Communications, role clarity, and cross-functional collaboration. What’s new? Seems like very familiar territory, doesn’t it? Think again; these are the fault lines that explain most business failures!
These three themes are relevant for almost anybody, but they're particularly important for managers and leaders. They are the people who are supposed to bring focus, discipline, and espirit de corps to the organization. And it’s the summing effect of these variables that optimizes performance.
Communication is the primary mode of action for managers and leaders. Whether it’s social or task-focused, tactical or strategic, or conversational or directive, it is the medium through which we align our relationships on purpose, priorities, and action plans.
It operates through words of inspiration and encouragement. It also helps us resolve conflict and navigate difficult conversations. When it’s timely, authentic, and respectful, we bolster goodwill, even if it stings at first. And when we avoid the elephant in the room we all lose.
Good communications – kinds that are effective and appropriate – require our best efforts. Messaging our thoughts, feelings, concerns, and plans translates real-time experience into clear, meaningful messages, which include both rational and emotional meaning.
Choosing the right words matters. They don’t need to be “perfectly right” – some are more fluent than others. But our words must do the work we intend them to do. They must convey our aims, intentions, and motivations with well-reasoned clarity and positive purpose.
I work with plenty of flat, fast-moving organizations. In their rush to get things done, their managers can slack off in their duties to communicate. Later, upon reflection, they'll admit that in such environments care in communications is even more critical.
Critical questions: 1) are we timely enough; 2) do we involve the right people at the right moment; 3) is our message clear, well-considered; 4) are others ready to pass it along in the proper tone; and 5) if this is a development opportunity, what are we doing to address it?
Positions include many roles. Indeed, persons in their professional and personal lives elect to take on diverse roles. The role I play on project A, is different than the role I play on project B. But our expectations of others may be too general – “She’s in project management.”
Who is most responsible for ensuring role clarity? Simple answer: the leader. But who is the leader? It all starts with making these questions the subject of explicit discussion, decision-making, and agreement. We will accomplish less, perhaps very little without such clarity.
As previous paragraphs suggest, role assignments are not a one-time discussion. In today’s world of business, most of us are involved in several streams of work at the same time. What’s important is not our title and job description per se; it’s the description of our job and role in this particular work stream.
Problems and questions challenge us to clarify roles, goals, and accountabilities. But they shouldn't be allowed to persist as protracted areas of debate. That leads to behavior and performance issues – passive-aggressive games to mention only one manifestation.
Better to have "good-enough" clarity at the outset and readiness to make adaptive changes along the way. Problems and questions will naturally prompt us - if we notice them - to reconsider our roles. One may take the lead early, another may step in to lead more in the middle, or toward the end. The central issue: Are we making this sufficiently explicit?
Critical questions: 1) are our roles & contributions clear; 2) are all inputs/outputs by person specified; 3) are we ready to hold one another accountable – if not, why not; 4) does this project allow time for learning; and 5) how do we complement/compete with one another?
Collaboration is a familiar theme, but it's not so easy to master in practice. Any business, manufacturing or professional services, can readily identify vital functions that must align to create and deliver value, the value chain. They know it’s critical to create a clear line of sight to the client and what counts as value for them.
And the work of establishing and maintaining this alignment over time, from project to project, client to client, is perennial. This mode of operation must become a mindset, a work ethic, and a set of everyday practices. That said, we now observe the full interaction between collaboration, communication, and role clarity.
The role of coordinating these variables and cultivating a practiced quality of performance is the duty of management and leaders. With an eye on the end goal, managers must design or adaptively apply existing solution strategies to realize the promise made to the client.
The unique role of leaders is to notice and adaptively respond to issues of motivation, attitude, and behavior that arise in implementation. Leaders must manage, and managers must lead. And, as the research tells us, poor collaboration usually stems from poor partnering between managers.
Summary: The role of managers and the managerial work of leaders are ongoing. So managers must renew themselves, and bring a fresh mindset to their work every day. Why? Because even though the task of aligning people on these critical variables is perpetual, each work stream or stage of work raises new and often novel needs for adaptive change. And that's what leaders do, they help others adapt to change and they challenge complacency.