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Friday, September 3, 2010

COMMUNICATION COMPLEXITY

Have you ever been a project manager and found yourself spending an inordinate amount of time simply keeping the project team synchronized? Or perhaps a department manager trying to keep all of your people gainfully employed? It should come as no small surprise that managers probably spend at least 25% of their time communicating with their people, regardless if the organization is well structured and disciplined. Communications plays a significant role in any organization, but many fail to grasp the simple complexity of communications. Let's begin by understanding the number of lines of communications between people. Interestingly, the number of lines of communication grows exponentially based on the number of people involved. For example:

Number of People: 2
Lines of Communications: 1

Number of People: 3
Lines of Communications: 3

Number of People: 4
Lines of Communications: 6

Number of People: 5
Lines of Communications: 10

Number of People: 6
Lines of Communications: 15

If these lines of communications are not properly maintained, the manager runs the risk of creating a "Tower of Babel" effect whereby workers trip over each other in an uncoordinated manner and productivity degenerates. Trouble inevitably ensues the moment a manager cannot effectively maintain the lines of communications between his people. The greater the size of staff, the greater the chance for a miscommunication or interruption to occur.

To keep people rowing in unison, the manager will use several different techniques, including: meetings, telephones, calendars, e-mail, project schedules, prioritized "to do" lists (aka, "punch lists"), Internet discussion groups, web pages, text messaging, memos, etc. You'll notice a lot of this is based on the written word, which tends to be unidirectional in nature (from one person to another), This may be useful for a lot of things, but do not overlook the power of omni directional communications, such as the spoken word, which is why I'm a big believer of meetings where the workers can look the manager and each other in the eye and offer feedback.

It is imperative the manager create an environment where the lines of communication can be safely maintained. This is more than a technical issue, it is also cultural in terms of observing the proper form of address and decorum.

A person's chances for promotion in an organization directly depends on his/her ability to effectively communicate with other people. Some people find this natural and can handle it easily, others cannot. However, being cognizant of communication complexity puts you at a distinct advantage over those who do not.

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

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