In manufacturing, it’s common to look up to the enterprise-size leaders of the industry for business inspiration. But as a small- or medium-sized manufacturer, size can be your advantage. It can enable greater collaboration, more innovative ideas, and faster execution of those ideas.
But communication breakdowns can undermine that superpower, even in small work environments.
To remain agile and connected across your workplace, let’s identify where communication disconnects stem from and how to overcome these situations.
Causes of Communication Breakdowns
One common cause of communication breakdowns is information silos.
Though manufacturing employees often wear many hats, their true specialization—such as engineering, production, purchasing, sales and marketing, or accounting—can create a silo mentality. Silo mentality is a mindset that makes certain departments hesitant to share information with others across the organization. It can stem from:
- Conflict between leaders
- A disconnect or misunderstanding of company goals
- A lack of ownership for the business’ overall success
- A lack of trust or transparency
Silo mentality can be difficult to identify, but it manifests in several ways. Intentional or not, silos can:
- Decrease company efficiency
- Contribute to a poor work culture
- Make employees unhappy
- Cause destructive communication breakdowns
As a small manufacturer, you likely run a lean operation. Each scrapped part, wasted minute, and idle machine is likely felt by the bottom line and therefore become topics of conversation and search for cause. Communication breakdowns on the other hand are much more difficult to resolve.
Solutions to Silos and Communication Breakdowns
Effective cross-organizational communication requires the following actions. It starts with the leadership, and then must be adopted (either deliberately or organically) by the entire organization.
1. Create and Communicate a Unified Vision
Starting at the top of the organizational chart, relay goals clearly to the entire team. When priorities shift or challenges arise, a unified vision allows each employee to better identify his or her role and communicate across departments to fix it.
2. Set an Example of Transparency
Is a lead time the sales department set for a customer unattainable? Is production running behind schedule? Are customers consistently asking the same question to the customer service team?
Each department must pass along key information to others, even if it can cause initial frustration. Reward the information share rather than blame those who have to send bad news.
3. Take Ownership of Company Success
Assuming the business vision and goals are communicated to all employees, it is each department’s job to connect its initiatives to company objectives. An investment in collaborative objectives increases each department’s accountability and willingness to share important information (good and bad) across teams.
4. Implement and Utilize Digital Solutions
Technology can support these mentioned communication strategies. But first, technological or digital solutions, as the word “solutions” implies, must solve a problem.
Before diving in and testing out new tools, first assess where communication breakdowns occur or what pertinent information must become more readily available. Where it makes sense, consider using a dry erase board to track the data you think you want; track for a week or two and see if it helps the team. Once you’re sure of what info you need and how you need it, research digital solutions that fit.
Some types of communication tools to consider include:
- Team communication platforms, which improve collaboration and information sharing, even from a smartphone.
- Project management tools that keep the whole team on track and aware of what each group and individual is working on.
- Computerized maintenance management software (CMMS) that keeps assets up and running at peak efficiency and alerts teams proactively of issues.
- Order management systems to track inventory and efficiency, and help ensure priorities are not overlooked.