Communication breakdowns and lessons

When something we say or do causes a misunderstanding or a breakdown in communication on our team, there are typically two kinds of lessons for us.

(1) The obvious kind: We could have communicated better. Words – both spoken and written – matter. With thought and practice, we learn to use them better.

(2) The second kind: The underlying system could be improved.

Here’s an example – we forgot to update an old “welcome” slide at a broader team meeting the other day and it missed folks on the team. The obvious lesson here is – proof read slides! It’s a good lesson, an important one even.

But, the system lesson was around our prep process. If we had, for example, sent a draft of the slides to our team leads, somebody would have caught it before the meeting.

When things go wrong because of a communication mishap, it is tempting to spend all our time cleaning up the mess and kicking ourselves over the obvious communication lesson.

But, it is far more useful to examine the system instead. System-level fixes are higher leverage (they help others too) and are thus more powerful in the long run.