Want to improve how team members act? Adjust your communication these 5 ways

by | Dec 11, 2023 | Blog | 0 comments

How’s the “last mile” for the messages you deliver?

In other words, are you asking team members to act clearly, reliably, and respectfully so they can follow through promptly and accurately? Or is it more likely your asks and messages are getting stuck along the way, holding up the process and contributing to errors and other problems?

“Last mile” is typically more about supply chains than communication. The term traditionally describes the last leg of the physical shipment of an item from a transportation hub to the final destination, such as a place of business, a personal residence, or an Amazon locker.

Ever since a client referred to “last mile” to determine how her work team was going to deliver on completing a complex work process – first announcing and then beginning the integration of an acquisition into the company — I’ve found the “last mile” concept helpful for communication issues. That’s primarily because the phrase “last mile” helps make the invisible visible.

Let’s face it, communication is a hidden player in work processes, as my colleague and book co-author Sam Yankelevitch describes it. Because communication is out of sight for most people, team members often don’t realize they need to communicate continually about what they’re doing to get things done.

Take meetings as an example, particularly the scheduling and rescheduling, which should be a basic process yet is fraught with problems since meetings involve multiple people and actions. It’s so easy to skip over helpful steps, which ends up contributing to confusion and slipups, especially when the default action becomes letting electronic calendaring do all the heavy lifting.

Humans still can control the electronic calendars, last time I checked. And we take advantage of our many opportunities to drop the ball. For example, we may assume someone else is going to send the meeting invite and set up all the things needed, whether for in-person, virtual, or hybrid meetings. So minutes before the meeting, we may be scrambling to find a physical room or setting up a link to log onto.

Or conflicts multiply if the meeting organizer doesn’t have viewing rights of everyone’s calendars and schedules meetings on top of others. And then there’s all the rescheduling snafus, especially without any heads up about upcoming changes. It can feel like you and your calendar are being gaslit when meeting times and dates you were counting on disappear and new ones suddenly appear on dates you least expect them.

Meetings are just one tiny example. Too many times, communication is an afterthought, rather than a principal player in all processes. And when people remember to communicate, they may rush to send a message. And while honorable, that may be ineffective if they’ve made erroneous assumptions, (including assuming someone is responsible for communication without clarifying who that is or what it means), they’re sharing incomplete or inaccurate information, or using abbreviations or terms that people aren’t familiar with. (For example, one of my clients frequently advised his team members to avoid using TLA’s because they could be misinterpreted. What are TLA’s? Three letter abbreviations or acronyms.)

The upshot? You’ve got to be intentional about communication. You can’t assume communication will happen magically on its own. You need to think through and clarify the communication between sender and receivers as carefully as you do the other steps in your process.

Here’s the communication attitude adjustment that Sam and I suggest when you’re working with individuals or teams that require coordinated action.  

  1. Recognize that communication needs to precede action.
  2. Realize that communication is a 2-way street with both the senders and the receivers having responsibilities throughout to reach shared understanding about 1) the assumptions you make; 2) the messages you exchange; and 3) the actions you take.
  3. Work to close the gaps between senders and receivers to ensure you are continually reaching shared understanding.
  4. Remember that communication is a combination of art and science, and it’s easy to misinterpret what other people say, write, and do. You need to make it safe to pause, ask questions, check understanding as well as the process, and adjust as appropriate.
  5. When you’re the sender/originator of the communication, pause to map out your process for getting to your desired outcome and results.

And stay focused! Things will go amiss wherever you are in the process or leg of the journey. When they do, come back to these principles and reset. Without constant focus, you run the risk of communication mishaps that can wreck the rest of your work processes and projects.

Nobody’s perfect yet we all can work for continuous improvement throughout our journeys. And when you do, you’ll especially relish a smooth last mile.











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