The Inextricable Link Between Open Communication and Problem Solving

The most successful organizational leaders are those that understand and capitalize on the inextricable link between open communication and problem solving. Open communication is like the glue that binds members of a team or organization together, allowing them to effectively work together to solve critical problems and execute solutions as one cohesive unit.

According to Joseph Grenny, co-author of Crucial Conversations, “You can approximate the effectiveness of a team—or even an entire organization—by measuring the average lag time between when problems are identified and when problems are brought out into the open.” When your organization embodies a culture of open communication, teams will be more up-front about problems and obstacles, and thus will be able to solve them more quickly and effectively and make lasting improvements.

Creating an organizational culture of open communication won’t happen overnight, but there are gradual steps your leaders can take to begin the cultural transformation. Building this kind of culture is a top-down process—senior leaders must set the example by promoting visibility and transparency at the highest levels of the business. In general, an open door policy for ideas, questions, feedback, and especially problems, is the best standard for communication. Your organization’s leaders and management ought to be visible and available to their team members and be open to constructive feedback. Setting this example will encourage employees at other levels of the organization to adopt a similar approach to open communication.

The link between open communication and efficient problem solving is simple: issues can only be solved by a team that is aware of them. The key to creating this sort of problem visibility is by establishing a culture of communication in which bringing up problems is encouraged. More specifically, there ought to be an established system in place for raising and addressing problems. In the Toyota Production System (TPS), this systematic way of raising problems is called an “Andon Pull.” The Andon Cord is a rope found along the assembly line that, when pulled, halts production and signals a team leader to immediately investigate why the rope was pulled. Then, the team leader and the team can work together to solve the problem and restart production. Although this may sound unconventional and unproductive, leaders at Toyota realized ahead of others that unaddressed problems create huge issues later on. Whether you work in a factory or an office, it is your duty as a leader to create a kind of “Andon Pull” system that works for your unique environment.

Overall, creating a culture of open communication in your organization in which talking about problems is seen not as an admission of failure, but rather as the first step in solving a bigger problem, can immensely benefit operations. Additionally, creating a culture of open and trusted communication is extremely beneficial for overall employee experience and can help your employees feel more deeply connected to the goals, objectives, and processes of your organization.