Believing that because you are telling people things all day long, you are communicating with people can sink you faster than you might believe possible.

Early in my career I was assigned to a large, complex, global program in trouble. The program was delayed, and in financial difficulties. I don’t, even for a minute, think this only even happened to me; what I did believe, was that because I was telling my team what to do all day long (and sometimes well into the night), that I was the best communicator ever. What could possibly go wrong? Right? Until it did…everything, everything was wrong – metrics were wrong, the money was wrong – very wrong!  Finances were very much in a worry zone, forcing me to think seriously about my future.

For the sake of my company and the team I was responsible for, I needed to learn more about communicating better quickly. Communicating is a skill, you can master it, just like tennis, golf or soccer. Following are some thoughts that help you begin to think about how important communications can be to your company, projects and your team members.

Communication Breakdowns

Organizations that improve their communication structures complete 80 percent more projects on time and on budget than those that don’t communicate well. Good communicators risk 14 times fewer dollars reaching their goals and are 1.7 times more likely to outperform their peers financially.

Fifty-seven percent of companies blame communication breakdowns for project failure. Poor communication across an organization or a project team causes many challenges that can stall the growth of promising programs, or worse entire organizations misunderstanding the benefits of reaching the business goals overall. Organizations that communicate poorly face challenges delivering on project-related commitments and more often than not face cost overruns.

Further, poorly communicating organizations tend to experience a failure of purpose, lack the ability to focus, and are unable to gather the strength of its employees. The longer poor communication continues, the organization faces other issues such as a lack of innovation, drop in morale, which can lead to a drop in production, and as mentioned earlier – missing commitments.

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Building Commonalities

What steps must teams take to communicate effectively with one another? First, remember the amount of diversity across your group and work toward building commonalities or common understanding (in one project we created a project dictionary, so that everyone understood each task and the included subtasks).

Help your team understand the benefit of the goals you have set before them. Your team and your vendors didn’t select this goal; it’s up to you to make this important to them, this calls for true leadership. It’s very challenging for people who were “put” on a team to dedicate themselves to something or someone they don’t like or don’t understand. Make the goal meaningful for them, help them see what you see – give them your vision. Be aware of how you look and sound to others.

Be clear and candid about your goals, responsibilities and performance expectations. Give honest feedback to your team and your vendors. Be real about your messages, and listen to people. Work at being there for everyone. Stay in touch with the real issues in the team, so that the appropriate messages can be delivered to the project sponsors, whoever that sponsor is, internal or external. Do a lot of listening, listen to everything. In essence, be present, be respectful, be visible and be engaged.

Visualize the Endgame

What’s more, be ready to articulate the vision to your team and your organization at any time. Reporting regarding vision and progress regularly is a key component in keeping organizations and teams engaged and focused. Part of our job as leader is to help our organizations and our teams visualize the “endgame,” and to use whatever is necessary to help that visualization happen.

As leaders we communicate to diverse audiences, thus we have to communicate by any means necessary to ensure our vision is communicated in the best manner possible for our audience, in a manner they will understand – video, meeting, podcast, webcast, email, etc. Know your audience and how they need to receive information. Make sure your stakeholders understand the success criteria as well as the progress and the current status. Establish a “ruler,” then communicate the progress and status. Be clear and be precise.

Finally, all things being equal, the most important lesson is communicate frequently. Be active in letting your team know that you are among them to understand and solve the real issues. Be grateful to the team that made it all happen for you because you helped them understand and care.


Further Reading

  1. Spikes Cavell Survey
  2. Dean Brenner, True Cost of Poor Communications; November 15, 2017; Forbes Community Voice
  3. Jayant R. Row, Project Success Depends on Effective Communication; Project 20/20 Blog,
  4. Creating Change Leadership; Watts, R. & Watts, L. (2002). Creating change leadership. Paper presented at Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium, San Antonio, TX. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
  5. Extending the Vision; Alderton, M. (2015). Extending the vision. PM Network, 29(5), 34–40.