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How to create a culture that encourages communication in both directions

Great communication is critical to the success of any business because it provides a number of benefits, including:

Despite these obvious benefits, many organizations still struggle with communication. For example, 46% of employees leave meetings unsure as to what they’re expected to do next.

Why do companies have such a hard time with good communication? For starters, some organizations don’t do enough to create cultures of active listening and sharing. Workers just keep their heads down and work, instead of sharing their ideas and asking questions when they’re unsure of something. On the other end of the spectrum are employees who are legitimately afraid of speaking up because they’re terrified of their bosses -- a Harvard Business Review study suggests that half of all employees are frightened of voicing their opinions for fear of repercussions. Finally, a recent study uncovered the fact more than two thirds ofmanagersare uncomfortable speaking with their subordinates.

Getting your organization to realize its full potential starts with creating a culture that encourages robust communication to flow in both directions. No matter how lacking a company’s communication skills may be, all it takes is a few changes to enjoy a more engaged workforce and better business outcomes. Here are nine simple tactics you can employ to improve communication at your company.

1. Build communication into the foundation of your culture

Elon Musk tells his employees to communicate with everyone—even if that means talking to their boss’ boss. Build a culture where communication is paramount and great things will happen. Make sure managers understand they need to communicate openly and regularly, too.

2. Keep employees in the loop

Anyone who’s ever worked at a company where important information was routinely withheld from lower-level staffers knows how demoralizing it can be. You spend so much of your energy working hard for your company, yet you’re treated as though you don’t deserve to know what’s really going on. Instead, make sure you keep your employees well informed about any major developments and company news in a timely manner.

3. Have regular meetings (but not too many!)

Schedule one-on-one, team and all-hands meetings regularly. But don’t bog your employees down with proverbial meetings about meetings about meetings. Many employees are overworked enough as it is. Use an appropriate amount of meetings (perhaps one or two of each per month) to keep your team in the loop and give them a platform where they can discuss their ideas. For the best results, encourage managers to give feedback during 1:1s.

4. Recognize your employees’ contributions

When your employees do a great job, recognize their efforts and congratulate them. Studies show that more employee recognition translates into happier workers, increased productivity, and higher retention rates. In fact, a majority of employees say they’d work harder if their managers simply recognized their work more often.

5. Figure out your office structure

The man who created the cubicle, Robert Probst, went to the grave hating his invention. It might be your infrastructure that’s negatively affecting your workplace communications. Look for and implement the best solution for your company -- something encourages workers to talk to one another while giving them space to work.

6. Launch a mentorship program

According to Gallup, 87% of millennial employees consider professional development opportunities to be important components of every job. An easy way to meet this need is by establishing a mentorship program that pairs seasoned employees with rookies. Not only will this help your new hires get up to speed quicker, it will also support the free exchange of ideas.

7. Encourage employees to have lunch with folks outside their immediate teams

Many employees form strong bonds with their immediate team members, but not everyone regularly interacts with individuals who work in different departments. Improve communication by encouraging your employees to eat lunch with people they don’t interact with regularly.

8. Invest in tools that make communication easy

Use technology to make it easier to communicate. While some employees might have an easy time sharing their ideas and opinions in a public forum, other introverted workers might not have the same confidence. Inter-office communication -- like chat options or employee feedback tools that let workers and managers share feedback easily -- might make things easier for them. The easier it is for employees to share their opinions, the more often they’ll let their thoughts be known.

9. Schedule team-building events regularly

Your employees need to know each other on some sort of personal level before they’ll be comfortable sharing their ideas candidly. Scheduling team-building activities once a quarter (or even more frequently) will give employees a chance to mingle with colleagues in a more casual setting. Whether that means going to a happy hour, attending a sporting event or heading to a local paintbar is up to you.

Doing any or all the adjustments above will be a great step forward in fostering communication in the workplace. You’ll end up with a happier team and a more competitive company. What’s not to like?