24 Feb 3 ways to get your project back on track if communication breaks down
If communication breaks down at work it might feel like there’s no escape from the culture of mistrust and blame that follows. Yet there are proven ways to unite disparate groups of people when politics and pressure to deliver get in the way of people doing their jobs safely.
The risk is especially high when one company subcontracts or partners with another, creating a melting pot of different standards and expectations about how to get the job done. Conflicting priorities cause disagreements and eventually people stop talking – which, as any health and safety professional will know, is bad news for behavioural safety.
When staff aren’t empowered to do their jobs effectively your performance plummets, safety is neglected and people get hurt. So in this inspiring article we share 3 proven strategies to reduce that risk and:
- Rebuild trust
- Restore safety as a priority
- Get ailing projects back on track
Wherever you get people you get politics
Every business is plagued by power struggles and conflicting interests. That’s because an organisation’s culture is made up of people with different attitudes, values and beliefs about safety.
If you’ve ever subcontracted you’ll know that these issues are magnified because the commercial stakes are higher – transforming the work environment into a political minefield. On one side there’s pressure to get the job done, on the other pressure to adhere to your client’s stringent safety standards.
Yet the same strategies JOMC use to rebuild subcontracting relationships apply to any working environment, especially the kind of fragmented relationships we sometimes see between departments, teams, and even coworkers in the same departments.
Step 1: Be ready for change
It takes bravery to admit there’s a problem and determination to fix it. Unconstructive blame and recrimination do little to address the situation so your first step is to put pride aside and accept things must be improved for the better.
We suggest you begin by looking at the big picture. No matter whose fault it is, everyone looks bad and that can tarnish your reputation. That’s bad for business whichever way you look at it.
Your goal should be to build a vision for an open, trusting culture where people have honest conversations about safety, and feel able to get on with their jobs. People need to be open for behavioural based safety to work – speaking up about unsafe behaviour and sharing ideas about how to make things better. And you won’t get that if people feel watched and guarded.
Step 2: Give arbitration a try
Arbitration needn’t mean working relationships have deteriorated beyond repair. It can also be a positive, proactive step which indicates to everyone that you value your relationship and want to see things put right before someone gets seriously hurt.
When JOMC investigate the underlying issues of conflict within teams, people tell us they feel overwhelmed by the scale of the problem. They lose the ability to focus on specific problems and fix them because everything seems much worse than it really is. That’s often why we’re brought in in the first place: to bring balance and an unbiased perspective.
Good culture change specialists talk impartially to all parties at every level, and reveal the causes of unrest that plague your project. They also recommend commitments people can make to rebuild trust and cooperation based on real feedback, as well as pave the way for reconciliation.
Arbitration also works as a political peace offering. By asking for people’s opinions from across the spectrum you’re proving that everyone deserves a chance to speak up as much as the next person, without blame or fear of recrimination.
Step 3: Agree positive plans for the future
When you involve people in solving a problem, they’re more likely to feel invested in making it a success. Feedback from all sides of the arbitration process achieves the same effect; meaning people feel empowered to take responsibility for change.
Specific recommendations we make to improve communication include more collaborative working practices like joint workshops and more scheduled time to discuss problems openly before they escalate into obstacles.
Practical steps needn’t mean costly investment either. For example, when contracting teams work on the same site, ill-feeling can be mitigated by simply liaising better between teams well in advance of work, so everything’s in place and people know what they’re doing before work begins.
Better performance, safety and morale through engagement
It’s in everyone’s interest to face up to communication problems early and work through them together. Not only will you salvage a working relationship, you can make it even stronger on future projects when you put into practice all the hard-fought knowledge you’ve learned.