6 Ways to Promote Open Workplace Dialogue to Avoid Sticky Situations

updated on 30 March 2021

Way back in 2012, a survey was conducted to assess how poor communication in the workplace impacted a company’s chances of success.

The results were conclusive to say the least: 86% of executives blamed poor communication and collaboration for their organization’s failed projects.

Today, many company executives speak loudly and passionately about the merits and importance of open dialogue and workplace communication, yet unfortunately, few of them ever achieve it.

In this article, we’re going to take look at the importance of promoting an open and inclusive workplace, as well as making some suggestions on how to achieve that goal.

Let’s jump right in and find out how:

1. Ensure That Company Information is Freely Available:

Building trust among teams and employees is absolutely vital for long term business success. People contribute more freely and show higher levels of productivity and engagement if they’re personally invested in a company’s vision.

It can often be tricky for managers and team leaders to show transparency or perceived vulnerability to their staff, but including employees in conversations about the company’s future strategy and vision can really help to boost levels of trust.

In turn, this kind of inclusivity helps to promote psychological safety, whilst allowing honest and open dialogue to flow freely at all levels of the organization.

cross-functional communication
cross-functional communication

How to Get Started:

  • Adopt the Right Mindset: Keeping an open dialogue between company executives and employees with hands-on experience can often yield some fantastic insights. That kind of actionable data could prove invaluable in shaping future company strategy.
  • Hold Open Meetings: “State of the Union” style addresses combined with “Town Hall” open meetings can go a long way towards the effective sharing of information and company strategy.
  • Share Important Emails: It’s now common practice at more progressive startups to send the same emails to both the board of directors and the employees. Many businesses have seen substantial increases in productivity from the implementation of this one simple policy.
  • Aim for Diversity of Thought: Structuring your company to include more cross-functional communication between teams can not only help you to discover previously unknown talents, it can also allow you organization to “pivot” when faced with a change in circumstances.
  • Consider “Emotional Landscapes”: Rather than taking a one size fits all” approach, it’s important for managers and team leaders to consider the emotional landscape of their team as a whole, taking into account the project at hand and ensuring that everyone is emotionally aligned towards the same goal.

2. Structure Your Business Around Cross-Functional Teams:

Keeping dialogue open, honest and equitable is a tricky task to achieve in traditional, vertically structured workplaces. When each team or department is separated by its speciality, growth can often be stifled.

Worse still, if a company is built along a hierarchical, antiquated structure, discrimination and toxic behaviors can more easily take root.

The solution?

Cross-functional teams and workplaces.

What Are Cross-Functional Teams?

In essence, a cross-functional team brings together a group of people with different but complimentary skills to achieve a common goal, or complete a specific project.

Rather than relying on communication between various specialized departments, cross-functional teams harness the special individual skillsets of their members to tackle projects in their entirety.

A Cross-Functional Team Example:

It can be difficult to envisage how a cross-functional team might function in more traditional industries like manufacturing, but if we take the example of a digital media organization, it’s common to see this type of structure at work:

  • Journalists, who’s job involves reporting and gathering of information in the field.
  • Researchers, who collect leads and build information files for stories and features.
  • Editors & Web Designers, who handle the task of presenting information to the public through various digital mediums.
cross-functional team leadership
cross-functional team leadership

Avoiding Groupthink & Bias:

Whilst it’s true that cross-functional team leadership can be a challenge, a diversity of expertise and talent goes a long way to reducing groupthink and conformity of thought.

That’s fantastic news for a company’s profits, but it’s even better news for your staff, who will quickly enjoy the benefits of working in a more open, discrimination-free environment focused solely on performance and a shared goal.

“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results."

Andrew Carnegie

Cross-Functional Teams Require Thoughtful Planning:

The concept of the cross-functional team makes a whole lot of sense, and it’s been implemented successfully across a wide range of industries and organizations, but it does require very careful planning. In addition, mechanisms need to be put in place to allow for the smooth transfer of knowledge and key functions between teams.

Executive managers really need to take ownership of any reorganization of the workforce and have clear goals in mind before making important decisions.

3. Empower Teams & Individuals to Make Their Own Decisions:

Successful companies have been experimenting with greater employee freedom for years. Empowering staff to make their own decisions gives them a greater sense of ownership, which in turn, sows the seeds of creativity, creating a culture of innovation and helping the company to retain its level of competitiveness within the industry.

Ultimately, “Creating the right conditions”, helps to bring teams together, ensuring they have what they need to succeed. That in turn leads to a higher degree of employee engagement, satisfaction and retention.

Here’s a radical example of this concept in action:

"It is left to the employee alone to decide if and when he or she feels like taking a few hours, a day, a week or a month off,"
"The assumption being that they are only going to do it when they feel 100% comfortable that they and their team are up to date on every project and that their absence will not in any way damage the business - or, for that matter, their careers!"

Richard Branson - Virgin Group

That might sound a little extreme for your own business, but there are plenty of other examples of organizations getting creative with employee autonomy:

  • Google: The internet giant allows its employees to spend 20% of their time working on projects of their own choosing.
  • Firehouse: This Dallas advertising company swapped from a traditional pay system to per-project billing, encouraging staff to become more creative and think more like freelancers.
  • Spotify: The music streaming service recently announced that it would not only allow its staff to work from home indefinitely, but would also allow them to do so from any location in the world.

There are literally hundreds of ways to encourage your employees and teams to manage their own workloads and foster a greater sense of trust. From remote working to allowing staff to select new members of their team themselves, it’s never been easier to create a more open and productive work environment.

So How Does This Help With Open Dialogue?

Just like the other examples we’ve listed so far, giving your employees options and bringing them closer into the decision making process and company vision gives them a greater sense of self worth and a feeling of community.

When you implement rigid corporate structures and micro-manage your teams, they become more prone to resentment, discriminatory behaviors and in-fighting.

4. Foster a Civil Environment & Meaningful Relationships:

It’s a proven fact that a more open, civil environment increases employee performance. Sure, nobody wants to work in a disrespectful or insensitive environment, but the toll of working in a toxic organization can lead to a decline in health, emotional exhaustion and even long term psychological damage.

That’s a serious problem, so it’s no wonder that small acts of kindness and a sense of emotional support go a long way to creating a more open, discrimination free environment.

The data from the Global Workplace Study 2020 clearly supports this:

“Employees who said they completely trust their team leader were 14 times more likely to be fully engaged. Those lucky enough to completely trust their colleagues, team leader, and senior leaders, selecting 5 on a trust scale ranging from 1 to 5, were 42 times more likely to be highly resilient.”

So it’s clearly a win-win situation for managers and staff. Look at it this way: if candid, respectful and open communication is taking place in your organization, you’re probably doing something right!

“Effectively managed conflict can become an opportunity to surface potentially significant problems, strengthen relationships, and boost engagement.”

Daniel Goleman

Building Social Capital:

Nobody likes those cheesy (and often forced) team-building events that so many corporations insist on organizing. But that doesn’t mean you should neglect your employees entirely. Keep it light, keep it informal, and above all, keep it fun!

  • Host an Event: Softball or basketball games can make for a fun afternoon event to instill a little team spirit. Just be sure to pick a theme that’s inclusive for everyone, and keep it informal.
  • Encourage Social Interaction: You don’t have to organize complex trips. Even closing early once a month for a visit to a local bar or restaurant can do wonders for team morale.
  • Keep an Eye Out For Loneliness: It’s vital to organize your teams in such a way as to avoid exclusion. Keep a watchful eye for those members of staff who are finding it hard to bond with colleagues and try to implement a little matchmaking!
  • Host Informal Business Lunches: Getting out of the office can do wonders for the creative process. An informal lunch meeting or even a group stroll in the park can energize your staff and allow them to speak more freely, giving vital input on upcoming projects.

5. Make Your Workspace Inclusive, & Value Diversity:

A workplace that embraces diversity of talent and open communication ought to be pretty inclusive and welcoming by default, right?

Maybe.

But that doesn’t mean you should ignore the topic entirely.

A healthy, happy work environment might not be a place where you’re likely to encounter direct discrimination, but unless communication is 100% open and honest, unconscious bias can creep into the workplace.

Examples of Unconscious Bias:

The problem with unconscious bias, (aside from the fact that the instigator is usually unaware that they are participating in it) is that it’s often well-intentioned, despite being obviously damaging:

  • Studies show that despite wanting to hear honest feedback, women are often shielded from unpleasant news or opinions by well-meaning men.
  • Similarly, well meaning employees can often make presumptions about team members from minority groups, religions or races in order to prevent awkward conversations or perceived embarrassment.

Fostering a truly inclusive and discrimination free working environment is where open communication skills become paramount.

It’s vitally important to have honest, open dialogue about prickly issues like race and disability, and ultimately attempt to find common ground and shared goals.

Allow the Quiet Voices to Be Heard

Whilst we’re touching on the importance of diversity, it’s important to remember that diversity of ideas is equally important. The loudest and often most extraverted voices are typically the ones that garner the most attention, but it’s often at the expense of a game changing idea that an introvert has kept to themselves.

6. Give Constructive Feedback on Performance:

Frequent feedback is a fantastic way to boost workplace communication and create an open and honest environment.

  • A Gallup survey found that 67% of employees who strongly believed their manager focused on their strengths were better engaged at work.
  • Only 31% percent of employees felt the same if only their weaknesses were discussed.

We’re just talking about performance either: If you’re striving to create a more open workplace, it’s important to let staff know that they are valued, and their emotional needs are being met.

Frequent emails (and even better, hand written notes) to thank team members for their hard work, can be fantastic tools to create a greater sense of belonging.

Summing Up…

Making a conscious and intentional effort to improve workplace communication is vital for success, especially in modern, cross-functional organizations.

As we’ve seen in this article, creating an environment of trust, whilst cultivating open dialogue between teams and employees can go a long way towards the emotional wellbeing of your company.

Metacosm lets you unburden your thoughts and experiences with others by allowing you to sort through your open loops so that you can build more meaningful relationships despite your overwhelming, fast-changing environment. This helps you to keep track of complex stakeholder relationships in a hyper-efficient manner.

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