Start talking about what you are not talking about

What do you consider to be the key drivers of your group’s effectiveness?

Is it your ability to raise and address difficult issues? Is it your skill at being able to come to alignment on common goals or objectives? Perhaps it’s your ability to subordinate your personal agendas for the common good?

Whichever one it is, the prerequisite for all of these is the ability to have open, honest and straight conversations. However, it’s not what you can talk about that makes a difference at work – it’s what you can’t talk about. It’s always what you are not dealing with that’s controlling and shaping your team.

Take the following true story, as just one example, I was working with the senior managers of a global technology company that was trying to improve its performance. In an attempt to take stock of the biggest issues so that we could address them, each function presented their biggest frustrations.

The Sales managers, in a very open, direct yet productive way and atmosphere gave their Manufacturing colleagues the following feedback: “You don’t keep the production deadlines we set. Your output has many issues and flaws and you are not responsive when we need you to fix errors.”

The managers of Manufacturing said back to the Engineering managers: “You build new technology prototypes, which you design in partnership with the sales group and then sell to the customers in aggressive timelines. But you don’t seek our input about the design or consult with us about our ability to build these.”

They continued, “The customers love your vision, but when engineering hands off the design to us we struggle to deliver what you promised. In addition, our people feel demotivated as Sales views us as ‘business inhibitors’ and ‘obstacles to success’. The net result is poor customer satisfaction, loss of customers, poor product quality and lots of failures in delivery, which we are often unfairly blamed for.”

I can give you hundreds of examples of this type of disconnect between teams and functions in organizations. So, if you want things to be different in your organization, you have to develop the willingness and ability to talk about what you are not talking about.

Just a word of caution, before you ask the different functions to share their biggest frustrations and complaints about other functions make sure everyone is committed to a productive and empowering exercise where ‘learning from our mistakes’ is more important than ‘blame and who’s at fault.’

Returning to the story above – within 18 months, both profitability and customer satisfaction soared as a result of a new level of communication, alignment and partnership between Sales, Engineering and Manufacturing.

The bottom line is that you have to be honest about things that are not working company-wide. If everyone knows people are nervous about layoffs, competition or market changes, put it on the table. Discuss it.

One of the management myths is that you have to always be positive and pump people up. But the most refreshing thing is honesty — both about the good and the bad!

Founder and President of Quantum Performance Inc., a management consulting firm specializing in generating total alignment and engagement in organizations.

His work has encompassed a broad range of industries including banking, telecommunications, manufacturing, entertainment, real estate, retail, startups and non-profits.

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