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How To Improve Inter-Departmental Communication


By: 
Date: July 1 2005

How To Improve Inter-Departmental Communication

Part 1 - THE PROBLEM

Two out of every three employees believe that the flow of communication between departments within their organization is poor.   Inevitably, this results in a reduction in the quality of the products and services provided by the organization.

Consider the following all-too-common scenarios:

  • You have an impossible time convincing your mortgage company that you have been making extra payments each quarter because the accounts receivable and operations departments have not been communicating properly.
  • You are extremely worried because the radiology and emergency room departments at your local hospital are taking too long to communicate with each other about your son''s throbbing ankle.
  • The customer service department and the repair shop of your car dealership don''t communicate about what''s wrong with your car as you anxiously watch the hours tick by in the customer waiting area.

Part 2 - WHY INTERDEPARTMENTAL COMMUNICATION IS SO POOR

1)         Personal Conflict Between Department Managers - When department heads aren''t speaking to each other, it makes it very difficult for others below them to communicate effectively.

2)         Communication Can Be Time Consuming. - When the pressure for speed and productivity is high, employees don''t bother to take the time to share important information.

3)         Communication is Not Part of Standard Operating Procedures.- Documented procedures often leave out the critically important step of communicating with other departments.

4)         Physical Separation - It is difficult for departments to communicate effectively with each other when they are located on different floors or buildings.

5)         Stereotyping/Finger Pointing - Most organizations have their warring Hatfields and McCoys.   In manufacturing, it''s typically Sales versus Production.   In publishing, it''s Editorial versus Sales.   In Education, it''s teachers versus the administration.   Each side stereotypes the other as being insensitive to the needs of other departments and customers.

Part 3 - WHAT CAN BE DONE? - FIVE APPROACHES

1)         Identify What Information is Really Needed.- Each department should develop a list of the kind of information they feel is lacking from other departments.   This should be need-to-know, not nice-to-know, information.

2)         Conduct Team Building with Department Heads - Properly conducted team building can dramatically improve how well department heads work with each other.   Typically this requires the use of an outside professional with experience getting senior managers to coalesce as a team.

3)         Reengineer Processes to Include Communication Components.- Standard operating procedures should include steps that outline when and how information should flow between departments.

4)         Implement Job Rotation.- Rotating employees through other departments can help them get to know their co-workers and gain a fuller understanding of what they do.   This will provide employees with a more rounded perspective of how the work of the organization is conducted and the importance of sharing information between departments.

5)         Conduct the "JFK Communication Exercise." - Ask not what information other departments can provide to you.   Ask what information you can provide to other departments.   Encourage employees to commit to provide this information on a regular basis.  

So, before it''s too late, think about what you and your organization should be doing to improve communication flow between departments.


 (I am very much interested in your views on this topic. Please reply with your comments and suggestions to Bruce@discoverysurveys.com )



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