Tin-Can Comms Are Hurting Workplace Communications

Tin-Can Comms Are Hurting Workplace Communications

You probably played the game of telephone as a kid or in a team-building offsite (remember those?). And it usually results in some hilarity or memorable misquotes from your friends or colleagues. And that’s the idea of the game, right? The message you start with gets changed into something almost entirely unrecognizable once it gets to the final person. But, the truth is, this miscommunication phenomenon isn’t confined to this game. It’s playing out in your company right now. This game of telephone is really the Cascade of Communication—where you have to rely on passing workplace communications down through multiple levels just to reach your frontline teams. And we must focus on investing in better channels to improve workplace communications.

Cascading Communication to Teams

Here’s an example of how the Cascade of Communication is hurting the workplace. Think of your third shift workforce on the manufacturing line or your overnight critical care nurses in a hospital. They have their pre-shift meetings typically at midnight before they embark on a shift that can last anywhere from 8 to 12 hours. The critical information provided to the managers on that shift is often carried over from their supervisor, and the distribution of that message can vary in its effectiveness, validity, and completeness. This is where the message gets lost. And it’s no fault of the shift manager; most of the time, they are not trained communicators but, instead, are the most effective at running their manufacturing line or providing patient care. Expecting these workers to effectively receive, interpret, and communicate effectively to their team presents significant challenges.

Using Mobile to Communicate Directly

For some companies, mobile elevated their workplace communications and ended their reliance on the tin-can. Introducing this direct channel bypasses the cascade method of communication by delivering critical messages directly to their workforce on their mobile device. No static, no mixed messages, and no personal interpretation of the messages by the manager before the message is delivered to the team.

Finding that clarity was key for our client Kreg Tool:

“We had daily start of shift meetings where information was shared with plant employees, but depending on who was delivering that message, we couldn’t guarantee they were communicating the appropriate information in the way it needed to be received.” 

— Melany Stonewall, Strategic Communications Manager at Kreg Tool

Auditing Existing Workplace Communications  

Breaking the cycle of tin-can comms also starts with an effective communications audit. This exercise will show you just how much you rely on the cascade of messages in your company. And then you’ll be able to sufficiently plot out the messages that your frontline teams need to receive directly. Considering the needs of your audiences is a critical step in this process that is often overlooked. Do your managers need better talking points for their shift meetings? Would your hourly workers benefit from more videos from senior leadership catered to them and their roles? Look at your existing messages, cadence, and channels and determine how you could be better at directly reaching and targeting information to each group. Using our internal communications audit guide and template can help you start this process.

As for those old tin cans? Walk them to the recycle bin and start looking deeper at your channels and the effectiveness of your workplace communications strategy.

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