”You really are a pain sometimes.”
”Why, thank you kind sir”, I replied, thinking the CEO’s remark meant that I had done my job. I had, after all, for two days been challenging him and the members in his management team rather than going along with communication patterns that preserve status quo.
When writing about communication, I sometimes imagine my esteemed reader thinking I am a stereotypical psychologist, promoting cosiness in the team. It is a bit more complex than that, actually, In order to clarify, let's start by diving into an interesting study by Losada & Heaphy (2004).
In the same corporation, the researchers examined communication patterns in 60 management teams that were divided into top-, average- and low-performing. The categorisation was based on data such as profitability, customer satisfaction and results in 360-surveys. The researchers also looked at the makeup of communication in three dimensions:
The extent to which the discussion was characterised by exploring the colleagues’ views or by advocating one’s own
The extent to which the communications were characterised by positives (“good that you raised that issue”) or negatives (“that was a stupid suggestion”)
The extent to which the communications concerned other (our company, our customers) or self (myself, our management team)
Then the researchers correlated the level of performance with the three communication dimensions and you can view the result in the table.
The figures are striking: In top-performing management teams, exploring and advocating are almost equally distributed. In low-performing teams, the share of advocating is overwhelming. That particular research finding happens to be aligned with my experience of management teams that struggle with their performance. They have a lot of parallel monologues going on, not so much dialogue. Furthermore, compare the distribution of positives and negatives. In top-performing teams, the share of positives is well over five to every negative. Finally, it seems low-performing teams do not have much focus on the stakeholders for which they exist.
Let us be clear: We are considering a correlation study and it is equally conceivable that successful management teams nurture a favourable communication climate. My guess is that causality goes both ways. In any case, when I coach management teams in the seemingly simple arts of listening and encouraging one another, the difference is tangible. Both productivity and job satisfaction increase.
Going back to the CEO I quoted on the outset of this post: Yes, I am a pain, and now you know why. I want the communication in your management team to be in accordance with the top line in the table.
Reference: Losada, M. & Heaphy, E. (2004). The Role of Positivity and Connectivity in the Performance of Business Teams: A Nonlinear Dynamics Model. American Behavioral Scientist; 47; 740.
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