A local logistics company had hired a great team of very qualified drivers, engineers, and managers, but they had a problem, and that problem’s name was Dave. Dave was great at planning. He had the math skills of a rocket scientist. He could figure out routes, costs, weights and savings better than anyone else on staff. Dave spotted inefficiencies the way most people spot a twenty-dollar bill on the sidewalk. His face would light up as if he had found a treasure, he’d swoop in, and he’d solve the problem and save the company a significant amount of money.
Dave should have been a model employee, but he had one major flaw. He was a lousy communicator. He ignored messages from supervisors, he was curt to other employees in the breakroom, and he didn’t know how to couch criticism in kind language. He was totally focused on his math, and so he forgot the human part of the equation. Roger, the CEO, wanted Dave to remain a part of his team, but he also wanted him to learn to communicate with coworkers and managers. He needed to teach Dave how to interact, and persuade him that good communication was an efficient choice in the workplace.
The logistics industry, like other engineering and technology fields, tends to attract a lot of highly-focused introverts. One reason for this is that the kind of employees who like to solve problems, think for themselves, and complete tasks efficiently also tend to be hyper-focused introverts. Drivers are people who are comfortable spending long hours alone on the road, with no companions but their own thoughts. Other members of logistics teams, like engineers and managers, relish the feeling they get when they solve a difficult problem. However, every team has a mix of extroverts and introverts, and a good leader has to teach them how to work together, both to meet goals and to create a healthy workplace culture.
Logistics firms experience communication breakdowns when:
Any team will struggle if it faces these communication problems, but when your logistics team includes one or more highly-focused introverts, these issues can lead to anger, disunity, and disaster. Fortunately, none of these issues are insurmountable. You can effectively rearrange your procedures to help improve communication skills in the workplace, especially among highly-focused employees, and build a positive team culture at your company.
Roger needed to improve Dave’s communication skills without alienating him or hurting his productivity. He put together a plan to help Dave interact better with his co-workers.
Step 1: Explain the importance of communication to Dave. Because Dave valued efficiency, he didn’t realize that his coworkers valued other things more, like friendliness or compliments. Roger explained that it was inefficient for Dave to leave out these cues, because then listeners wouldn’t hear the important part of his message. Extremely focused employees sometimes need to have these basic social skills explained in a practical, non-judgmental way.
Step 2: Roger laid out some ground rules for effective communications as part of the logistics team, and created policies to go along with them. This gave all staff members, including Dave, a single reference point that made it possible to improve communication skills in the workplace. Roger’s rules included information on the frequency of communication (so extroverts wouldn’t have to face radio silence and introverts wouldn’t be bombarded with communications), the maximum amount of time allowed before sending a response, and reminders about social queues and compliments.
Step 3: Roger didn’t just explain other staff members’ ways of thinking to Dave. He explained Dave to the other staff members. He encouraged people to communicate important information in small, single-topic chunks rather than in long, rambling blocks of text or talk. More highly focused communication would reduce the risk of miscommunications and lost information.
Step 4: Roger realized that required meetings were especially difficult for highly-focused team members like Dave. He reduced the number of regular meetings and compensated by working to communicate more efficiently.
Step 5: To this end, Roger encouraged all of his employees to add email, texts, and internal message boards to their repertoire of communications tools.
Once Dave had clear guidelines to follow and understood his teammates’ values, he was able to improve his communication skills. He may never be that guy they want to hang out with after work, but he no longer causes friction in the office. The team is happier, and people are more willing to listen to his suggestions and to implement his ideas for cost savings.
Does your logistics team communicate well? Or are highly-focused employees making it hard for the team to function? If you need help analyzing your team’s communication strategies and creating a customized plan for change, contact Applied Vision Works.