Breaking Chains for Better Communication


Whether it be made from metal or paper, a chain cannot provide strength if there is a broken link. Paradoxically, a metaphorical chain that must be broken to enable and build strength still exists in the corporate world. 

We all know that for any chain to work as it was designed, there must be no broken links. Each of these links play a critical role. They must be individually strong, connected and in line with the rest of the chain in order to perform best. However, in the corporate world, 'chains of command' need to be broken in order to eradicate information silos, dysfunctional hierarchical structures and employee disengagement.

Chains of command still commonly exist in a range of historically process-driven, hierarchical industries and occupations.

While a chain of command may offer some archaic ‘benefits’ of delegation, accountability and “efficiencies in communication”, a modern, more collaborative approach to corporate communications, as a critical part of the overall employee experience, has many more. Note that the employee experience is crucial to the success of every business for the future (read up on it here, here and here).

People and culture experts worldwide agree that the typical chain of command is imprisoning employees, making them feel more disconnected and disengaged than ever. One of the biggest missing links to better employee engagement is understanding that (employees) need to be able to step outside of the standard parameters set by hierarchical decision-making in order to feel fulfilled and grow in any role. This article highlights the impacts of a restrictive chain of command.

A rigid chain of command may provide a certain structure for communication up, down and across the 'correct' channels (sure), but ultimately it prohibits any kind of genuine, interactive (and dare I say fun) employee experience. Is this the type of employee experience a modern job seeker is looking for? (The answer is no).

Build an A-team by enabling access

By maintaining a rigid chain of command through mandated reporting and communication lines, organisations ultimately lock themselves in a perpetual cycle of employee disdain and despair which ultimately leaves People and Culture teams in a never-ending revolving-door mission to find good talent.

Research on employee experience highlights that a) leaders want to attract and retain good talent, and b) that employees want a legitimate voice. Without open and transparent leadership, and access and opportunity to contribute, collaborate and be heard across the organisation, top talent will move on without hesitation.


Don’t box in your best employees

The future is disruption. It will be (and already is) centered on innovation, with a focus on people and community rather than titles and corporate hierarchy. While management structures are a sound idea for high-level strategic business operations, strict rules around day-to-day engagement and standard approvals are stifling innovation and creativity. If your staff feel unable to freely share their ideas and innovations across a team or to various management personnel, you are wasting their time, and your money. Hierarchies and chains of command force automation, they do not enable or encourage self-expression, creativity or autonomy, which is exactly where the magic happens.


Personal and professional growth go hand in hand

Preventing open communication in the workplace prevents both personal and professional development. Outside of a heavily enforced chain of command, strict structure does not translate well to a fast-paced and rapidly-changing business world. Employees may develop their own personal missing link in regards to their ability to adapt, self-motivate and drive change through their perceived or actual inability to participate in fair, supportive and open communication at work. If not addressed, they may become cynical, jaded, or wary and can  even block new colleagues who enter the workplace with enthusiasm, further suppressing any form of positive growth and contributing to a vicious cycle of negativity and a Tall Poppy Syndrome culture. See some research on that.

Enabling employees to feel personally fulfilled and valued at work (think empowering independence and trust), not surprisingly, enhances their ambition and drive to see the business succeed. 


Breaking negative attitudes is just as important as breaking the chain

Breaking a long served history of ‘Us versus them’ (management versus general staff) and an all too common attitude of 'I went through it so they should too’ is bound to be difficult, but it must be done.  

As legendary management consultant and writer Peter Drucker has said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” 

If you’re looking to succeed as an organisation, first seek to build a powerful and empowering culture, and at the same time seek to break your chain of command for better connection.  

As a consultant working with businesses who are actively transforming their employee experience, I recommend engaging your leadership, people and culture, and communications teams alongside frontline personnel to explore the current reality of what it is like to be employed at your workplace. Seek to understand the concerns and create a realistic vision for employee experience that addresses these concerns moving forward. This leaves room for creating that magic we talked about.

One way to facilitate such a significant cultural change is to adopt a social enterprise platform like Workplace. Not only does Workplace provide a space to connect your people, it facilitates open and transparent conversations to foster learning and growth, and enables cross-functional collaboration for meaningful and impactful employee experiences. The defining feature of the platform though, is that it brings leadership and frontline closer together, breaking the chain of command for better connection. Read about how Japanese (read: ingrained chain of command and culture) manufacturer LIXIL brought together frontline staff and management, and navigated formal and hierarchical culture for better community, connection and innovation in this article by Raconteur.


Questions for you

We hope you enjoyed our blog post on breaking the chains for better communication. Here are two questions to ask yourself (or a colleague) to start your own conversation toward better communication.

If you’re a leader, the change starts with you. How can you facilitate more open conversations and collaboration in your workplace? How do you tactfully lead by example and squash negative attitudes along the way? 

If you work in an industry that has an ingrained chain of command you have an opportunity to challenge this. Can you see an opportunity for change by influencing up? Read my thoughts on this in this article.