Improving Communication Within Your Shared Service

Jeff Zwier

Working today isn’t easy. No matter what job you have or where you work, you probably have a long list of things that get under your skin, from chronically broken photocopiers to mysteriously uncommunicative coworkers. It’s tempting to think that a lot of these frustrations are completely out of our control. Take those suddenly silent peers of yours, for example. Is it bad management, this new and strange shared services business model, bad karma, or something else that has you wondering if the last thing your shared service is about to share is information?

This is a shared service. Why aren’t we sharing?

The hectic pace found in so many shared services organizations (SSOs) can distract us from collaborating and communicating the way we know we should. We’re so busy meeting today's crises, building, optimizing, and planning that we often "disconnect" from our staff and our coworkers. That disconnect can lead to a lot of frustration. Here are some other communication-busting situations that we encounter every day.


Remember what your mother told you about making assumptions? As it turns out, there’s a lot of science that backs her up. Organizational communication studies tell us that fast-paced business environments (think shared services) encourage the development of something called collaborative short-circuits. Think of them as teams within teams. These closed loops of knowledge-sharing form on the assumption that all the key players are already ‘in the loop’ because no outsiders have asked for the group’s information. Several studies by both organizational psychologists and corporate communication experts confirm what many of us know by painful experience. We tend to both overestimate the reach of our information and underestimate the number of people who truly need to be in the loop.

Too much information

You don’t need a study to know that we are all drowning in email, voicemail and data coming at us from every direction. Processing all of that information eats up time we could be talking to one another. And face-to-face is still the way to go when you want to be sure that critical information gets passed along.

What can I do about it?

It’s tempting to agree with popular opinion that bad management is to blame for just about everything, but unless your boss is shredding documents on a daily basis, you might want to consider brushing up on your own skills. You may be surprised at how effective a few small changes can be. Here are some thinks you can do to get started.

If you know it, share it

The old adage "knowledge is power" has lead some to believe that sharing reduces their status. Today, we know that the opposite is true: the more people know about your expertise, the more they will seek you out for your opinions and advice.

Step out of cyberspace

Person-to-person interaction is still the best way to get the word out. Email leaves room for misinterpretation among those who do not know each other well, and may alienate or offend someone unfamiliar with your econversational style. Communicating face to face is the best way to increase both understanding and long-term retention. Step away from your monitor and into a conversation today.

Team-member tip: connect with your colleagues

Say hello to someone new, or make an effort to at least touch base with your team as well as other groups on a regular basis. If you work in a very large, multi-team organization, you may want to establish a system that reminds you to ‘make the rounds’. Here’s an example: count the number of different teams in your service organization, and then add three to that number. Set a goal to have at least one interaction with someone from each team in that amount of days. A small group of people can use this technique to bring the entire organization closer together.

Boss tip: develop and share your vision, mission, and set guiding principles

Is there an overall mission, vision, or principles statement in place to keep your staff focused on what’s important and guide your team through crises? If you have a very large span of responsibility, it’s hard to be connected to everyone and advise them on every decision. You can, however, make sure some guiding principles are in place. Get everyone involved in forming your vision. People talk about what excites them, and you want your team talking as much as possible. And stay connected. Work actively to build trusting relationships between you, your leadership group and every member of the team.

Keep in touch

Whether you are an executive managing a shared service or a recently hired accounts payable clerk, communication is your responsibility. Take the initiative to make sure that those around you know your plans, needs and how best to reach you to utilize your services. Even a small number of individuals working at any level can make a huge difference in communication, starting with themselves.

Symptoms of Communication Breakdown

One plus one equals . . . trouble:

One of the first symptoms of a communications breakdown is confusion about responsibilities, including the sudden discovery that someone else on your team is working on the same project as you and the two of you are not collaborating.

I’m supposed to do what?

Do you find yourself confused about the scope of your project? Don’t know where to go to get information critical to its success? How does your customer/manager/coworker define success for your current project? If you don’t know, it’s time to find out.

Strangled by the grapevine:

Is your organization managed from the boardroom or the lunchroom? A suddenly active rumor mill is a good indication that not enough active, goal-related communication is taking place.

All ahead . . . slow:

A lack of communication quickly brings shared services activity to a crawl and depresses morale. Remember that when it comes to communication, a perceived lack of information can be just as damaging as truly keeping your team ‘out of the loop.’ If your team seems to lack the will to reach its objectives, examine the flow of information. Make an effort to reduce the perception that there is an ‘in-group’ that receives better or more frequent communication than the rest of your team by reaching out to all levels of your organization. It will take time, but your investment will be repaid in improved productivity far into the future.