The Challenge with “Communication Challenges”

October 21, 2019
October 21, 2019 Joe Britto

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There’s one phrase more than any other that has become a go to for describing challenges in businesses and teams. And since you’ve already read the title of this blog you know what I’m talking about: “we have a communication challenge”.

When a prospective client comes to me with that phrase, we often find out it’s a different issue; and while it’s helpful to get to the real issue, it’s not helpful that clients have often already spent a lot of time and money on solving a challenge that wasn’t the challenge.

Which is why that phrase is the focus of this week’s blog. If you find yourself facing a communication challenge in your team or business, I’d like to offer a few questions to help you identify the core of the communication issue at hand. But before we get to that, let’s think about that “we have a communication challenge” phrase for moment.

If They Can Speak…

At the risk of being impolite, if our staff have a means to speak and write then we’re not dealing with a communication issue. Instead the issue we’re dealing with is this: why aren’t my people communicating with each other in a way that benefits their roles, team, and business?

I’m sure you can see the difference. One is a literal communication challenge; the other a reluctance to use the skills our people have.

I could call that a mindset challenge; but that’s only half of the problem. That half of the equation would look at what leads people to think the lack of communication they currently endure is appropriate. The goal of mindset work would be to shift whatever lead to that thinking.

On a mindset consultancy website that answer would be expected but, like l say, it only addresses half of the problem.

When a Communication Challenge Isn’t

Here’s a riddle for you: when is a communication challenge not a communication challenge?

That’s a trickier riddle than you might think because it has more than one answer. One answer could be when it’s an interpersonal challenge (people don’t get on); another might be when it’s an organizational challenge (the business isn’t set up to facilitate easy communication); and another still might be when it’s a business unit challenge (the different units of the business don’t see the need to collaborate and therefore don’t communicate).

In all three of those situations shifting mindsets is the first step, but thinking differently about the problem does nothing to solve the systemic challenge.

Addressing Systemic Communication Challenges

The second half of the equation is applying that new way of thinking to the systemic challenge. Systemic challenges are systemic because they’re foundational to how a team or business operates. And the systems that support that way of working are informed by a certain way of thinking.

If I’m making sense, it follows that to solve a systemic challenge means re-designing the system that doesn’t work. And if we do that following a shift in mindset, it increases the chances of looking at the challenge with fresh eyes to develop a new system.

To give you an example: if we see our communication challenge is organizational we’ll need to let go of the cherished idea that the structure we have for the business is the best and only structure possible. Again, a shift in thinking. But after that shift comes the real work of designing a new communication-focused structure that makes it easier and even necessary for people to communicate across teams, business units, and sites.

The point is, we solve systemic challenges with a change to the systems that contribute to the challenge.

The Communication Checklist

I said I’d offer a few questions to help you identify the core communication challenge in your team or business. The hope of these questions is to help you see beneath the surface and arrive at the issue that may be driving your communication challenge.

When you face a communication challenge in your team or business ask yourself:

  • Why does this communication challenge exist?
  • Is there a skills gap, or are existing skills not being used effectively?
  • Who does the communication challenge involve?
  • What might be preventing people communicating effectively?
  • Is this communication challenge unique to a team, or is it reflected throughout your business?
  • What impact does the communication challenge have on your team or business?

As you answer those questions, notice where your answers lead you.


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What to dive deeper?

Check out The Six Attributes of a Leadership Mindset by Joe Britto

Facing a people challenge?

Our approach starts with an interactive experience. We work with your teams to develop the six attributes of a leadership mindset that enables them to work together, model leadership, and come up with solutions themselves.

Facing a practical challenge?

Our consulting ignites a revolution. It grows the six attributes and operationalises leadership behaviours. Not only do your people have great ideas, they have the mindset to make those ideas succeed.

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