Recently, Slack co-founder Stewart Butterfield gave an interview that captured how the global workplace is undergoing profound changes.
The reality is “businesses are massive, complex, and intellectually challenging,” Butterfield told ThoughtEconomics. “We simply need people to be able to communicate effectively through those challenges.”
The rapid growth of popular team collaboration tools, such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Atlassian Stride, shows that companies understand the importance of getting employee engagement right, especially as workforces become more dispersed. The question is, how?
Many business leaders aim to step away from traditional, top-down communication in favor of directly soliciting strategic feedback from all levels of an organization. Yet on the flip side can be the unintended consequence of just adding to the noise and confusion. Consider that through the framework of a medical unit in an emergency room. Every member has an exact understanding of who to listen to, what directives instantly need to be followed, and how and when to complete their roles. Without clear direction from acknowledged leaders, teams are ineffective.
The ramifications aren’t as dramatic at most businesses, but they aren’t any less important to workers who are trying every day to be on their game. The point is, your organization has to strike the right balance between collaboration and communication.
Keep in mind:
• Collaboration tools are only part of the answer: Collaboration systems can be fun, cool, and—ping!—a distraction to the tasks at hand. They also can take tricky workplace group dynamics already present and exacerbate them in a public forum. Clearly established rules of engagement can help foster communication. But as one new idea sparks another and messages start to overlap, gather your troops for an in-person meeting.
• Employees are human beings: At the end of the day, communication is the only thing that connects us as people. We’re social creatures who crave interactions. Employees like to think about working with people and not for companies. Camaraderie promotes group loyalty, and that results in a shared commitment to and discipline toward the work. From the CEO to the project manager, leaders need to be highly visible—through their own videos, posts, or through engaging directly in comments.
Technology has fundamentally changed the way we all communicate in our everyday lives. But these tools need to work in service of creating connection and alignment. If they become impossible to streamline and measure, we’re adding to the noise instead of breaking through it.
What’s more, organizations need their leaders to lead. And there’s no better way to do this than through strategic, goal-oriented communication that is relevant, timely, and targeted. The democratization of strategy through collaboration can create chaos instead of success.
Leaders are well-advised to focus on creating alignment and ensuring that their most valued assets—their employees—feel informed, connected, valued, and set up with clear direction to do their best work.