Are two-way communication and dialogue present during planning, preparation, implementation, and assessment? Some organizations have a temptation to only dialogue during planning, or wait until implementation for dialogue. The reality is that two-way communication should be present in all stages of running a program, process, event, etc.
Does dialogue with teams and subordinates actually help senior leaders increase their understanding of the situation/environment of ministry, resolve potential misunderstandings, or assess how things are going? If not, senior leaders need to change their questions and style of communication so that two-way communication isn’t a “box to check,” but actually impacts the organization.
Are leaders and team members learning from one another when they have two-way communication? [If not, what looks like a true dialogue is really still “one-way” communication where the leader imparts information to the subordinate.]
Does two-way communication create new solutions or ideas that are jointly developed by different members of an organization? Because that’s the point 😉 right? Not just talk, but talk that yields better solutions/ideas than would have existed without dialogue.
Is dialogue, collaboration, and two-way communication (vertically and horizontally) part of the culture? Is it something people sense and “breathe in” when they enter your organization? Is it rewarded and encouraged?
Does two-way communication lead to consensus and resolution of conflicts? If not, why?
Do communications lead to new understanding/awareness? Or, is it simply transmitting information.
Do communications create shared ownership or issues and solutions? If not, why?
Do leaders themselves know the mission and broader messages? Do they share information that provides greater context, sense of purpose, and reasons behind decisions? Or, do leaders simply share the minimal details of what a team member “needs” to do their job at the moment?
Does increasing communication reduce anxiety and rumors within your organization? If not, why?
Is communication timely enough so that both leaders and team members can adapt to changing situations? Or, is it often shared too late to be of value or impact?
Does two-way communication leave team members feeling more motivated to support the organization’s plans and mission? Appreciated for their input? Or, is it just “occupying time” in their day to go listen to “the boss.”
Here’s a test: is the person in your organization who’d be your replacement communicated with enough that they’d be prepared to step in, if needed? Are they close? Or, are they so under-communicated with that it’s laughable that he/she could smoothly step in, in an emergency?
Are leaders out and about, frequently, to listen, coach, and clarify–even beyond those they “formally” supervise? Do leaders share what they hear and see while “out and about” with other key leaders as a part of decisionmaking? Or, are leaders rarely seen/heard by ordinary members of the organization?
Does communication within the organization lead to people feeling more cared for, on a daily or weekly basis? If not, why?
Can team members share honest opinions with leaders, without fear of negative consequences? Or, do leaders hold grudges or subtly penalize those who provide feedback?
Do leaders actively listen to all perspectives when seeking information on a topic or concern? Or, do they avoid “difficult” information that doesn’t fit the mold?
Do leaders communicate the why, most important tasks of the organization, and the desired outcome of current efforts? Or, is everyone seemingly working on a different sense of priorities, without a shared understanding of purpose?
Do communications from leaders express not merely tasks, but the realm of what’s possible for a subordinate, how far a team member can/should take the initiative, in a way that still supports the central vision for the organization?
Do leaders check to make sure subordinates, team members, and everyone understands the mission, vision, and top priorities for the present? Or do they assume, “if I said it” or “if I communicated it once,” it’s been received and clearly understood by all?
Do leaders provide guidance and tasks to subordinates in a way that tells them the results to be achieved, but not how to do it–maximizing individual freedom and initiative? Or, do leaders micromanage in dictating exactly how a task should be approached.
Is the information and content communicated within an organization actually linked to decisions, and decisions then to actions? Or, is it just “talk.”
Is communication unconstrained and continuous? Or, do people feel as if there are only certain times, places, and occasions when two-way vertical or horizontal communication is relevant for the organization?
If you find yourself answering “no” to any of these prompts, then start probing deeper into how you can change that one, outcome based indicator of communication within your organization. And then 😉 come back and read the list to find another indicator to improve.