The Silent Silo – How to Improve Team’s Communication?

silo-406957_1920-copyEffective communication builds trust, is critical to the success of any project and represents one of project management’s most important responsibilities. Excellent communication within the project team and between the project manager, team members, and all external stakeholders is essential and is correlated with a high team performance. 

Listening is an important part of communication. Listening is necessary for understanding problem and risks, negotiation and effective conflict management strategies, decision making, and problem resolution.

Project manager role is to identify various communication channels, know what information they need to be provided with or receive, and which interpersonal skills are helpful in communicating with different project stakeholders. The project manager should adjust a communication depending on the communication styles of other parties, cultural issues, relationships, personalities, and overall context of the situation. Carrying out team-building activities to determine team member communications method is also a useful option to prevent communication hiccups. Poor communication skills create business and people problems. Communication gaps and deficiencies take away the trust of coworkers and impair further the collaboration of the team.

That being said, one has to understand that it is in human nature to minimize invested energy. Thus, the team members usually communicate only to people directly affected by relevant discussions or decisions. The pharmaceutical business is no different. People working in a sub-teams or smaller teams usually communicate well. In contrast, the communication channels get easily blocked when the team gets larger and more complex. Information is blocked by a ‘silent silo’ (e.g. in sub-team). The leader of the broader team should make sure that everyone has access to the relevant information by using proper communication channels and methods. It is a tough job for sure. The job that never stops and requires continues efforts from everyone involved: the senders and receivers.

To formalize the communication approaches, project manager creates and maintains the communication plan. This is the document that describes:

-communications needs and expectations for the project

-how and in what format information will be communicated

-when and where each communication will be made

-who is responsible for providing each type of communication

Few important factors may still prevent the teams from operating efficiently even with communication plan in place. Those key areas related to communication require active management and addressing of any identified issues:

  1. Listening

The inability to listen may be presenting itself in two ways:

-verbal: interrupting the speakers

-non-verbal: rolling their eyes at comments, or not listening at all while checking company cell phones and laptops

Recommendation: Stress the importance of listening and learning the different points of view of the speaker. Make sure that people realize that in the cross-functional setting issue of one department may impact another department deliverables or perspective, so it is worth to listen to presenters actively. Think about setting “no laptop, no cell” rule for the important meetings so the team members stay focused all the time. If you have remote/virtual team members who do not work in the office, try to schedule in-person interaction for important issues and do not rely on emails or memos to do the job. Always set a good example as a leader; repeat back what you have heard. Make sure that your understanding is clear. By reframing your understanding, it allows others to know you are listening and fosters communication.

  1. “Office characters” (egomaniacs, narcissist, toxic people)

Very often teamwork dynamic and communication is disturbed because of someone’s ego. Toxic people refuse to admit they might be part of the problem. Conflicts also escalate when people becomes defensive instead of taking responsibility; this is reacting instead of responding.

Recommendation: The nature of some may be challenging to the team due to an attitude problem or ego. The team manager should turn the conversation back to where it belongs; ever time is starting to go off track due to argumentative nature of the discussion. It has to be done firmly and politely. When it’s your impulse to react with anger and frustration, wait. Take a deep breath and consider all the facts. When you pause to reflect, you can respond instead of reacting. Everyone within the team must buy into the idea of mutual understanding and come to a resolution that reflects needs of the team members. The team leader must watch facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice of everyone in the room to make sure everyone is heard and the decisions made by the team are not making anybody uncomfortable. If you have people on the phone, remember to ask them about their opinions on the discussed topics.

If there is a tension or reoccurring conflicting views among particular people, try to segregate or make an appointment to speak with them face-to-face, if possible. It should be done in full confidentiality, maintaining the team member trust is critical. Set up the talk before problems escalate. Ask open-ended questions about the issue and collaboratively correct it with colleagues.

  1. Written communication

Poorly written materials, bad grammar, and items lead to confusion. Long emails that are difficult to go through and conclude what they are pertaining.

Recommendation: Make sure that the written communication is clear. Use bold, color, underline, whatever makes is better and clearer, but use it in moderation. Start emails with the essential message; then go through details. Make sure that you indicate the action items if there are any. Give clear timelines and deadlines for the assigned activities and tasks. Make sure to proofread the copy and always have another set of discriminating eyes check for mistakes for major communication.

  1. Gossip

Unfounded talk not only ruins reputations but also erodes trust. Even if it is not intended to be cruel, it can have devastating consequences.

Recommendation: Leave no place for gossip or speculation if you want to be trusted and esteemed as a communicator. Respectfully decline involvement in any gossiping and make sure that team understand and embraces your fundamental values: mutual trust and respect.

  1. Opening your mind to diversity

In today’s workplace, there are all kinds of characters, religions, cultures, and ethnicity orientations. Excluding any of them would reflect a closed-minded point of view.

Recommendation: Diversity comes with the broad range of experiences and creativity, ultimately benefiting the organizations. When you try to communicate to a group of diversified teams, keep in mind, they have different needs and expectations. Consider the range of learning styles of those you’re communicating with and plan a communication strategy that addresses them all.

Summary: One of the biggest obstacles to effective teamwork is ineffective communication. The team that works together well is crucial to high performance and achieving objectives. Solid team communication is usually lacking for a variety of reasons creating ‘silent silo’ effect. Any team or project manager is accountable for management team communication via formal communication plan and through adapting various communication styles encompassing the team goals, individual roles, and group norms.

 Reference & Resource

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