003: What happens when communication between leaders goes wrong?

Does communication work in your team or your organization?

Do you have have a clear communication plan, send copious emails, and yet when you implement practices and policies, despite all the communication you sent, you get a lot of angry responses?

Do you announce a new activity in your team to the wider company and then get asked ‘why didn’t you tell me sooner’? Or did you tell everyone sooner, but they didn’t listen?

Communication is the number one tool in your toolkit as a leader, whatever stage of your career you are at. But communicating well so you get more helpful responses, and less annoyance is a skill that needs to be nurtured.

Great communication makes your life easier. It makes being a change agent that bit simpler. It lends you credibility, it removes the roadblocks. It stops those angry messages where someone says ‘why didn’t I know this’, even though you told them 10 times.

If you are ready to use your communication to make your life easier, spend less time justifying why you did something and more time doing what you know you are meant to be doing, then let’s chat communication strategies that work.

Show Notes

If you want to find out more about leading by listening, and how to be an actively listener, check out the Leading Women in Tech blog post: https://tonicollis.com/leading-by-listening

Wondering what Toni was talking about when discussing how to use meetings to generate ideas? Head over to Episode One to find out how to use this information to help you, your career and improve outcomes for your organization.

Ready to get your hands on the 5-part audio training on the repeatable steps you can take to up-level your career? Just send me a screengrab of your review of the podcast. Head to the Leading Women in Tech page on iTunes, write your review, but before you hit ‘submit’, make sure you take a screengrab and send it to support {at} tonicollis {dot} com and you’ll get access to the audio training!

Thank you for listening to the

Leading Women in Tech podcast

If you loved what you heard today, it would make my day if you could spare a minute to leave a review on iTunes. And because I value your time so much, each month one lucky reviewer will win a FREE Success Coaching session with yours truly.

(Need some help with how to leave a review? Check out my quick guide here.)

Want to read instead of listen? Here’s the transcript:

Hello! It’s me, Toni, from ToniCollis.com here, landing in your earbuds. How are you doing? Welcome to the the Leading women in Tech podcast (or welcome back if you’ve been listening before!)

Today I want to talk bout communication, and more specifically when communication isn’t working and the misunderstandings, pitfalls, and problems that come from not-so-great communication.  And more to the point, I want to shine a light on what we can do differently, better, and what can save us time.

I talk a lot about over-communicating. And it is something that as a leader you need to be aiming for. All of us think we are communicating enough, but very few of us are actually doing what really needs to be done.

In general, as leaders, we often don’t communicate enough, in the right way, or at the right time. We might think we’ve said something, and that everyone will get irritated if you say it yet another time. And yet, how many times have you then done something and people complained they didn’t know about it?

Most people need to hear things more than once to get it. So if something is important: our goal should be to over-communicate.

You should be reminding your team of the highest priority every day, even though they heard it yesterday. The day you forget is the day they don’t take action on that high priority.

If you are implementing a change (and as a leader, you are a change agent), then you need to talk about it all the time, publicise the heck out of it, share this by different media, in different ways. All that comes before you press go.

Same goes if you are an entrepreneur. Put something out once – great! You are lucky if 6% of your audience sees it that first time.

But as much as I want to emphasise how we should all be communicating more, lets talk about when you are communicating a lot, but your communications just go sideways?

There’s no point in communicating if you’re not being heard or if your communication isn’t done with clear intention. That just becomes noise.

I was talking to a client recently about precisely this problem. As a senior executive she had to deal with the fallout of miscommunication between two other teams in the business. These two teams – had open and apparently functioning channels of communication, and yet they broke down and failed.

Now a lot of the time when I start working with clients and leader and particularly already established leaders we initially have to work on just building and improving communication channels. In this instance though, communication was actually working pretty well. This company is doing all the right things.

And yet communication still broke down. And so today I want to talk about what happened, what needed to be done differently, how we fixed it, and what to look out for to avoid this yourselves. Hopefully you can avoid this happening, but when it does (because however much action we take, sometimes things go wrong), you’ll also have the tools in your leadership toolkit to swiftly deal with the fall out and minimise impact.

Because if my client hadn’t had all her communication antenna fully lit up, she wouldn’t have noticed things falling apart until much later. By noticing promptly the fall-out was kept minimal.

So, let’s dig in to what happened?

In this particular company, there are regular senior management meeting discussions to keep the leaders up-to-date on what each part of the business is doing, what initiatives are coming up. In general I hate update meetings, but this type of meeting, run well, is all about making sure different units within the business know what is coming up and any impact it will have between units. For example, marketing campaigns are likely to have an impact on the sales team’s work. Sales initiatives are likely to have a knock on effect to on boarding workloads and support workloads. So it is important for senior leaders to be aware of initiatives across the organisation, and ideally a plan is mapped out for high level strategic initiatives that considers workload across the entire organization so they can all work well together.

This is a great type of meeting. And a great example of a useful meeting!

At this particular meeting though a lead from one business unit was describing initiating a new plan that was going to impact other business units.

For some reason the other business units weren’t aware and this announcement took them by surprise. The leaders of the impacted business units were frustrated at the impact it would have on their business units. In particular, one specific manager felt that if they had had more warning they would have been able to help and provide more of an impact for this project and therefore improve the overall outcomes for the business. Multiple teams felts that this surprise announcement of a new initiative that was in the process of getting started meant that the business units weren’t ready to take action and hadn’t freed up time in their team. And they felt frustrated and overwhelmed. After all, this is a loyal team who believe in the mission of the business. So they felt this was a missed opportunity. They all care about the business and therefore wanted this project to be a success, but even if they got their teams to work extra hours they were simply just not able to create the outcomes that were possible if good planning had occurred.

This contributed to an already overwhelmed workforce… because who likes having work dumped on you that because it is rushed you know won’t be that good. So you work extra hours and don’t see the full benefit.

This whole event created a ripple effect. It wasn’t earth shattering, but there was some annoyance. And lots of long days. The managers were annoyed. The teams got annoyed. The team that initiated the idea got annoyed that they weren’t getting the support they had been used to for other activities.

So my client and I were discussing this and because of previous discussions and personalities in the business we both jumped to the conclusion that the business unit that had put together this plan hadn’t communicated it. Hint: we shouldn’t have made that jump! Intuition is great, but sometimes it can put us off-track!

So we were like, ‘okay! What they should have they have done?’ Note that my client and I focused on two things: what could be done differently and what needed to be done now. There was no blame to be assigned – that is a key takeaway here because if you spend your time being angry and blaming people you fixate on the people not the problem. And you’ll spend far more time focusing your anger rather than fixing things. It’s a subtle difference but rather than focusing on how bad a person was, our discussion focused on what should be different and then how can we educate learn and nurture.

And the benefit of this, is that both my client and I were able to see the error in our assumptions. Because we weren’t focused on the problem person, we were focusing on the problem, we were able to find out that actually, the project had been previously communicated in a team meeting.

The plot thickens.

We went back through minutes of meetings. Turns out that this project had been brought up in several management meetings. So why didn’t the other business units jump onto it as might have been expected? After all, this was and is the primary purpose of such meetings. Sadly, I’ve seen his issue many times before.

Management meetings, can be good, and they can be terrible. In general, a good functioning business will have decent management meetings. Everybody turns up, listens and  pays attention.

But there are lots of businesses, where the attitude at such meetings is ‘this meeting is for the benefit of the boss!’ Or ‘We’re just here to update the boss’. Hey I’ve been there – meeting have a bad reputation because it is often a symptom of a poor boss who doesn’t know how else to find out what the team is doing other than gather everyone together to give an update that is meaningless to everyone in the room other than the manager. When you have 10 people in the room, that is a lot of wasted time – 10 hours in fact for a 1 hour meeting!

This attitude creates a culture of ‘When I’m not talking I don’t need to listen and instead use it to catch up on emails!’ We can go into how to avoid creating a culture of this – because if you are in charge it is your job to change it! But that is for another episode for another day!

In this particular instance that wasn’t the general attitude. Most of the meetings were run such that everyone knew it was in their best interests to participate fully.

So what went wrong? Primarily there was a lack of trust. Although the meetings in general did work well. There was one particular manager that others didn’t trust. So they didn’t pay attention. The trust had been eroded because of layers of difficult behaviour. And this resulted in a perfectly good update being missed. Then the other managers failed to even share it with their teams. And suddenly you have an initiative about to kick off that the business isn’t equipped for.

So today, I’m going to share with you the five steps you can take to help avoid this happening to you and your organization.

STEP ONE: Change your attitude towards meetings

I know inside you are feeling like ‘oh my but I have sooo many meetings. I need to multitask and stop paying attention. But stick with me for a moment. If you do have the type of senior management meeting where general updates are given that are outside the scope of your work, its time to start listening and participating. Even if you aren’t in control of the format of the meeting, use these meetings to anticipate what is coming. Where will the work that other team members are doing go? How will it impact you/your team now, or in the future? How can you team improve outcomes for other team members, and what would be the overall impact? Is that a good use of resources? Start using these meetings to anticipate (you may well be the only one who does this, and it can truly help you stand out!). When you start doing that you will be able to up level your contributions at work, even if no one else is doing it.

If you want to learn more about active listening I’ll link up a blog article in the show notes!

STEP TWO: Share key upcoming insights with your team

I have met so many managers who keep cards close to their chest just because. They justify it as ‘I don’t want to overwhelm my team’. What they don’t realise is that when you do this, your team knows. Gossip is a thing, whether you like it not. Rumours get out. And your team will quickly realise you can’t be trusted to tell them stuff in a timely manner. They actually waste crucial time trying to figure out how to anticipate when you will tell them something. I’ve even worked in a company where the boss had this a strategy that we were all supposed to adopt and yet the team would spend so much energy planning for when ‘work’ was dumped on them because it would always be urgent and last minute. The motivation for keeping secrets of ‘I don’t want them to waste time on this’ backfires every single time. Have an open and honest relationship.

But that aside, back to step two: share upcoming insights with your team. Here’s the thing when you do this, you build trust. They have a bigger picture which helps to build their sense of purpose and belief in the business. AND remember, that you don’t know 100% of what your team does. If you do, you aren’t being a leader – you are micromanaging! Your team should, once they are trained up, be better at what they do than you would be doing it, because you aren’t doing it every day! So they will see opportunities, impacts, workload issues, outcomes that you don’t. So start sharing a summary of these top-level business initiatives (unless you’ve been told to keep hem confidential of course!). You might be surprised what this brings.

STEP THREE: Share your team’s insights with senior leadership

Once you’ve shared the stuff you learnt in that senior leadership meeting with your team, do the same thing in reverse.

Share what your team is doing and what’s coming down the pipeline, whether it’s next week or six months time. This takes some extra preparation because you don’t want your idea shut down just because. You need to decide on the outcome you want by sharing, and anticipate questions. You need to already be thinking: ‘this is going to impact marketing over there this is going to impact the engineering team over there’. Who is your work going to impact and encourage them to come to you and say, ‘I need to know more about this because I believe this is going to impact my team’, or ‘I can help you do this’.

STEP FOUR: Be a communication conduit

At the end of the day, a business unit is an artificial construct to help us with communication. It isn’t a red line that people are not allowed to cross. Remember that and become a conduit for information. But make sure you are purposeful when you communicate and have deliberate outcomes.

As soon as you fall into the mistake of thinking you can’t cross the lines between business units, you have a big problem. So look at your assumptions. Challenge assumptions about why you’re there. Challenge your assumptions about what you’re trying to achieve.

In fact, part of what the incident I described earlier highlighted was the need for trust and transparency.

Transparency is the way forward to build trust. Make transparent communication the norm, and secrets the exception. Because in the incident I described, if the norm had been for each unit leader to be that communication conduit down to their team, the team might have picked up on what the leader missed. The team may have caught on to the fact that there is an impact.

We are human, we can’t possibly come up with all of the things all-of-the-time. Especially if something has triggered our biases. Which by the way, happens! We are human! We are not (yet!) robots! So use your team to help overcome your limitations. You are not fully aware of all the issues. You can’t possibly be 100% aware of all the implications of all the stuff that’s coming down the pipeline. You should be well informed and you should be able to guess pretty accurately. But the best person to make those decisions is the person actually going to do the work. And you should be encouraging your team to step up and be that kind of group that is cooperative with the rest of the business.

You might be thinking ‘I don’t have time, my team doesn’t have time, I can’t spend 20 minutes giving them a rundown of what was just discussed’. Stop making that assumption. I’ve seen so many teams derailed because the leader was so worried about everybody else’s time. As I mentioned before, this erodes trust! Let them see what’s coming. And you never know, they might surprise you and come up with something you never thought of! The best leaders are the ones that allow their team to flourish, because it lifts you all up!

So remember, be the communication conduit and build trust with transparency. Build an assumption of transparency and cascading down the lines.

Which actually brings me to:

STEP FIVE: Challenge your assumptions

Part of our job as leaders is to challenge assumptions. That is often where the best changes comes from. And it starts with challenging our own assumptions. Especially about people.

Don’t get me wrong, past performance can give you red flags and help you identify issues sooner. But when it stops you realising what’s really going on, it is never a good thing. So try not to overreact. Try and actually dig into what really happened, go back and check your records. Don’t overreact and start throwing around emails and angry comments when they’re not going to serve anybody even if your assumptions are correct. Learn, be patient and figure out what’s really going on.

So those are the five steps.

STEP ONE: Change your attitude towards meetings

STEP TWO: Share key upcoming insights with your team

STEP THREE: Share your team’s insights with senior leadership

STEP FOUR: Be a communication conduit


STEP FIVE: Challenge your assumptions

Simple when they are spelling out like this right?

There is one final thing that could have been done differently in the situation I described with my client. The senior manager in the top meeting (typically a CEO, or a C-Suite leading a group of business units) could have also made a broadcast to the whole community, or the entire set of business units that that meeting was representing. Again, this is about assuming transparency.

The one thing my five-step process hasn’t covered is the relationship issue. In the situation with my client this was the real problem. The relationships between senior management members were not great, and that coloured their behaviour towards each other, and crucially how much they were prepared to listen during those meetings. This could have been overcome, by the assumption of information cascading. Then our own biases because of poor relationships could be countered by our team (provided we haven’t tainted them with our biases too!). But here is the other thing: It’s human nature for us to get along better with some people than with others. But that doesn’t serve the business. So you do need to spend some time looking out for relationships that aren’t quite working.

This is the work my client had to do to finally fix the issue going on. Sure there was work to do to make the best of a last minute pile of work, from looking after the team’s impacted, juggling priorities etc. But what needed to happen was that everyone at that senior leadership meeting needed to realise they had to start listening even to those they didn’t immediately like very much.

The best way to do that? Coach your managers in the benefit of active listening! Get them to turn that on and see the benefits. But that starts with you. If you ever find yourself tempted to reply to emails or browse the web in a meeting, then you aren’t actively listening yourself. It is more work. But when you do, and you attend every meeting with a plan, a purpose and intention, you get more out of your meetings. And bonus, you find that most meetings take less time. Your ideas get taken up more quickly so you don’t need to spend as much time justifying what you are going to be doing. So start doing this yourself, then show your team how to do it themselves. And you’ll find you are all going to get ahead.

If that sounds good you, then don’t forget to check out episode one of the podcast where we discussed how to generate ideas to stand out from the crowd – I’ll link that up in the show notes. And if that sounds good, or you’ve already checked out that episode then I have something you might just love!  I have an audio training for you to get your hands on. The training covers the five steps I have used, and now I teach my clients, to up-level careers, on demand and on repeat. These steps are tried and trusted principles, that when followed just work.

So if you’ve been listening to todays podcast and thinking either that you’d love more opportunities to lead and step up into those senior leadership shoes, or simply that you just don’t how your meetings can be anything other than a waste of time, then I’d love for you to get your hands on this training. And as I know you are busy, it is deliberately all audio and separated into bite-sized, actionable chunks, so you can listen and take action around your schedule.

If that audio training sounds like something you’d love to get your hands on, then I just need one small favour from you.  I would love for you to leave a review on iTunes of this podcast! Leave a review, but before you hit submit, please take a screen grab and email it to me at support{at}tonicollis{dot}com (I’ll add that email address in the show notes!). That way when you hit submit you don’t have to go and find your submitted review. Then send the screen grab with me and I’ll give you access to the training.

And don’t forget, that in addition to the free training, by leaving a review you might be the person who wins a free coaching session with me, to breakthrough that one thing holding you back from being the change agent and leader you know you are ready to be !

But let’s wrap up today’s Leading Women in Tech Podcast episode with a Leadership Mindset Moment.

What’s the leadership mindset moment? I can hear you ask! It’s a simple tip to adjust how you act or think to make it easier to up-level so you can take more positive action on the topic of today’s podcast. Great, right?

So for today’s mindset moment I want you to assess how you really feel about the people in your management meetings. Who annoys you intensely? Who do you complain about all the time to your team or your partner (side-note, lets not complain to our team… but hey I know we’ve all been there)? Identify who these people are!

These people are your blindspots. Yes 80% of what they say may be irrelevant, but some of it is. Now you know where your biases and blindspots are though you can take action. Ask yourself: what can you do to make sure you really pay attention to these people even though really don’t want to. Perhaps you need to make a note of sharing their updates more with your team, or writing more copious notes that you review over your favourite beverage. Whatever it is, take action, because believe me, you have blindspots where people you don’t like are involved.

And by doing this, remember that you are more likely to notice things that others don’t! Anticipate issues that no one else does. And get the opportunity to do great things and provide great outcomes.

And remember, although this is a leadership mindset moment, this one, is perhaps a mindset moment that you need to get into more often than some of the others I share!

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s podcast. Remember, if you have enjoyed it, leave me a review on iTunes, send me a screen grab to support{at}tonicollis{dot}com and I’ll give you access to my five part audio training on the repeatable steps you can take to up-level your career over and over again.

Until next time, remember to stay on your tech leadership game, and follow your dreams, because the world really does need that uniqueness that you bring as a leading woman in tech.

Thank you for listening to

Leading Women in Tech podcast

If you loved what you heard today, it would make my day if you could spare a minute to leave a review on iTunes. And because I value your time so much, each month one lucky reviewer will win a FREE Success Coaching session with yours truly.

Share this post

Want more

leading women in Tech?

Sign up below to receive my weekly email with the latest episode release, leadership tips and insights and more!