In the simplest of forms of human communications, two individuals with similar cultural and demographic views and values, who speak the same language and have similar levels of communication skills would talk face to face, discussing and agreeing courses of action and ensuring in the process that both parties fully understand what is being discussed. This is, of course, the very simplistic, utopian view of things but, it is sadly also the default assumption in a lot of business and project environments, regardless of the reality that confronts them each and every day. The sad and simple fact is that many simply fail to recognize the communications complications that simply having personnel working for them bring.
Additional personnel adds communications complications
Communication becomes increasingly complex as the numbers of individuals increase. With every additional team member added, the mix of cultural, linguistic, value systems and communication skill levels within your team becomes more and more complicated, reaching virtually exponential levels of differences very quickly. This increasing variation in communications abilities, skills and barriers applies whether the team is co-located or virtual, and whether the team is in a highly heterogeneous, multi-cultural environment or a more homogeneous, single culture location. Communications complications arise through age, gender, social status, place of birth, even schools attended, each and every factor impacts the way in which personnel will communicate, what they will say and how they will say it, what they hear and how they interpret the message.
Becoming increasingly virtual adds further communications complications
Communications become even more difficult as teams move from co-location to virtual. The physical separation alone makes any communications more difficult, with added issues around the mode and form of communication along with challenges associated with time zones. As organisations move from national to international virtual teams, the communications complications continue to grow. International locations in a virtual team add potential language barriers, different organisational norms, different leadership styles and structures along with a myriad of other challenges. Virtuality begins to appear as soon as team members are spread across multiple floors in the same building, and compounds by distance, country and time zone, yet many organisations and projects assume that this separation by space and time, language and culture does not exist and insist on communicating to all of their team in the same way using the same tools and language.
Recognise the differences and plan for them
So, how do you plan for all of these variations within a project environment where, at different stages, you may well have all of the above types of communications complications occurring either sequentially or concurrently, and still find time to actually deliver the project?
The first thing is to recognise that these differences exist, that they are real and must be managed just like every other part of your business or project. You can not simply use a one size fits all approach to business and project communications anymore. Communications from management need to be tailored and interpersonal communications needs to be facilitated through the provision of and access to a range of different tools and techniques rather than a single, company mandated mechanism.
This need for diversity of approach and technique is particularly important as teams become more diverse and virtual. Generational differences alone mean that different personnel will need different tools. Cultural, time zone, linguistic and every other difference all require specific consideration in messaging and mode selection.
So, the message from this post is this, diversity of communications is the solution to communications complications at the same time as it is the cause, embrace the complications and encourage your teams and people to communicate openly and freely in culturally and diversity sensitive ways. Yes, formal communications such as the exchange of technical data will need to be handled through formal channels but the humans on your team need to freedom to be just that, human.
Share your experiences
Have you any thoughts on project communications complications you would like to share? If so, we would love to hear from you.
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Ulfire specialises in supporting organisations plan, establish and run high performing virtual teams. We combine extensive practical experience from decades of involvement in virtual teams, with current, real world, academic research into the way members of virtual teams collaborate. Please contact us to discuss ways we can help your business, or sign up using the form below to receive our regular newsletter.
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