I first started hearing communicators talk about “a culture of communication” more than 10 years ago. I had one client in particular who was really interested in the concept and could articulate the potential effectively. We understand the connection between good communication and the bottom line. We know that good communication leads to better innovation and engagement. Sadly, we are still talking about a culture of communication when collaboration should be our real focus.

I got to wondering why this is. I have several theories:

  1. Communication is often viewed as tactical, a box to check, rather than a business process with cultural underpinnings
  2. Communication is often viewed as message delivery rather than collaboration; collaboration involves dialogue, idea sharing, shared responsibility
  3. Communication is channel focused – the newsletter, the intranet, the leader town hall – rather than experience focused
  4. Tools for helping people collaborate effectively are different from those that enable delivery of a message; we might be using the wrong tools and teaching the wrong methods

The role of today’s communicator in driving collaborative behavior is something we don’t talk enough about. It’s not enough to deliver messages; we’ve always known that it’s about the action taken in response, it’s about what people do. All of our clients are struggling with collaboration and innovation. Many incorporate the latter into their goals, but without the former, innovation goals cannot be met. Is the notion of communication as a profession, a practice, outdated and limiting? Does it need to evolve to become a profession responsible for ensuring collaborative workplaces and tools?

What might we do differently?

Small group collaborating

Great collaboration occurs when people have the right tools, space and encouragement.

Let’s imagine for a moment that communicators are the new collaboration leaders. What would we do differently? Here are some things we could do:

  • Train managers in facilitation skills instead of how to use talking points
  • Use more questions than declarative statements in communication materials for leaders, enabling them to drive discussion instead of just “talking at” their teams
  • Get different departments together to work on mutually beneficial efforts, serving as their collaboration facilitators
  • Tell more stories about successful collaborations and their results
  • Ensure new tools are available that enable sharing of information and ideas

Collaboration as the next frontier

Perhaps t’s time for those of us who toil in communication to reframe our strategy and focus on enabling collaboration. If we do, we’ll have to rethink the tools we employ. People in organizations need ways to share and learn from each other, not one-way message pushes. We also need to get executive leaders engaged in modeling and encouraging better collaboration. Hearing about this need from the middle layer of leadership can be a great way to impress its importance on executives.

If you’re interested in hearing more about this, join me next month in Washington, D.C., for ALI’s Strategic Internal Communications for Health Care conference. In addition to chairing the event, I’ll be teaching with one of our healthcare clients about engaging leadership in improved collaboration and communication.

Don’t work in healthcare but want to know more about leveraging digital workplaces for collaboration? Then join me in November in Chicago for ALI’s Intranet & Digital Workplace Summit.